It’s election day today in Florida. We have the primaries, a school board election, and also the judicial elections and a local ballot question (other parts of Miami also have some big county commission races, but the terms are staggered and I live in a district which has an off year). The judicial elections — the part that gets by far the least attention from voters or media — may be the most important part.
Governor (D primary): Jim Davis
At the top of the ballot there’s the race that got the most attention: the gubanatorial primary. As a registered Democrat, I get to choose between two candidates I’d happily vote for over either of the Republicans, so I’m already ahead whether Rod Smith or Jim Davis wins. Both candidates bring a different package of virtues and blemishes to the table and I can’t say I have violent feelings about this one. But on balance, I’m going to vote for Davis. I was leaning that way anyway, but what tipped me was the multi-million dollar third-party ad blitz for Smith in the last few days. It was mean, negative, misleading — and financed by Big Sugar.
I’ll be voting for the ballot proposition to give county commissioners a real salary instead of the pittance they now receive. They run a huge budget and, who knows, it might reduce the propensity to make backroom deals for cash.
That said, I resent the one-sided way in which the ballot summary is worded:
Shall the Charter be amended to provide that County Commissioners no longer receive the $6,000 annual salary established in 1957, but shall receive instead the population based salary provided by State statutory formula (currently approximately $88,919) and used by other Florida counties, including Broward County?
Talk about stacking the deck.
School Board (District 6): Gus Barrera (incumbent).
I have a vote in a local school board race in District 6. It’s a sign of how dismal the choices are that I will be voting for a man who supports book-banning. Yes, “Gus” Barrera not only voted to ban Vamos a Cuba, a picture book for little children on the grounds it failed to be anti-Castro enough, he voted to waste more money appealing the school board’s loss in court. Why am I voting for him? Because the other guy is worse.
Barrera at least voted not to ban the book the first time the issue arose, thus giving the school system’s normal procedures a chance to examine it. And to their credit the parents and bureaucrats both said to keep the book — at which point Barrera voted to overturn their decision. Barrera’s opponent’s main campaign issue is that he would have voted to ban the book right away. No thanks.
AG (D primary): Walter (Skip) Campbell
There’s a race on for Florida’s Attorney General, often a springboard to higher office (the Republican incumbent is the leading candidate for Governor). I have to confess I’ve paid too little attention to this one (is it not seriously contested?). Skip Campbell is endorsed by DFA and by the Miami Herald. While I don’t fully trust the Herald in non-judicial elections — its instincts are very status quo — anyone who can get both these endorsements is likely to be someone I’m going to feel comfortable with.
There is, however, one place where I do tend to be a status quo voter, and that’s in the judicial races. I like voting for judicial incumbents unless they’re doing a bad job (examples include ethical lapses, sloppy rulings, and consistently poor in-court behavior). This year I’ll be voting for all but two of the incumbents running for re-election.
The first exception is Judge Ivan Hernandez. I’ll be voting for his opponent in Group 4, Robin Faber. The reasons why this is an important vote are well summarized in the Miami Herald editorial endorsing Faber.
The second exception is Judge Ana Maria Pando who was admonished by the Florida Supreme Court last year for failing to disclose a campaign finance loan from her parents in previous elections. In Group 10 I’ll be voting for Sari Teichman Addicott.
There are also a number of open judicial seats — some where it’s a tough call.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court
Group 25: Murphy (I) [(I) means incumbent] (Herald endorsement)
Group 42: Schwartz (I)
Group 78 (open seat): one of the toughest calls — all the candidates seem to have both virtues and question marks. The Herald endorsed Bardawil, but she didn’t get that great a qualification rating from the Dade bar poll — 57% suggested she was unqualified! At 37 years old she’s also the least experienced lawyer in the race. However, Jose R. Sanchez-Gronlier did equally badly, and Valerie R. Manno Schurr, only did somewhat better (47% rated her unqualified). I remember Ms. Schurr from her previous race in 2004. She’s experienced as a lawyer, had a prior career as a nurse, and is a UM law grad. I liked her in the 2004 race, and I think she’s my choice in this group.
Group 79 (open seat) has two candidates, Marie Abigail Davidson and Antonio “Tony” Marin. The Herald endorsed Marin, a pillar of the local Cuban establishment, as did the pseudonymous Rumpole. He also gets a much, much higher rating in the Dade bar poll, so I’m voting for Martin.
Update Group 80 (open seat) has three candidates: Mario Garcia Jr.; Marisa Tinkler Mendez; and Catherine B. Parks. Garcia is out of the running as far as I am concerned — he has too little legal experience without anything I know of to make up for the lack. The Herald’s not-so-convincing endorsement is for Marisa Tinkler Mendez, but on paper Parks looks like a slightly better candidate on the basis of her diverse experience as a litigator (20 years), a trauma nurse, and especially as an active citizen in various local organizations. For this one I may need to call people I know until I find someone who knows them personally.
Miami-Dade County Court
Group 1: Shirylon McWhorter (I) (Herald endorsement). Judge McWhorter failed the Save Dade test (about which more below) — but so did her opponent.
Group 4: Robin Faber (running against incumbent) (even the Herald doesn’t support incumbent Ivan Hernandez — although the PBA does.)
Group 9 (open): Both the Herald and Rumpole endorse Victoria Del Pino over Joel Jacobi. The Dade bar poll scores are not that different, although Del Pino slightly edges Jacobi. I’m planning on voting for Del Pino on the grounds that she seems to have more relevant experience, and that even if it were a tie all other things being equal I’d probably like to see more women on the bench. (Both candidates fail the Save Dade test.)
Group 10: Judge Ana Maria Pando is the incumbent, but I’m voting for Sari Teichman Addicott for the same reasons as in the Herald’s endorsement. Read the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in the Pando case for yourself.
Group 11: Karen Mills Francis (I)
Group 14: Judge Michael Samuels (I) (Herald endorsement)
Group 27: Judge Sheldon “Shelly” Schwartz (I). Another valued veteran. Herald likes him too.
Group 39: Judge Bronwyn Catherine Miller (I). I actually have met Judge Miller. She seems smart. And I hear she’s a good judge. And the Herald likes her.
Group 40: Judge Bonnie Lano Rippingille (I). Herald. The challenger, Don Cohn, sounds good too, but I’m for retention during good behavior.
Group 43 (open): Three candidates. Do NOT vote for Cecilia Armenteros-Chavez. I don’t know much about Michael A. Bienstock; both he and Jose L. ”Joe” Fernandez have somewhat similar Bar poll scores. The cognoscenti and the Herald much prefer Fernandez, and I have no reason to disagree.
And finally, I thought I should reprint this from the Sun-Post before it vanishes (temporarily at this link):
Like many political action committees, SAVE Dade endorses candidates. Known for championing an amendment to the county’s human rights ordinance that includes banning discrimination against anyone based on sexual orientation, SAVE Dade (the SAVE stands for “Safeguarding American Values for Everyone”) has an adversary — the Christian Family Coalition, a local group devoted to the ideal that it’s OK to discriminate against gay people and it is not OK for same-sex couples to enjoy any kind of civil rights protections.
How does Murmurs know this? Simple — the Christian Family Coalition sent questionnaires to judicial candidates, which were displayed on the organization’s Web site, mdccc.org. “Canon 2 (c) code of Judicial Conduct, states a judge should not hold membership in an organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin. Do you believe this canon should be changed to include sexual orientation (i.e., bisexuality, homosexuality, etc.)?” “Do you believe there should be domestic partner benefits (same-sex marriage benefits) for judges?” Why the obsession with homosexuality? One clue would be the group’s founder and director, Anthony Verdugo. Formerly the head of the Miami-Dade Christian Coalition, Verdugo and his followers have been seeking to overturn the county’s provision banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. They also want a state amendment declaring that marriage is only between a man and a woman — even though such a provision already exists on state books.
Isn’t it a major no-no to ask judges such questions, as it may render them less than impartial in future cases, you may ask? Not according to the Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. “The mere expression of an opinion does not necessarily mean the person giving the opinion has researched the issue exhaustively, or that the person would not be amenable to altering the opinion in the face of capable advocacy. That is, expressing an opinion does not automatically indicate closed-mindedness,” the opinion stated, which is also proudly displayed by mdccc.org — as are the judicial candidates’ answers to the questions. Apparently county court candidates Patricia Marino-Pedraza (Group 1), Shirlyon McWhorter (Group 1), Ivan Hernandez (Group 4), Victoria del Pino (Group 9), Joel Jacobi (Group 9), Ana Maria Pando (Group 10), Stephen Millan (Group 11), Gloria Gonzalez-Meyer (Group 14), Sheldon “Shelly” Schwartz (Group 27), Cecilia Armenteros-Chavez (Group 43) and Jose Fernandez (Group 43) more or less think it’s all right for judges to belong to groups that discriminate in regard to sexual orientation. McWhorter, Hernandez, del Pino, Jacobi, Pando, Millan, Gonzalez-Meyer, Armenteros-Chavez and Fernandez also answered “n” (no) when asked if domestic partner benefits should be extended to judges. Eleventh Circuit Court candidates Jose Perez Velis (Group 25), Dennis Murphy (Group 25), Gina Mendez (Group 42), Antonio “Tony” Marin (Group 79) and Mario Garcia Jr. (Group 80) said it was not OK to forbid judges from belonging to groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation. And Velis, Murphy, Mendez, Marin and Garcia also marked “n” when it came to extending domestic partner benefits for judges. As of deadline, Murmurs could not find the Christian Family Coalition’s endorsements on its Web site. However, according to SAVE Dade’s Web site, www.savedade.org, “The Christian Family Coalition has decided to do endorsements for the first time this year, as opposed to the report cards they have done in the past, and they have adopted a policy to only offer endorsements to those candidates that agree not to accept the SAVE Dade endorsement.”
One judicial candidate preferred the backing of the Christian Family Coalition to SAVE Dade’s endorsement. “Formerly endorsed judicial candidate Patricia Marino-Pedraza…has opted to drop our endorsement so that she may receive the Christian Family Coalition endorsement,” SAVE Dade stated. “SAVE Dade would like to thank the judicial candidates who turned down such offers from the Christian Family Coalition.”
I do realize I’m voting for some judges who fail this test but in most cases their opponents fail it too, and in the rest they are not good choices for other reasons.