Downballot Recommendations November 2012

Miami-Dade county, and Florida generally, have one of the longest ballots ever. Mine is ten (!) pages long. I assume by now you have figured out how you want to vote in the Presidential and Senate elections, but what about the Congressional elections? And, especially what about the Judicial elections, the State Constitutional Amendments, not to mention the odd cruft cluttering the bottom of ballot – charter changes, referenda and so on?

Well, fear not. Here again are not only some suggestions as to how you might vote, but also some reasons for those suggestions, plus in some cases links to places you can go for more information.

One important thing to note: Most ballot questions require 60% to pass — but that 60% is of the people who vote on that question, not people who vote at all. Thus, if you vote for President, but don’t vote on, say, the state Constitutional Amendments, you make it easier for the “yes” vote to prevail. And given how bad some of those proposals are, giving up before you get to the end of the ballot could be a big mistake this year.

Quick Summary

Congressional Representative
FL-07 Nicholas Ruiz III
FL-09 Alan Grayson
FL-10 Val Demings
FL-13 Jessica Ehrlich
FL- 16 Keith Fitzgerald
FL- 18 Patrick Murphy
FL- 22 Lois J. Frankel
FL-26 Joe Garcia
Fl -27 Why bother? IRL will win, the other candidates are jokes.

State Attorney
No recommendation: there is only one candidate on the ballot.

State Representative
District 114: Ross Hancock (line 53)

State Supreme Court
Vote to retain all three Justices – this is important
Vote YES to retain Justice R. Fred Lewis (line 62)
Vote YES to retain Justice Barbara J. Pariente (line 64)
Vote YES to retain Justice Peggy Quince (line 66)

District Courts of Appeal
Vote to retain all five judges:
Judge Angel A. Cortiñas (line 70)
Judge Kevin M. Emas (line 72)
Judge Ivan F. Fernandez (line 74)
Judge Leslie Rothenberg (line 76)
Judge Richard Suarez (line 78)

County Judge, Group 24
I’m going to vote to re-electJudge Andrea Wolfson (line 81), but please see below for context.

Florida Constitutional Amendments
If you’re in a rush, just vote NO on all of them.

If you are feeling nuanced, you still should vote NO on Amendments 1-10 (there is no 7); there is some case to be made for Amendments 11 & 12. For more details please see here.

School Board Question: Bond Issue
For Bonds (line 222)

County Charter Amendments
Term Limits – NO (line 225) (Reasons)
Technical Changes YES (line 226) (Reasons)
Urban Development Boundary YES (228) (Reasons)
Creation of New Municipalities NO (231) (Reasons)
Enforcement of Citizens Bill of Rights YES (232) (Reasons)
Extend Time to Fill Vacancies of Mayor and Commission NO (235) (Reasons)
Mayor Conflict in County Procurement NO (237) (Reasons)
Tennis Center YES (238) (very reluctantly) (Reasons)
Non-Binding on Animal Services – No recommendation (Reasons)
Non-Binding on Doing Business With State Sponsors of Terrorism NO (243) (Reasons)

Coral Gables
Allow Residential Parking of (some) Pickup Trucks YES (260) (Reasons)

Reasons for these recommendations appear below.

The Details

US Congress

If you live in FL-26, it’s important you vote for Joe Garcia. Not simply because he’ll be a great congressman, but because his opponent, David Rivera, is quite likely not only the most corrupt member of Congress, but among the top three most crazy. Rivera lies about stuff that is easy to check. He violates campaign laws with impunity (Rivera secretly and illegally funded a fake candidate in the Democratic primary in order to upset future rivals; when the FBI closed in, the key witness vanished). He once drove a truck carrying an opponent’s mailers off the road. The only reasons I don’t say Rivera is the craziest person in Congress are Michele Bachmann and Alan West, but Rivera is sure a contender –not as much for his political views, which are in the main fairly conventional, but for his personal behavior — which is downright bizarre — and his willingness to lie about himself and his opponents. This guy gives Congress a bad name, and that takes serious effort.


State Attorney

I have no great enthusiasm for Katherine Fernandez Rundel, who is running unopposed. It’s fine to vote for her, and I probably will, but I can’t bring myself to recommend it in this election. We certainly can do worse; we also could wish for someone who took a stronger line on public corruption.


State Representative

The incumbent, Erik Fresen, has been one of the leading proponents of expanding gambling in Southern Florida. He is the recipient of large donations from gambling interests, and he supports their attempts to change local laws to further weaken the prohibitions on gambling now on the books.

If you support more gambling dens, along with the low-wage jobs they create, plus the increased levels of crime and corruption that inevitably follow in their wake, then the incumbent, Erik Fresen is your man.

If you don’t think we need more Mafia, more drugs, more corruption of local government (assuming that is possible), all for the sake for a few jobs as parking attendants and croupiers, then you should vote line 53 Ross Hancock.

This is not a partisan issue: this is about what sort of community you want to have. Erik Fresen is Mr. Gambling in the Florida House. He wants to be a state Senator too. Vote against him and tell him our interests matter more than gambling money does. (PS. Fresen also lobbies for charter schools, for which he is also a consultant.)

The challenger, Ross Hancock, seems like a decent guy, if a bit naive about politics. But I’ll take naive over sleazy and willing to go to bat for Big Gambling any day.


Florida Supreme Court

Please see An Important Vote in Florida : Retain our Supreme Court Justices for more information about this important vote. The Florida Bar poll of its members found overwhelming support for retaining all three Justices, with 89%-92% of attorneys supporting retention of each Justice. This would be a no-brainer and a cakewalk for some excellent Justices but for a sleazy recall effort funded by the Koch brothers and supported by some elements of the Florida Republican party.


District Courts of Appeal

Here in Miami-Dade we vote on retention for the 3rd DCA. I start with a presumption that all lower and intermediate court judges should be retained. The presumption can be overcome by a showing of incompetence, partiality, or ethics violations. One possible sign of incompetence is a low rating by attorneys in the bar poll relating to retention. All but one of the judges up for retention got good to excellent scores on the bar poll:

• Angel A. Cortinas 86 percent.
• Kevin M. Emas 93 percent.
• Ivan F. Fernandez 91 percent.
• Leslie B. Rothenberg 78 percent.
• Richard J. Suarez 90 percent.

Even Rothenberg’s 78% is a good rating, especially compared to what some judges have gotten in the past. (More detailed results are here if you want them.) That said, there has over the years been some amount of muttering about Rothenberg, who has been accused of pro-prosecution bias over the years, starting from her appointment to a lower state court in 1994. I’m not in a position to say if this is merited today.

In considering whether to vote against these judges — all of whom except for Kevin Emas (appointed by Charlie Crist) were appointed by Jeb Bush or Rick Scott — you also should also consider that Rick Scott will appoint their replacements. I’m voting to retain them all.


County Judge, Group 24

Andrea Wolfson (line 81) is the incumbent, Greer Elain Wallce (line 80) the challenger. This is a runoff from a three-candidate race in the primary in which Wolfson got 48% – not quite enough to avoid a runoff.

One issue in this non-partisan race is that Andrea Wolfson first applied for an endorsement from SAVE-DADE (a local progressive, and pro-LGBT-rights group), then withdrew that request when she got the Christian Family Coalition endorsement. SAVE-DADE endorsed Wallace. The Herald, for what little it’s worth, endorsed Wolfson. This one hurts a bit, but given that fellow lawyers rate her highly, I’m sticking with my policy of voting for incumbent judges unless there’s a compelling reason not to. Some readers may find the endorsement history to be a compelling reason to vote for Greer Elain Wallace, and I’d understand that.


Florida Constitution Amendments

For detailed discussion of the amendments, please see A Bunch of Horrible Florida Constitutional Amendments and Vote NO on Florida Constitutional Amendment 4.


School Board Question: Bond Issue

The entire county establishment is behind this. You can see the promises of what the money will be used for at M-DCPS Building a Pathway to the Future. The schools need the money; their need is in substantial part the result of mis-management and mis-budgeting in the past, but what’s done is done and we can’t take it out on today’s children. History suggests some of the money may leak before they see it, but even so, the needs are real and large. The current school Superintendent seems more honest and competent than most, which argues that more of the money might get where it needs to go. Vote FOR Bonds (line 222)


County Charter Amendments

Term limits are popular, but I am almost never in favor of them as they seem anti-democratic. Plus, term limits ensure that elected representatives are always learning the ropes. Removing experienced figures eliminates the people who are most likely to know how to push back against lobbyists and bureaucrats.

This proposal comes on the heels of a proposal rejected recently by the voters that would have linked term limits to a living wage for Commissioners instead of the pittance they now receive. The claim made by supporters of this measure is that if voters support the term limits now, they might support the wages later (the wages matter because otherwise a Commissioner needs another source of income, creating distractions and conflicts of interest). For what little it’s worth, the Herald is pushing this argument. I don’t buy it. I don’t even understand why anyone else believes it. NO (line 225).


Technical Changes. From what I can tell these are genuinely technical and non-controversial. YES (line 226)


Urban Development Boundary This amendment will make it harder to change the rules to move the UDB by ‘charterizing’ the super-majority requirement. Developers are continually trying to nibble away at the UDB. YES (228)


Creation of New Municipalities I start from the position that is perhaps less favorable towards the creation on new municipalities than is fashionable. Be that as it may, the point of this amendment was supposed to be to make it easier to create new municipalities, overcoming a set of roadblocks set up by the County — blocks that I happen to think were in some (but not all) cases justified. These so-called reforms, however, seem to go much further than would be necessary to level the playing field even if you didn’t agree with my stance. If this change is approved, we can look forward to more municipalities that take only wealthy blocks, and leave poor ones orphaned in unincorporated Miami-Dade. This is bad for many reasons, not least that it becomes more costly and more complex to supply emergency and other services to the patchwork of the poorest blocks left behind when their wealthier neighbors incorporate. NO (231)


Enforcement of Citizens Bill of Rights YES (?) (232)
The case against this measure is that the proposal actually weakens a local ethics rule “providing for forfeiture of office if a public official or employee willfully violates the Citizens’ Bill of Rights.” Who could support that? Well, that is a provision which almost never gets invoked. The case for this amendement is that it trades something that doesn’t get used for something that will get used: increased powers for the currently toothless Commission on Ethics and Public Trust to enforce the Citizens’ Bill of Rights. I hate weakening ethics rules in South Florida, but realpolitik counsels that we’d end up winners in this trade, getting something for what, in practice, is almost nothing.


Extend Time to Fill Vacancies of Mayor and Commission NO (235). This seems to me to be a Trojan Horse of a proposal. The relatively short time to fill vacancies we have now does not seem to me to be a problem when a Mayor needs replacement, but rather a fairly good thing. This ‘solution’ seems capable of creating mischief by allowing the interim Mayor — a Commissioner who happens to be the Chair — to exercise too much power for too long. It could even incentivize future Mayoral recalls as new form of power grab.


Mayor Conflict in County Procurement NO (237). This proposes putting the Chair of the County Commission in charge of county procurement if the mayor has a conflict of interest. I am suspicious of this: it seems another attempt to empower the Commission Chair, a person who is not elected city-wide in any meaningful way. I do not see how replacing the Mayor’s baggage with the Commission Chair’s baggage will actually do us any good. Like the Herald says, reject this and hope that some future task force comes up with a better idea.


Tennis Center YES (238). The case for the tennis center building is that no public funds will be used, just private funds. The case against the building is that it would take away some more park lands — that’s why the amendment is needed as the current charter protects the park against new buildings. I’m for holding the line on parks. Why then, suggest a yes vote? It’s basically a case of giving in to blackmail: the building has been conflated with a vote to extend the lease of the Sony Open, an extension which cannot be done without a referendum. Given the unfortunate choice between risking losing the Open versus sacrificing some smallish amount of park, I’m reluctantly going to vote for this one.


Non-Binding on Animal Services – No recommendation
The case for is cute kittens and cute puppies. The case against is that we don’t need to tie the hands of the county government when it comes to budgets. I have no idea if this is the best use of our money. If you want me to get into the business of voting on various appropriations, please give me a way to rank all of them, instead of just serving up one or two.


Non-Binding on Doing Business With State Sponsors of Terrorism NO (243)
As a general matter, localities don’t need to have a foreign policy. On the other hand, I do sympathize with the impulse to take moral stands. This one, though, is about making yet another meaningless gesture at Cuba. I don’t think Cuba is in any doubt where we stand.

Coral Gables
Allow Residential Parking of (some) Pickup Trucks YES (260)
Boy this is a silly waste of a ballot line. For some reason Coral Gables has a complex about pickup trucks, and the Commissioners are afraid to vote even a timid permissive pickup-truck-parking policy. This will allow dude trucks — just four wheels and nothing in the back — to be parked at homes over night. There’s no reason not to allow this, and there’s also no reason it should have needed to be on the ballot.

*WHEW* We made it to the end.

This entry was posted in 2012 Election, Coral Gables, Miami. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Downballot Recommendations November 2012

  1. We disagree on some, but overall good analysis. I had a problem with the Wolfson $500 to CFC. Shirley Gibson got their endorsement and their was no $500.

  2. Arthur Tang says:

    Thank you for a very insightful analysis/voter guide. I agreed with almost all of your recommendations, as opposed to, for example, those made by the “Florida Family” site (flfamily.org). Because I spend so much time away from Florida, it is extremely helpful to refer to cogent analyses of the proposed amendments and changes to state and municipal charters, etc. Thank you very much for your efforts.

  3. Just me says:

    I suggest voting YES on the “Non-Binding Straw Ballot on Funding Improved Animal Services Programs.” It is a health/hygiene issue, a moral obligation, and an issue of preserving the natural environment (although this is pretty much now too far gone) The proposal is for funding stepped up spay/neuter programs in the county, to reduce the stray cat population (spay/neuter is presumably part of this plan), and to establish a no-kill animal shelter.

    Hygiene: According to the ballot’s language we have an estimated 400,000(!) stray cats in the county. These cats carry parasites and disease that make it into ours homes much easier than the parasites and disease carried by other feral/wild animals because of their interaction with domestic “indoor/outdoor” cats. Among the problems with these cats is increased incidence of rabies (http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/releases/110921.html and http://www.feralcat.com/sarah3.html)

    Environment: You think pythons in the Everglades are a problem? The stray cat on your block may be worse. See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/09/0907_040907_feralcats.html and http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/sendIt/ec1781.pdf

    Moral: Let’s face it, dogs and cats are here because we put them here. We breed them, we feed them, and we abandon them. The language on the ballot claims that we put down about 20,000(!) dogs and cats in Miami-Dade County shelters every year. Nationally, the number is around 4,000,000 per year (that’s about 1 every 8 seconds). See http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/. Dogs and cats are living and feeling beings. It is shameful that we have such little regard for their lives that we have created this problem. We should spend the money to solve it. On a personal note, my wife volunteers at the Miami-Dade animal shelter from time to time (I can’t bring myself to join her. It is too depressing). She tells me about the stacks of trash bags that she often sees in the back filled with the bodies of euthanized dogs and cats. It is horrible. Pay the damn half penny or whatever the heck the cost is.

  4. Tyler says:

    Hi Professor, I’m curious about what you think about the election of judges, in general. It just seems to me like having judges – who hardly anyone knows anything about – elected is a rather dangerous practice. Judges should be free of political pressure so they can make unpopular decisions. If they are elected, they can get voted out (like what happened in Iowa after the gay marriage decision).

    Do you ever see a time when states would go to a system of appointing judges instead?

    • As I’ve said in the past,

      Unlike most law professors I know, I support the idea of judicial elections at the state level as a reasonable democratic check on what I believe should be the expansive power of judges to interpret the state and federal constitutions. Although, if it were up to me, I’d have the executive branch pick judges with legislative confirmation, followed by a California-style retention election every few years in which there would be an up or down vote on the incumbent. If the vote was down, the executive would pick a new judge. It seems to me that the right question is “has this judge done a good (enough) job” — something voters might be able to figure out — rather than asking voters to try to guess from electoral statements which of two or more candidates might be the best judge.

      • Just me says:

        The problem with merit retention elections, which we have here in Florida for at least the Supreme Court (not sure about the DCA’s – I should probably know this) is that even the merit retention elections become politicized. You need look no further than this year’s FL Supreme Court merit retention elections to see that.

        • But “politicized” is just another word for “democracy” isn’t it? And we’re for that, right?

          • Just me says:

            No, I don’t think “we” are for democracy in justice. I prefer merit and legal prudence in justice. Democracy is good for our representatives in the legislature and the executive. Democracy checks the judiciary through representative appointments to the bench. But a judiciary that is independent from the changing whims of politics is, I think, more important for consistent, long term, and reasoned application of the democratically created law. If we don’t like the law, democracy allows us to elect new representatives to the legislature to change those laws.

            What I don’t want is judges who see the law and choose to either not apply it, or to apply it selectively, from fear of electoral consequences.

  5. GERMAN ACOSTA says:

    Good Job.
    Appreciated your honest analisis.
    Not supporting all your ideas or representatives, but thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.