Friday, September 28, 2007

FCAN Jib Jabs Legislators

Florida Consumer Action Network has posted a Jib Jab video on You Tube that is just too funny for words. They are taking their pokes at State Senator Mike Fasano and State Representative John Legg. Actually, if you are the victim of a sink hole in Florida, it could bring you to tears. Here it is. Judge for yourself:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Working on the Basics

I have not been on these pages hardly at all lately. There are two main reasons for that. The first is because I have been working at the basic building block level of elected politics - City Council elections. The second is, well, er, it is football season and the Florida Gators are 4 and 0.

But this diary is about the hard work of building a bench down on the hustings. If you want to know what life is like at the bottom of the political totem pole, about failures and successes and lessons learned, follow me below the fold...

I live in St. Petersburg, Florida. St. Petersburg is a city of about 250,000 folks smack dab on the west coast of Florida. We are the western anchor of the infamous I-4 corridor in Florida. Our county, Pinellas, (pop approx 1 million) went for Al Gore in 2000 but went for George Bush by a small margin in 2004. So, as a political scientist friend of mine likes to say, we are the swing county of the swing region of the swing state of the country. Real swingers. And we are doing all this swinging right here at Ground Zero.

St. Petersburg holds its municipal elections in November of odd numbered years. We have an eight member City Council and a strong Mayor form of city government. The Mayor and Council can serve two four year terms before being forced out by term limits. This is an "off year" for city elections, as the Mayor's seat is not up for election. The four odd numbered city council seats are up for election. Officially the Mayor and Council races are "non partisan". Having said that, we have a very conservative Republican mayor, Rick Baker, a friend of and protege of former Governor Jeb Bush. But five of our eight City Council seats are held by Democrats. There's that swing thing again.

There are two seats coming open on the St. Petersburg City Council due to term limits this cycle. One is held by a Democrat, Rene Flowers. The other is held by a Republican, Bill Foster. Both are considered likely Mayoral candidates in 2009. But by some estimates, so is half the population of St. Pete. Council members must reside in the districts they represent. St. Pete's Council districts are drawn pretty straight forwardly, i.e with a minimum of gerrymandering. However, due to the housing patterns in St. Petersburg, Rene Flowers, an African American Democrat, will be succeeded by an African American Democrat.

In fact, only two candidates filed for Rene Flowers District 7 seat. Gershom Faulkner is a 36 year old African American male. The former Marine served for six years as legislative assistant to State Representative Frank Peterman. He is currently Outreach Coordinator for Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D, FL-11). Faulkner served as Deputy Campaign Manager through Castor's primary campaign last cycle, delivering for her the hugely African American St. Petersburg portion of FL-11. He then moved on to take the position of state wide African American outreach coordinator for Jim Davis' ill fated campaign for Florida's Governor last year. By contrast, his opponent, Wingay Newton, also an African American male, is a relative political newcomer. He is, however, a neighborhood association president and his brother happens to be head of the St. Petersburg Fire Fighters Union.

Because only two candidates filed for this seat, they avoided a primary election. They will be voted on City wide in the general election on November 6th.

This was not the case in the other seat coming open this cycle. The District 3 seat held by Republican Bill Foster drew a four person crowd. This district includes some of the more affluent and more heavily Republican precincts in St. Petersburg. However, it is part of a swing State House seat most recently won by Democrat Bill Heller last year. It was hoped that this seat would provide a pick up opportunity for Democrats.

To that end, an excellent candidate was successfully urged to run. Cathy Harrelson is a single mother, a financial services professional with years of experience working for a very well known local municipal bond firm. And she was immediate past president of the 3,000 member strong Sun Coast Sierra Club. Joining Harrelson in the race for this seat were three white Republican men. Cliff Gephardt, a mortgage broker, is a political neophyte. Bill Dudley is a retired high school wrestling coach who finished second to Bill Foster for this seat four years ago. And Ed Montanari is an American Airlines pilot. However he was Bill Foster's campaign manager four years ago. To further groom him for this run, Montanari was appointed to head a prestigious task force on the future of our downtown airport in St. Petersburg. To say that Montanari is the candidate of the St. Petersburg Republican establishment is by no means an understatement.

In the only case of an incumbent Council member running for re election, Council Member Jamie Bennett drew two opponents and was also faced with a primary election. Bennett is a white male Democrat in a just over 50% African American District. District 5 covers the southern portion of St. Petersburg. He drew another white male Democrat, activist Chris Kelly and an African American private school teacher, Debra Woodard. Bennett was first elected to Council in 2001 to fill an unexpired term. In 2003, Bennett was re elected without opposition. Kelly and Woodard are making their first political runs.

Distinct 1 features the other incumbent Council member on the ballot. Democrat Herb Polson, the current Council Member was appointed to fill the seat vacated by now State Representative Rick Kriseman. Polson was a long time City employee who started his career with the city in the Police Department and wound up as the City's lobbyist, He retired from the City employment last year so that he could be appointed to fill the seat Rick Kriseman vacated to run for the Stat Legislature. So this is Polson's first election campaign. Polson is opposed by 70 something former Council Member, Republican Bob Kersteen.

Primary elections for Districts 3 and 5 were held September 11th. You would think that such a date would spark an outpouring of patriotism and every one would show up at the polls to vote. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In the District 5 race, only 8% of the registered voters cast a ballot. That's right, only 8%. Jamie Bennett, the incumbent Democrat Council Member advanced to the general election with 66% of the vote. Chris Kelly finished second with 19%.

In the District 3 race turnout was somewhat better, a whopping 14%. The results of this race were much more competitive as well. Ed Montanari, the Republican establishment candidate, was the top vote getter with 42% of the vote. finishing second and also moving on to the general election in November was Bill Dudley, the retired high school wrestling coach and driver's ed teacher. Dudley reeled in 30% of the vote. That was 206 votes more than Cathy Harrelson, the Democrat received. Harrelson gathered in 23% of the vote falling short of the top two vote getters. The District 3 seat will remain in Republican hands this cycle as both Montanari and Dudley are Republicans.

Cathy Harrelson did win a few precincts. However, the precincts she did win were both more heavily Democratic and turned out at a much lower rate than most of the the precincts won by her opponents. The precincts that went heaviest for Montanari turned out at twice to four times the turn out rate of the precincts that Harrelson won. This just points out what i have been carping about. We Dems need to do a much better job of getting our voters to the polls. It will continue to hurt us if we continue to get big percentages in heavily Democratic areas but get a low turn out rate. We need to find some way to get our voters to the polls in the same proportion the Rs get theirs. If we can do that, we will start winning a lot more elections around here.

Stay tuned. I will be coming back with some diaries about the day to day effort in a municipal election campaign. This is where it all starts. Our future state and national leaders will be groomed right here at this level of government. It is crucial that we get good people to run for these seats and to get our people elected.

Rainy Saturday Random Musings

I can't believe it has been nine days since I have posted here. I have been a little busy lately. I've been doing some bench building here in St. Petersburg. Some of you may have heard, we had a primary election in St. Pete on September 11th.

Actually not many people heard here in St. Pete either. The overall turnout was a paltry 11%. But we have strange elections here. We have four of our eight City Council seats up for election in November of this year. Primary elections were held in only two of those races. That's because these seats had more than two candidates. So on September 11th, the voters in those two districts chose the top two contenders to advance to the general election on November 6th. They will then join the candidates for the other two seats in a city wide election. Everybody clear on this? Voters within a district hold a primary to determine which two candidates advance to the city wide general election in November. Weird, huh?

What actually was a bit weird was how the primaries turned out. Not the actual results. They were fairly predictable. The real shocker was how most of the people voted. The majority of votes in this election were cast by mail. That's right, we essentially had a vote by mail election here in St. Petersburg. How about that?

Incumbent Council Member Jamie Bennett easily cruised into the general election in District 5 winning a full two thirds of the vote. He will face challenger Chris Kelly who received 19%. In the District 3 Primary, Ed Montanari led the four candidate pack with 42% of the vote. He was followed by Bill Dudley who garnered 30%. The disappointment here was that Cathy Harrelson failed to get through. Cathy was our hope to put another Democrat on the St. Petersburg City Council. Harrelson did manage to get 22%, but it was not enough. Well, we are most likely to retain the five out of eight Democratic majority on this allegedly non partisan Council.

The District 3 seat is going to remain in Republican hands as both Montanari and Dudley are Republicans. The District 5 and District 7 general election candidates are all registered Dems. In District 1, we have incumbent City Council Member Herb Poslon facing off against former Council Member Bob Kersteen. Polson is raising a bunch of money, way more than Kersteen. If he keeps that up, he will have no problem keeping that seat safely in the Dem column.

I am still going to be involved in 2 of the 4 races helping raise money. So I have just a bit of a breather here. But I wanted to let y'all know I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. Far from it. Last week I held fund raising events for each of my candidates and attended a fundie for Fairness for Florida's Families. That's the coalition that has formed to defeat the anti gay marriage constitutional amendment the wingers are going to put on the ballot for 2008. Nadine Smith gave a great talk at that event.

And I can not close without giving a shout out to Michael Hussey. His Pushing Rope Blog was just named Best Local Political Blog in the Tampa Bay area by Creative Loafing.

So Congrats to fellow Florida Kossack Michael Hussey!

And now it's time to go watch the Gators!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The MSM Is Starting To Get It

The St. Petersburg Times has this story today on the Florida Primary and Hillary Clinton. And while it is harder to see in the web version, the Times is finally starting to get it about the January 29th Florida Primary.

Buried several paragraphs into the story about Clinton's visit to Florida yesterday is this little gem:
Scoring well in Florida is important, even if the votes technically don't count, given the state's size.
Finally! I have been saying exactly that for quite some time now. And in the print edition, the inside headline reads like this:
Even if the votes don't count, Winning Florida Important
They are still on the "votes don't count" meme, but at least they are starting to recognize the vast other benefits of winning in Florida.

So keep beating the drum, folks. You are having an impact!

This story is also on the Buzz here. Be sure to get over there and put in your 2 cents. :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Barack Obama Music Video

Now this is not something I see everyday. Meg Foster is going to shoot an Obama Barack music video.

Put on your Obama gear and come on over to participate in our first O - Train Youtube Music Video project.

We only have room for 75 Obama supporters, so RSVP ASAP!

Video rehearsal will commence immediately following our September 13, 2007 general meeting at the Marti-Maceo Club. Please wear your Obama shirts to the general meeting. We also need volunteers for the Ybor City video segments Thursday after the meeting and on Saturday morning.

If additional rehearsal time is necessary, we will ask that volunteers attend a dress rehearsal on Saturday morning on the 15th.

Here is the event information.

Name: Countdown to Change O - Train Music Video Shoot Party
Tagline: Barack Obama, Tampa Bay O -Train, Countdown to change, O - Train Music Video, Youtube
Host: Tampa Bay O - Train
Type: Music/Arts - Performance
Time and Place Date: Saturday, September 15, 2007
Time: 3:00pm - 7:00pm
City/Town: Clearwater Beach, FL

St. Peterburg Votes Today: Primary Edition

Today is Primary Election day for City Council races in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, I had one candidate ask me last night if I thought voter turn out would exceed 15%. On September 11th, what could be a more patriotic thing to do than to go out and exercise your right, and duty, to vote?

There are 2 races on the ballot today. Primaries are being held for Districts 3 and 5. Districts 1 and 7, with only 2 qualified candidates each, skip the primary and will be on the ballot for the city wide General Election in November.

Today, only voters in Districts 3 and 5 can vote to winnow down the number of candidates for the Council seat in their districts to 2 each. The top two vote getters within these districts today will go on to the city wide voting in the November General Election.

The District 5 race features one of only two incumbents on the ballot this cycle. Acting Council Chair Jamie Bennett is seeking re-election to a post he first won in 2001 in a special election to fill the seat of Larry Williams who had resigned to run for Mayor. Bennett drew no opposition in his bid for a full term in 2003. The widely held belief that Bennett will run for Mayor in two years has drawn at least one candidate to challenge him this time.

Chris Kelly, a community activist, appears to be running with 2009 in mind. Kelly is a former President of the Roser Park Neighborhood Association. He did move to Pinellas Point a few years ago, but has not been civicly active within the district. His campaign seems to be aimed at establishing himself as a viable candidate in 2009 should Bennett vacate the seat to make his Mayoral bid. Bennett's other challenger is little know school teacher Debra Woodard. Ms. Woodard has run a perfunctory campaign at best.

The much more competitive race is for the District 3 council seat. This district, encompassing Snell Isle, Shore Acres and other neighborhoods in northeastern St. Pete will see Council Member Bill Foster leave the seat due to term limits. We will probably see Foster again in a Mayoral bid in 2009.

Meanwhile, 4 candidates are vying to replace Foster. Ed Montanari is Foster's anointed heir apparent. Montanari, an America Airlines pilot, was Foster's campaign manager in 2003. Montanari was groomed for this run by being appointed Chair of the Albert Whitted Airport Advisory Board. Prior to that, Montanari, who has been heard to say that "the Mayor's the boss", had no civic involvement. Montanari's connections have enabled him to lead the pack in fund raising. However, as befits a good airline pilot, no one will mistake Montanari for Mr. Excitement.

Returning from his unsuccessful 2003 bid to unseat Foster is now retired Northeast High teacher Bill Dudley. Dudley got through a 3 way primary in 2003, but was drubbed by Foster in the citywide general election. To improve his chances this time, Dudley is President of the Snell Isle Neighborhood Association. Much like John Edwards, Dudley has been running for this seat since his defeat 4 years ago. The experience shows. Dudley is a much better candidate this time around, and has managed to raise substantial dollars as well.

The significant new face in this race belongs to Cathy Harrelson. Harrelson is a financial professional whose long civic involvement has been focused on environmental concerns. Harrelson is immediate past President of the 3,000 member strong Suncoast Sierra Club. She has also been recently appointed to the County board advising on the Booker Creek preserve. There she was elected Policy Chair by her peers.

Harrelson brings the rare combination of business acumen and enviromentalist to the race. She also has the most realistic chance of maintaining the two woman minority on the Council. With Renee Flowers leaving the District 7 seat due to term limits, Leslie Curran is the only other woman on Council. Also, in this allegedly nonpartisan race, Harrelson is the only Democrat.

Mortgage Broker Cliff Gephart rounds out the field in District 3. Gephart has not run a substantial campaign, but speaks well in forums. Hopefully Mr. Gephart will stay involved in civic affairs and try again sometime in the future.

The District 3 race is really too close to call at this time. Dudley, Montanari and Harrelson are closely bunched and each has run a vigorous campaign. Which two advance to the General Election in November could literally come down to a hand full of votes. So if you are reading this in District 3 today, be sure to get out and vote. Your vote will definitely matter in this race.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Landmark! DEM candidates on Univision; GOP Disrespects Latinos

All the declared contenders for the Democratic nomination are joining in a debate sponsored by and televised on the Spanish-language network Univision.
Joe Garcia, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, believes the telecast will be a landmark event in the Latino world, drawing millions of viewers who have felt left out of American politics: "I believe more eyeballs will be watching this one than any other so far."

It is obvious that The Republican Party's base has moved so far to the right on immigration, Latino issues, and race-related issues, in general, that the [GOP] candidates cannot be bothered for a few hours of their time to spend. For all their talk about the GOP's "big tent," Republicans conspicuously spend so little time on black, Latino, Asian, etc., issues unless to demonize them as red meat for the base.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Suzan Franks to Run Again

Suzan Franks, who ran for Senate District 3 in the special election this summer, announced today that she is running for the seat in 2008. Here is an excerpt from her press release:

It was a wonderful experience running in the special election, Franks said. The voters I contacted were very receptive to my message of good government and putting the people first. In the June special election, time and money were against me. Fortunately, this time I now have fourteen months to compete. I will travel the district, running a traditional, grassroots campaign, to get my message directly to the voters. I will have the time, and I will raise enough money, to make sure the voters know they will have a better choice in the general election. As a candidate, and as your next State Senator, I pledge to conduct myself with honor and integrity, serving our community interests, not special interests.
Senate District 3 consists of Baker, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Suwannee, Taylor, and parts of Citrus, Columbia, Jefferson, Leon, Levy, Madison, and Marion counties. This sprawling district stretches from the southern Citrus County line to the Florida - Georgia border. The seat is currently held by Charles Dean of Inverness.

Franks has 23 years of public service experience, and she is looking forward to taking her message directly to the voters of Senate District 3. More from Franks statement:
The people of Senate District 3 expect a high quality of life provided in this wonderful area of our state", Franks said. "I have a proven track record of fighting every day to preserve the quality of life for the people I represent. I will fight every day for health care services and an education system that provides all of our children the opportunity to succeed. And I will fight for real property insurance and property tax relief, something this Legislature has failed to deliver.

Stay tuned. This could get interesting.

Full disclosure: I was a principal author of this press release.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

For a long time now, I have been saying that the stars are aligned for the Democrats to win the White House in 2008. All we have to do is to avoid shooting ourselves in the foot. Right about now, I feel like I am picking some of Dick Cheney's buck shot out of my toes.

This is not what we should be focusing our attention on. In a week where the Republicans are imploding (Alberto Gonzales and Larry Craig resign, John Warner retires), Dems should be standing back and let the Republicans continue to hang themselves. Instead we are getting headlines like this:

Democrats boycott Florida race
Here I have been trying to argue that what matters most is that Floridians voices will be heard. Now the Democratic candidates have come out and said that they won't be listening. Here is what John Edwards (who I have been supporting) has to say:

"Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina need to be first because in these states ideas count, not just money. These are places where voters get to look the candidate in the eye and measure their policies, ideas, and integrity."
What we have been arguing all along is that Florida voters are hungry for a chance to:

look the candidate in the eye and measure their policies, ideas, and integrity
at a time when it still matters in the nomination process. Floridians with money have long had that opportunity. Now we were going to have the same chance to measure the candidates as Iowa and New Hampshire have had. And we think that we probably could do a better job picking the Democratic nominee that Iowa and New Hampshire have done.

Here is a "history lesson" that has been circulated among Florida's Democratic leaders:

Of the last nine Presidential elections in which the Democratic candidate was chosen by the current primary system (excluding 1996 when President Clinton faced no real opposition in the primary), our candidate has only twice been elected President. Those candidates, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992, both lost the Iowa Caucuses. Clinton lost the New Hampshire primary as well.

Also, the Iowa Caucus has picked a loser every time since it came to
prominence in 1972.
Since 1952, the New Hampshire Primary has only picked one Democratic President when the nomination was contested.
So what do we do now? I say it is about time to start using our influence on the candidates campaigns. Let's pick up the drumbeat to get these candidates to change their minds and reject this lunacy of boycotting Florida.

If we are ever going to Blog Florida Blue , now is the time to start.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Labor Day Picnic-September 3 Tampa

Labor Day Picnic at Florida Fairgrounds in Tampa. Map.
Anyone have candidates they know are planning to attend?
Kevin Beckner (Hillsborough District #6) will be there.

The $12 Million Dog - A Pony Show for the Estate Tax

Please don't get me wrong. I am, in fact, a dog lover. I am pleased that the late Leona Helmsley's dog
will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum
But it occurs to me that this story should be the poster child in the fight to restore the Estate Tax to an equitable level.

What is the Republican argument in this dog fight? That Helmsley's dog deserves a $12 million trust fund? Leona Helmsley
became known as a symbol of 1980s greed and earned the nickname "the Queen of
Mean" after her 1988 indictment and subsequent conviction for tax evasion. One
employee had quoted her as snarling, "Only the little people pay taxes."
Well, the "little people" continue to pay taxes at a higher rate on their labor than the rich pay on their investments. Are the Republicans going to say that a better use could not be found for that $12 million? How about health care for the uninsured children of the "little people"?

Let's give the "death tax" rhetoric the death penalty. If anyone needs a dog and pony show to convince them, point them here.