Thursday, August 26, 2004

Florida Politics

We are having a primary election here next Tuesday. There are signs galore, everywhere you go, plastered on fences, the sides of houses, outside homes and businesses. What a visual mess.

The primary is to select Democratic and Republican candidates for a variety of state and county offices, and a few non-partisan races for some of the Monroe county offices. Many -- well, some -- of the races are all in one party or the other, meaning that whoever wins the primary is elected without having to participate in the general election in November.

Janet registered as a Republican in order to be able to vote in the primary. Me, I registered independent, or unaffiliated, and will vote only in the non-partisan races, and on the single ballot question, asking voter approval to continue imposing a 1/2-cent sales tax that goes to support school construction.

The overall sales tax rate in Key West is 7-1/2%, while the statewide rate is 6%. The other 1% is, I believe, a county tax. Or it might be a city one. I don't really know. But I'll find out.

The contests that are drawing the most local attention are the county races: one for school superintendent, two for school board, two for County Commissioner, and one for County Sheriff. Apart from those and a couple of more minor offices, the rest are for districts that are larger than just Monroe County: state senator, state representative, U.S. House and Senate, etc. Florida has election laws that are quite different than those we were familiar with in New Hampshire. There, School Superintendents were appointed, not elected. There, we had what are know as open primaries, where an independent voter could go into a primary and select a ballot for either party, and thus declare themselves (briefly) a member of that party. Then, on the way out of the voting place, one can change back to unaffiliated.

I contacted one of the candidates for Superintendent shortly after we arrived and offered whatever help in his election campaign I might be able to provide. I met him, then there was no follow up, so I've done nothing. This candidate was appointed by Governor Bush to the position about 18 months ago, following the resignation of the incumbent in the position. The appointment was controversial, since the man appointed was a business man, not an educator, and he promptly made it even more controversial by shaking the trees, uncovering some unseemly actions and expenses by the district in the recent past. His failing, if he has one, is that he's been unable so far to establish a good working relationship with the elected, five-member School Committee. That might not be entirely, or even mostly, his fault. Some of the board members have exhibited great antipathy to this Superintendent, and are said to have opposed his appointment fiercely when it was first announced. They had all figured that ascension to the post was all but mandated for the assistant to the previous Superintendent, that was their recommendation, and that felt that the Governor should have rubber stamped it. You don't always get what you want.

All politics are local, said former House Speaker Tip O'Neill once. I tend to agree with that, especially since most of my political knowledge comes from New Hampshire, with its 425 state representatives and 40 state senators in a state of less than a million people. The last city we lived in there had about six representative seats for just the one city. Florida and Monroe County and Key West are giving me a different perspective on how things work.

1 comment:

Robert Kelly said...

Sorry Mike, I didn't see your comment soon enough to be of any help. The Primary WAS on the 30th. Hope that you got to vote.

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