Submitted by Mike Harrison
March 20, 2015 9:54 a.m.

Observer readers will recall the Legislative Delegation hearing in Yulee in January when Sen. Bean and Rep. Adkins voted unanimously to carry a bill to Tallahassee to change the charter of the Ocean Highway Port Authority (OHPA) to require their elections to be Partisan. The Observer’s archives contain extensive postings on the topic, the majority of the comments condemning the notion of partisan elections for a local agency such as OHPA. The arguments against partisanship followed three main threads:

  • Party affiliation should play no part in the management of our Port; we just need the best qualified candidates.
  • Partisan elections disenfranchise electors who are not affiliated with the majority party in the constituency; the processes surrounding Primary Elections and Write-In nominations means that about 46% of the Nassau County electorate does not get to vote on who will be on the OHPA commission.
  • The inclusion of party affiliation on the ballot sheet encourages people drawn to the polls for the headline races to vote ‘party’ if they have no other basis of choice. This built-in bias discourages non-majority candidates from running.

On March 1, 2015 Rep. Adkins formally filed the bill to make the change at Tallahassee. It now carries the title House Bill (HB) 1201 and can be tracked at www.myfloridahouse.gov. The bill is required to be voted ‘favorable’ by three consecutive committees, before it is presented to the Legislature for voting, most likely as part of a Consent Agenda. Failure to pass any of the committees kills the bill.

The first committee meeting was held on Wednesday, March 18th at 8:00 am. I went to Tallahassee for the meeting. Rep. Adkins introduced her bill, Commissioner Richard Bruce of OHPA ‘waived in support’ (meaning that he did not actually say anything but rather waived his right to speak and wished to be recorded as supporting the bill). I spoke and was given a good hearing. The thrust of my message was that the proposed bill does no good and may actually do harm by weakening the electoral process, denying qualified candidates to OHPA, and marginalizing the 46% of the electorate who do not feel that they have a hand in electing people to OHPA. When the question was put, the vote was 10-3 in favor of the bill.

It now has to appear before the Government Operations Subcommittee. If it passes there, its final review is at the Local & Federal Affairs Committee. No dates for these meetings had been scheduled as I write. (FO will publish dates as they become available.)

FOpinions_051312There is a danger that the bill will be voted on along party lines. For me, it is important to recognize that the harm to the electoral process comes not from whether Republicans or Democrats dominate a particular electorate, but rather it is the chilling effect that the process brings to the non-majority electorate. So it is not a Republican/Democrat issue, it is an electoral process issue. This is borne out by the strong opposition to partisan election at OHPA that has been expressed by community leaders here of all parties.

It is possible that the ‘process’ argument may resonate well with the Government Operations Subcommittee, given its oversight of …the Division of Elections within the Department of State, and the Florida Elections Commission. … (House Directory p. 69)

Readers are encouraged to tell the members of these committees their opinion on whether OHPA elections should be partisan. If readers cannot be physically present at the Capitol, e-mails are certainly better than nothing; my guess is that such emails will be more effective if they are not sent until a meeting date has been set, and certainly will be strengthened if the writer incudes their party affiliation. We cannot expect more than 24 hours’ notice of the meeting, although we can hope for more.

For many people, HB 1201 can be summed up as ‘fewer candidates; fewer voters’ – not a good reason to change the law.

EMAIL ADDRESSES OF COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Harrison

imagesMike Harrison is a resident of Old Town and a member of the city’s Historic District Council.  He and his wife Jennifer are actively engaged in many civic endeavors to improve their neighborhood and the city.

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Karen Thompson
Karen Thompson (@guest_30814)
7 years ago

Hope we don’t all have to reregister as RINOs in order to vote. What a sad, sad situation. Voting rights are civil rights. Why don’t we have them here in Florida, Nassau County and Fernandina?

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_30815)
7 years ago

Michael, thanks for carrying the fight forward. Unfortunately it is a fight against heavy odds. The vote and party affiliation of the committee members of the committee was not available on the FL govt. website as of this writing but I suspect you are right in that it closed, if not exactly, followed party lines. What is also interesting is reading the analysis of the bill that says the OHPA currently holds partisan elections rather than in keeping with it charter that the OHPA commissioners will be “elected by the qualified electors of Nassau County.”
Self-preservation at its worst (and I am a registered Republican).

Mike Harrison
Mike Harrison (@guest_30819)
7 years ago

Thanks for your comments, Dave. You may need to login to the site to be able to click on the committees. As an alternative, the detail that you are looking for on the make-up of the committees is in the 2015 House directory, downloadable at http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/FileStores/Web/HouseContent/Approved/ClerksOffice/HouseDirectory.pdf

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_30825)
7 years ago

What a sad day for Democracy. Every day, we continue to slid towards a banana Republic type of Government.” One party rule” gerrymandering of voting districts, No term limits. Oligarchy rules, money, Greed and Egos. Party politics suck! When is the electorate going to say Enough is Enough. I’ll tell ya, I’m fed up. We can see the true colors of our local Rep. and Senator. We can’t count on ether one of then to intercede with any thing going on at the our Port. I continue to hear from my neighbors ” Janet and Aaron are good folks, the’ll be their when we need them” Really!

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_30826)
7 years ago

I have previously e-mailed Janet Adkins, Ander Crenshaw, and Bill Nelson concerning whether the Port Authority had involved the Navy in it’s expansion plans – and requested that they contact the Navy for input concerning future expansion activity on the Navy’s mission. Perhaps, now, other folks should as well. Remember, the channel is dredged and paid for by Federal tax dollars for a reason – which is in support of King’s Bay, not the Port Authority and Kinder Morgan. No one has yet gotten back to me. What is the value of a nuclear deterrent when corporate interests are involved?

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_30827)
7 years ago

Mike,

Thanks for representing the views of so many of us. I learned late about the hearing and will try hard to attend the next one.

Citizens should know that the majority of the OHPA Board (3 out of 5 commissioners) just “walked” into their jobs because they were not contested in the 2014 primaries and the so-called elections were knowingly held in violation of Florida statutes. What a mockery of our democratic process enshrined in the Constitution.

I have filed complaints with the State Supervisor of Elections and the State Attorney’s Office. Will they really take action or follow the political party line?

Mike Harrison
Mike Harrison (@guest_30836)
7 years ago

Thanks for all of your comments. NOW IS THE TIME FOR ACTION.

I’ve just read that the meeting of the Government Operations Subcommittee has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 28th at 8:00 am at the Capitol. (see: http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Committees/meetingnotice.aspx?MeetingId=10355)

I’m planning on speaking and I’ll appreciate any support in person there. If anyone can join me, let’s coordinate by email at mharrison@iee.org.

If you cannot attend in person, please make sure that you make your feelings known by e-mail to the committee members listed at the original posting. And it wouldn’t hurt to copy it to Rep. Adkins (Janet.Adkins@myfloridahouse.gov).

Please tell them whether you approve or oppose HB 1202 that changes the OHPA elections from open to Partisan, and why. As the committee is majority Republican, it will help the opposition case if you can tell them if you are Republican too; that helps reinforce that this is not about politics but about getting the beset qualified candidates on the OHPA commission.

Although as Dave Lott said, this is a tough one to win, this committee has oversight of Division of Elections and the Florida Elections Commission; so the effect of this bill on the electoral process should be important to them. And we know that it only takes a ‘thumbs down’ from one committee to kill the bill.

Thanks for your interest and support. All together now, let’s tell ’em!

Mike Harrison
Mike Harrison (@guest_30848)
7 years ago

I’m trying to work too fast, and screwing up in the process! In my last posting I made two significant errors which I need to correct:
1. The committee meeting is on Tuesday March 24th, not 28th.
2. The bill number is HB 1201, not HB 1202.

My bad!

Mike

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