Absentee ballots are out, early voting begins this week, must be time for a South Florida election guide. (See your personalized sample ballot.) If your mind is made up on the headline races, skip down to the judges. My suggestions regarding the Florida Constitutional Amendments, and the County Questions will be in Part Two which will be up presently.
Hold your nose and vote for Charlie Crist. And enjoy that at least this means you also get to vote for Annette Taddeo.
The Governor’s race is painful this year, pitting a far-right-likely-criminal Republican Rick Scott against former Chain-Gang-Charlie Crist, a man whose journey from then-hard-right Republican Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate to soft-right Republican Governor to centrist Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014 has had at times a certain air of opportunism.
I for one will never forget, and find hard to forgive, Crist’s behavior as Attorney General, not least his behavior in one of the early sexting cases, where he personally argued an appeal arguing for further victimizing the female victim whose boyfriend shared her picture around by making her a sex offender. And I didn’t like his judicial appointments.
But give the man his due: he governed far more reasonably that he campaigned. (Yes, soft bigotry of low expectations.) He kept the polls open late in 2008, I think more on grounds of basic decency than calculation. If elected he’ll support expansion of medical care to the poor (if the legislature lets him), and ought generally to check the excesses of our very right-wing legislature. Plus we get Annette Taddeo as Lt. Governor, who’ll be a great voice for South Florida, and progressives generally.
The issue for conservatives is whether to stay home or vote for Libertarian Adrian Wyllie. The choice for progressives is whether to vote in this one at all, given the choice between two Republicans. The thing is, one is crazy, secretive, and possibly corrupt; the other is a bit of a weather-vane, but shows signs of humanity, and at least the wind is blowing more or less in the right direction.
They say Pam Blondi, the incumbent, will win because George Sheldon didn’t raise enough money. That means more years of bigotry and embarrassment for the state of Florida. She’s virulently, flailingly anti-gay-marriage (and, one suspects, anti-gay full stop). She’s unserious: Bondi really did get Gov. Scott to delay an execution to allow her to go to a fundraiser. George Sheldon on the other hand, is serious, and would do a fine job. What a pity it looks like he won’t get the chance this time. Vote for Sheldon.
Jeff Atwater (R), a big insider, is expected to romp against Will Rankin (D), who hasn’t made much of an impression.
Commissioner of Agriculture
This is actually also the consumer affairs portfolio, and it’s a pity for consumers that it remains in Adam Putnam’s Republican hands, but the state Dems haven’t done much for their ticket this year; I’ll vote for Thaddeus Hamilton because he’s not Putnam.
State Rep District 114
I’ve written about this before–Eric Fresen must go. Daisy Baez is a strong candidate. Ross Handcock is a good guy who unfortunately has persuaded himself he’s the people’s choice as an independent candidate, which looks to me like the best thing that could ever happen to Fresen. Certainly, if you’re a Republican and are disgusted by Fresen, but don’t want to vote for a Democrat, Hancock is your man. Otherwise, vote Baez. (Let me know if you need a yard sign.)
Three DCA Retention Elections
All three have sterling records – vote YES for all three.
Vote yes to retain Judge Barbara Lago (86% of bar respondents recommended Lagoa for retention), Judge Thomas Logue (91% of bar respondents recommended Logue for retention), and Judge Vance E. Salter (92% of bar respondents recommended Salter for retention).
Miami-Dade County Court Judge
Tough call. Go with the experience but dubious temperament of incumbent Jacqueline Schwartz (UM JD ’91) or go with the kinder, gentler but far less experienced attorney Frank Bocanegra? Bocanegra is on his second career after being a police officer for 30 years and then City Manager for the Town of Miami Lakes, which is why he has only seven years attorney experience without being a young ‘un. His campaign bio (more on this later) says he is currently an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and St. Thomas University teaching Criminal Justice and Business Law. I know someone who says he’s a real nice guy.
First problem is, one of my basic principles for judicial elections is to prefer people with at least 15 years legal experience–and to demand at least 10 years–before voting for someone as a trial judge, a job that requires a lot of immediate evidentiary and procedural rulings from the bench and for which the State of Florida provides little support in the way of law clerks and the like. Bocanegra fails that experience test, and I gather that even in the few years since he left law school his court room experience has been limited. The Herald’s editorial says Bocanegra “currently” works for the Public Defender’s office, but if he’s ever worked there at all it seems that Bocanegra is embarrassed about it because this fact doesn’t appear anywhere on his otherwise-extensive campaign biography (he’s a Kentucky Colonel!), which I do not see as at all a good sign and is another reason I feel uncomfortable about suggesting you should be voting for him.
On the other hand, it seems Judge Schwartz has a temper, and being forced into a runoff by just a few votes doesn’t seem to have improved it.
The Herald endorsed Schwartz in the first round, then reversed field and endorsed Bocanegra:
Since the primary, the Miami Herald reported an incident at a Coconut Grove convenience store in which the owner said that Ms. Schwartz demanded that he remove an opponent’s oversized campaign sign from the parking lot outside or display hers, too, then cursed at him when he said he could not because he was not the property owner. The story continues that the judge called Miami code enforcement, which made the store owner remove the too-large sign.
This raises sufficient questions about the judge’s demeanor. The individuals interviewed at the convenience store — a cashier corroborated the story in a sworn statement — said they did not know she was a judge when she came in.
Ms. Schwartz has not responded adequately to the allegations. She told the Editorial Board that it would not be “wise” to talk about them in light of a complaint filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission. She also referred a Herald reporter’s questions to her political consultant, Bob Levy. Mr. Levy told the Editorial Board this week that she denied, to him, that she directed unseemly profanity toward the store owner.
I too endorsed Schwartz the first time around, if halfheartedly, writing,
There are three candidates. Jacqueline Schwartz is the incumbent. She’s endorsed by the Herald – and by the Christian Family coalition. The challengers are Rachel Glorioso Dooley (17 years experience) and Frank Bocanegra (six (!) years experience). Again, I’m voting incumbent. Then again, Dooley has support in the bar and outpolled Swartz on competence: 39% saying Schwarz was not qualified but only 21% saying that of Dooley. Dooley was endorsed by the league of prosecutors. There’s some case for a change here, but not quite enough for me.
So here we are again, and meanwhile allegedly Schwartz has had a public blowup off the bench – a pretty serious one.
So I had a look at the Cuban American Bar Association poll of lawyers (I usually look only at the more inclusive and larger-sample Dade County Bar poll), and although it’s based on a small sample (n=229) it is pretty dire: Only 9.5% rated Judge Jacqueline Schwartz as “Exceptionally Qualified”, and only 31.4% rated her as “Qualified”; a whopping 59.0% rated her as “Unqualified”. Trouble is, Frank Bocanegra’s numbers were not much better: he got 11.1% Exceptionally Qualified, 33.3% Qualified, and 55.6% Unqualified. I don’t think there’s much difference to be found there although I suppose one might hope that Bocanegra might learn on the job.
I also reached out to some local lawyers I know. What I got was mostly hearsay: they hadn’t appeared in front of Judge Schwartz themselves, but they knew people who had, and what they heard ranged from not good to awful. It’s only hearsay, but it’s what I’ve got.
So, like I said, a tough choice. At this minute I’m leaning towards Bocanegra, mostly based on that hearsay, but this could easily change.
Update (10/31): I just learned of this Oct. 27 New Times article, County Judge Candidate Once Sued in Federal Court Over Harassment Allegations which reports on the City of Miami Lakes’s $21,000 settlement of a claim of a campaign of harassment:
In February 2007, when Bocanegra was a major on the county police department, Abella spoke at a Miami Lakes council meeting to argue against a mundane ordinance, proposed by Councilwoman Nancy Simon, concerning residents’ posting of signs along suburban streets. In the back of his truck, Abella also had his own sign: “Councilmember Nancy Simon wants to pollute Miami Lakes with signs.”
After leaving the meeting, Abella says, he was intimidated in the parking lot by police officers who didn’t like what he’d said. And then, he says, he was systematically harassed over months: He says that police stopped him and threatened to issue a citation if he didn’t remove the sign from the back of his truck, and that on several occasions other officers gave him bogus parking tickets and citations for ostensible violations like blocking handicapped parking spaces. Major Bocanegra, Abella alleges, used his officers to “make our life a living hell.”
Abella went to federal court, claiming he had been intimidated as retaliation for expressing his First Amendment rights. He named numerous defendants, including Bocanegra, Simon, and several officers, and the legal wrangling went on for years. Finally, earlier this year, the case was settled for around $21,000, says Dennis Kerbel, who represented the county.
A spokesman from Bocanegra’s campaign office referred comment about Abella’s allegations to Kerbel, who says the claims of harassment were frivolous.
Without knowing more, it’s hard to tell what to make of this story.
This one is a no-brainer: Pedro Garcia, who used to be the Property Appraiser until being turfed out in the previous election, may not be the change-maker we need in the job, but the alternative is a term-limited state Representative and, well, hack, named Eddy Gonzalez who is utterly unqualified for the post. Let’s not politicize the office. Back to the past, rather than forward into the deep end. (In a sign of strange bedfellows, or that all politics is local, or that principles don’t matter when your party is on the verge of forgetting you, Senator Marco Rubio endorsed Gonzalez. Ick.)
Next: Voting Guide Part Two: Florida Constitutional Amendments & Miami-Dade Charter Amendments.