'Democracy not a value of the Florida Legislature'

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Editor’s note:The Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform (FLIER) says that the recent session of the Florida Legislature clearly proves that representative democracy is not one of the Legislature’s core values. As a result, Florida remains an “aspiring democracy”. The following is a guest post.

Having ended its session on May 7th the Florida Legislature definitively proved that ?emocracy, specifically representative democracy, is not among its core values?according to the Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform (FLIER). The non-partisan group criticized the session for various legislative maneuvers that gave further influence to contributions from moneyed special interests, implemented barriers to voting, undermined grassroots participation and voter registration, and sought to weaken the judiciary.

HB 1355, sponsored by Reps. Dennis Baxley and W. Keith Perry, drastically decreases early voting access, eliminates a 30 year old right of Florida voters to change their address at their polling location and to vote on a regular ballot, and curtails voter registration efforts through severely tightened deadlines and hefty fines. The League of Women Voters has stopped their voter registration activities as a consequence of this measure. Although ostensibly done under the pretext of eliminating fraud, proponents of HB 1355 did not have the evidence to back up any of their claims. Meanwhile, voters in ten other states have the convenience of same-day voter registration without issues of fraud.

HB 1207, sponsored by Rep. Seth McKeel, reincarnates the previously banned leadership funds that allow legislative leaders to collect campaign contributions directly from special interests without limit and distribute the money to preferred primary and general election candidates. These ?ffiliated party committees?were originally banned in 1992 when newspaper reports drew links between approved legislation and contributions to these ?lush funds?

HJR 7111, initially proposed by State House Speaker Dean Cannon, seeks to allow the Legislature to reject any rule adopted by the Florida Supreme Court by majority vote, instead of the current two thirds and make Florida Supreme Court Justices subject to Senate confirmation. Though pared down from Cannon? initial proposal, FLIER believes HJR 7111 is still a blatant attempt to retaliate against the court for removing Amendment 7 from the 2010 ballot for being misleading to voters. Amendment 7 was sponsored by legislative leaders, including Speaker Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, to override the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts Amendments if all were approved simultaneously.

?ll of these moves are simply naked attempts to keep and increase political power without regard for democracy,?said FLIER President Yury Konnikov. Between 1996 and 2008, Florida? incumbent re-election rate was an undemocratically high 97.5%. Threatened by the potential of Fair Districts to slightly lower that rate, legislators are maneuvering to put up various defenses to preserve the predictability of elections in the two-party plutocracy. This includes increasing access to moneyed interests with HB 1207 while driving down voter turnout and reducing access with HB 1355. Konnikov points out that these measures demonstrate that Florida is still an ?spiring democracy?due to the fact that such moves are commonly seen in the developing world when incumbents seek to artificially hold power at the expense of democracy. Recent examples include legislative barriers in the 2007 Kyrgyzstani parliamentary elections and the 2007 attempted removal of high court justices in Pakistan for issuing rulings not favoring the executive branch. More closely, the motives behind HJR 7111 are reminiscent of the 19th century and President Andrew Jackson? disregard for the rulings of an independent judiciary.

After witnessing some 63% of Florida voters pass the Fair Districts Amendments, the Florida Legislature? knee jerk reaction is to minimize the amendments?impact on the dysfunctional status quo by rolling back democracy. Clearly, competitive, pluralistic, representative democracy is not a value held by the Florida Legislature and unless the public demands it of every candidate and incumbent, it will not be.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.