Socialists, ballots and pot: The week in Florida politics
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s 2018 midterm election is one of the most important in years. The governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats are on the ballot; Republican Gov. Rick Scott is challenging three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson; several congressional seats will be competitive; and Floridians will vote on several proposed constitutional amendments. The following are items of political interest from the past week:
WHO YOU CALLING A SOCIALIST?
Gov. Rick Scott decided this week to come up with a new line of attack on his Democratic opponent. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is a “socialist,” Scott declared during a campaign stop in Brevard County without giving much of an explanation.
Scott and his campaign were asked after the event to explain how Nelson could be considered a socialist since socialism is usually defined as government-control of various parts of the economy.
Part of the argument was that Nelson is supporting Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is in favor of Medicare-for-all, the health overhaul championed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But while Nelson is backing Gillum he does not support the Medicare-for-all proposal.
Another reason cited by Scott in an interview with a local newspaper was that Nelson is in favor of “higher taxes” and opposed the tax cut package pushed through by Congress at the end of last year. Scott has pushed for tax cuts while governor, but his fellow Republicans in the Florida House rejected a plan by Scott that they said would raise property taxes to help pay for education.
After getting questioned about it, Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the campaign said this: “As liberals around the country embrace the socialist platform, the question becomes: is Bill Nelson a Socialist or just really, really liberal? Answer: what’s the difference?”
Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Nelson’s campaign, said Scott’s use of the “socialist” tag just shows that the governor is “getting desperate” because he spent millions on television ads over the summer and polls show that the race is either tied or close.
“Rick Scott makes up these wild charges and I think he’s doing so because he’s on the ropes,” McLaughlin said.
SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ’EM
Democratic candidate for attorney general and state Rep. Sean Shaw said he wants to legalize recreational marijuana and that he’ll drop the state’s appeal in a lawsuit that seeks to declare smokable medical marijuana legal.
Voters approved medical marijuana two years ago, but lawmakers made it illegal to smoke it. Attorney John Morgan sued to allow smokable medical marijuana and a lower court judge agreed it should be allowed. But Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed.
“I understood what it meant when more than 70 percent of Floridians voted in favor of medical marijuana, and to be clear, they had every intention for it to be smoked,” Shaw said at a press conference held at a Tampa medical marijuana dispensary.
He also said recreational marijuana should also be legalized.
“Expanding access to legal marijuana is just common sense. Law enforcement officials’ time and resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes instead of arresting and prosecuting adults for marijuana consumption,” he said.
COUNTING THE BALLOTS
A new report released this week is raising questions about how different counties handle vote-by-mail ballots, or what used to be called absentee ballots.
University of Florida professor Daniel Smith, working on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, looked at the rates of ballots that had been rejected by election officials in the 2012 and 2016 general elections.
There are several reasons that a ballot can be rejected, but one reason is that a voter’s signature on file with election officials does not match the signature put on the returned ballot. Following a successful lawsuit filed by the Florida Democratic Party, the Legislature in 2017 changed the law to require county election offices to notify voters if their signatures on their ballot and voter registration form don’t match. Voters would then be given a chance to fix the problem before the election.
Smith’s report found younger voters as well as black and Hispanic voters had a higher rejection rate.
The report also found that rates varied by which county the voter lived in. The results led the ACLU and Smith to recommend that the state look at having more uniform standards for the design of absentee ballots and how election offices handle them.
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, urged “voters to take the steps to track their mail ballot and, if there is a problem with the voter’s signature, to use the cure process to ensure that their vote is counted.”