Submitted by Mike HarrisonApril 3, 2015 8:30 a.m.
House Bill HB 1201 passed its third and final committee meeting on a 14-3 vote. It now goes on to its second House reading and then to the Senate and eventually the Governor.
On Tuesday I met one-on-one with the Representatives who are on the committee. Many were puzzled by the OHPA election process and suggested some further actions I might take if the Bill passed the committee. These included writing to the Governor if the bill ever reaches his desk.
The main arguments advanced in favor of the bill were a) if elections have always been partisan, why not simply codify the practice?, b) partisan elections do tell voters something about the candidates, and c) Republicans think differently from Democrats; Republicans are better business people! Against the bill, some Representatives asked if the Bill itself was valid since an improperly elected (constituted) OHPA commission is seeking to change its charter on how it is elected! I addressed some of these arguments at Wednesday’s meeting.
This committee was the first to have any discussion on the Bill. The main points of discussion were a) the requirement in Florida Statute that if a charter is silent on the type of election, it must be held as non-partisan; b) opinions on whether partisan elections do indeed have a chilling effect on non-majority candidates, and whether ‘minority party’ electors are indeed disenfranchised; and why the election was not challenged within 30 days.
I felt that some of the representatives were going back on what they had told me on Tuesday, but I regard that behavior as par for the course in a body where virtually all of the action probably goes on outside of committee, and there may be other invisible forces in play. For example, one representative told the committee that the time to protest the bill was before it got to committee. I took this at first to mean that our protests at the Legislative Delegation (LD) should have been more potent. On reflection, I remembered that the LD meeting was well-attended and that Rep. Adkins and Sen. Bean heard one voice in favor (from the Port), and thirteen voices against, from speakers of all party affiliations; it could not have been stronger opposition. So perhaps the representative’s comments were really a slap on Rep. Adkins wrist for not listening to her constituency, suggesting that she made a mistake in bringing the bill to Tallahassee. Finally, I must say that I felt that Rep. Adkins is well regarded in the House, and has been supportive of other Representatives with their bills. So undoubtedly some of the votes were ‘pay-backs’. Also, House protocol says that representatives should not question a Local bill as that would be seen as a poke in the eye of the sponsor.
Your emails most definitely made a difference in the process, if not immediately in the results of this committee vote. Representatives were surprised by how much interest and opposition there was to this Local bill, and it was clear that my meetings with representatives were being matched by visits from Rep. Adkins office. As Tuesday progressed, a second element arose: aides began to tell me that they were now getting a lot of phone calls on the bill. Combine that with a comment that in general the e-mails were against the bill, while the phone calls were in favor, it sounded to me as if a call had gone out to the faithful to call representatives. So much for signaling my strategy through the Fernandina Observer! Bottom line is that the bill now has some visibility in Tallahassee.
Although we have been knocked down three times, the battle continues. Let’s let the dust settle for a few days and we’ll see how things look next week.