Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pinellas commissioner stands with voters on term limits

Distinguishing himself from his corrupt peers, Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche is launching his first re-election campaign with a promise to abide by the county’s voter-approved 8-year term limits.
As reported earlier, Pinellas is the only county in Florida that refuses to enforce its county commission term limits, even after the unanimous 2012 Supreme Court decision that such limits are constitutional.  While term-limited Pinellas Commissioners Susan Latvala, Karen Seel, John Morroni and Ken Welch continue to battle the people in the courts, they also continue to serve on the commission.
Roche, on the other hand, told the Tampa Bay Times in their 2014 candidate questionnaire that he promises to “to honor my pledge to adhere to the will of the voters on term limits and only seek two terms.”

Pinellas County commission term limits were approved by 72 percent of the voters in 1996. Per the county charter Article VI Sec. 6-02 (3): "If approved by a majority of those electors voting on the amendment at the general election, the amendment shall become effective on the date specified in the amendment, or, if not so specified, on January 1 of the succeeding year."

While a court can invalidate an amendment, there is no leeway here for the commissioners to do so by themselves.  Recognizing this, Roche deserves credit for adhering to the people's clearly expressed will even at his own expense.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Rep. David Jolly looking out for #1

Newly-minted U.S. Rep David Jolly is no citizen legislator, even if he is a freshman. He served on the staff of veteran porker Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young and then worked as a lobbyist in Washington before winning the special election for Young's seat this year.

His pedigree reeks of a wannabe professional politician and indeed opponents pressed this theme. As you can see in this campaign ad, at right, they predicted we would oppose changing Congress as a longtime beneficiary of the system.

The critics were right. Although polling suggests that some three-quarters of Southwest Florida voters support term limits, Jolly has made it clear he intends to put his career first.

At a debate in February of this year, Jolly was asked if he supports term limits:

"I don't. The only term limit you need is an election. If I don't deliver, then throw me out."

Yeah, right.

He's been around the block long enough to know that incumbent Congress members running for their own seat win about 94 percent of the time. Once you are in, you're in. And the special interest money starts to flow automatically into the incumbents' coffers to defend their position. Because of the unlikelihood of victory, incumbents can depend on nominal opposition -- or even no opponent at all.

That is why we need term limits and why David Jolly opposes them.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Court collision pushing Pinellas case toward Supreme Court


The April 16 decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeals excusing Pinellas County from enforcing its voter-approved 8-year county commission term limits law collided head on with a 2011 decision from the 4th DCA which required that they be enforced. Indeed, after the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the 4th DCA decision, every county in Florida is enforcing their county term limits except Pinellas.

Why is Pinellas so special?  In its April 16 decision, the 2nd DCA did  not answer that question. In fact, its only response was: "Affirmed." No explanation was given at all!

That won't do. It is pretty clear this case must be settled in the Florida Supreme Court as the conflict between the two decisions are so stark.  Must counties enforce their voter-approved charter amendments or not?

It is an important question that affects all 20 of Florida's charter -- or 'home rule' -- counties, not just the 12 whose voters have opted to impose term limits on their county politicians.

On this basis, the Pinellas citizens who have been defending the Pinellas term limits law in court have filed for a rehearing, requesting the court revisit its decision or at least provide an explanation that they can bring to the Supreme Court.

It is difficult to see what the defense the county politicians have. The case set out in the good guys' Motion for Clarification appears incontrovertible:

  1. Voters overwhelmingly approved 8-year term limits on county commissioners and constitutional officers in 1996.
  2. In Cook (2002),  the Florida Supreme Court (in a split decision) struck down the term limits on constitutional officers, but did not address county commission term limits.
  3. The Pinellas charter's severability clause (7.01) clearly provides that if one section of the charter is found unconstitutional, others survive.
  4. As an example of this under Florida law, Florida voters approved in 1992 term limits on both federal Congress members and state legislators. When the U.S. Supreme Court shot down Congressional term limits in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995), the Congressional term limits were nullified but -- per Florida's Ray v. Mortham (1999) -- the state legislative term limits still stand.
  5. In 2011-12, the 4th DCA and then the Florida Supreme Court both unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of county commission term limits and also reversed their earlier decision regarding constitutional officer term limits as well.
  6. All Florida county term limits on the books today have been ruled constitutional and are being enforced, except in Pinellas County. There is no reason why Pinellas should be treated differently.

Due to the conflict between the DCAs, appellants Maria Scruggs and H. Patrick Wheeler argue the 2nd DCA owes the public -- and the Supremes -- an explanation. If we get one, it will be due to the hard work and personal sacrifice of these two individuals.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Appellate court sides with Pinellas term limit scofflaws


That is the only explanation that the Second District Court of Appeals gave voters for their acquiescence to Pinellas County commissioners to ignore the 8-year term limits law approved overwhelmingly by voters in 1996.  The decision was rendered on April 16.

Of the 20 charter -- or "home rule" -- counties that have the power to customize their county government structure, 12 so far have passed term limits, mostly of the 8-year variety.  Most have enforced their term limits from day one, but a couple of recalcitrant county commissions (Sarasota and Broward, to be specific) fought them in court claiming they were unconstitutional. However, in 2012, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously decided that county commission term limits are indeed constitutional. For good measure, they also decided that constitutional officer term limits are constitutional, overturning an earlier split decision.

As a result, every term-limited county in Florida except one is enforcing their voter-approved term limits. The exception is Pinellas, and so far they are getting cover from the courts. 

Why? The appellate court wouldn't say. Perhaps this is because there is nothing to say.

It appears the courts so far have taken the position that the term limits were approved so long ago, they have never been enforced in Pinellas County, it would upset the political apple cart, it would be far easier to just let the status quo stand. Can't we just all move on?

That is not a legal argument, of course.

The scofflaw incumbent commissioners named in the case rest their legal hat on the shaky premise that the Supreme Court effectively overturned Pinellas' term limits law in its 2002 Cook decision which ruled constitutional officer term limits unconstitutional. That's why the commissioners refused to place the voter-approved amendment in their charter.

Well, yes, the Pinellas law did include constitutional officers and this provision was clearly shot down, if only temporarily.

One of the problems with that argument is that the court never explicitly overturned the Pinellas law, and indeed the Cook decision didn't even mention the issue of county commission term limits. Moreover, three other counties in which courts explicitly overturned the term limits (Sarasota, Broward and Duval) are now enforcing their limits due to the unanimous Supreme Court decision of 2012 deeming them constitutional. That includes Duval County, which was part of the Cook decision case!

How can that be squared with last week's decision in Pinellas? It can't -- which means that the last chapter of this story is not yet written. Patrick Wheeler, who -- along with Maria Scruggs -- is leading this lawsuit on behalf of voters, has vowed to take this case to the next, and last, step.

Will the Supreme Court of Florida let a handful of corrupt local politicians defy its unanimous decision as well as the will of a large majority of Pinellas County voters?  I can't imagine it. But we will find out due to the courage, honesty and persistence of citizens Wheeler and Scruggs.

The appellants are soliciting donations for legal expense. Please help. Checks can be sent to John Shahan, PA, 536 East Tarpon Avenue #3, Tarpon Springs, FL, 34689 please mark check “For Term Limits Expenses."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Grimsley and the petty arrrogance of power

Following the lead attack by Rep. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville), Sen. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) has launched the second salvo against Florida's voter-initiated and -approved 8-year term limits law.

Last week, Grimsley introduced a slightly different Senate version of Perry's bill to weaken the legislative term limits from eight to 12 years. Surely she recalls the bill passing in 1992 with 77 percent of the vote. Surely she has done sufficient homework to find recent polling showing that Floridians' love of term limits is undimmed. Surely, she has seen the negative reaction Rep. Perry has received from the public.

But there is a hubris that comes from holding office too long that blinds politicians. Legislators feel that they are irreplacable and hence are disdainful of the democratic tradition of rotation. Sen. Grimsley served eight years in the House and now wants an additional 12 years in the Senate. Oh, and she'd like a longer term so she doesn't have to face the voters as often.

It is pretty clear why. Voters are disgusted with this kind of self-serving behavior and she doesn't want to hear it. She hears the higher call of her career and of the special interests that further it.

Sen. Grimsely has figured out the professional politicians' path to career success.  Once in power, keeping it is a simple process. It requires little more than taking out one's Rolodex, reassuring the special interests that you're still on board and accepting their checks. Nearly all PAC money goes to the incumbents. The powers of the incumbency and its daunting purse chases away meaningful competition. She doesn't want to be bothered with the rubes of her district and their shabby interests.

In 2005-06, when self-interested politicians last made a serious attempt to ditch our 8-year term limits, there was such an outcry the anti-term limits amendment bill was repealed shortly after it passed.  Sen. Grimsley, Rep. Keith Perry and the rest of the legislature need to hear from us right now.

Check out Sunday's op-ed by Nick Tomboulides in Highland Today -- Sen. Grimsely's hometown paper -- where he takes her to task for her arrogance. For regular updates, be sure also to LIKE the Save Florida Term Limits Facebook page.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Perry attack on term limits stirs controversy in hometown

In Sunday's Gainesville Sun, I make the case in an op-ed that Rep. Keith Perry's (R-Gainesville) bill to weaken Florida term limits from eight to 12 years is an effort to benefit legislators at the expense of citizens.

"The results during Florida's term limits era have been good. Legislatures are like marriages, in that they are all dysfunctional in their own special way. But some are definitely better than others — and Florida's is pretty good. In a 2013 ranking of states by their fiscal condition — an outcome highly influenced by government policy — the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranked Florida as sixth in the nation. Incidentally, five of the top 10 states in this ranking have eight-year term limits on their legislatures. So, it must be asked again, why is Rep. Perry launching this attack on eight-year term limits?"
The answer isn't flattering to Rep. Perry. Perry is a successful businessman who got the opportunity to run because Speaker Larry Cretul reached his 8-year limit in the House. Now, it appears Rep. Perry wants to cut the ladder off beneath him.
Perry rationalizes this in a straight piece in today's Gainesville Sun.  He claims eight years isn't sufficient to master the complexities of being a Florida legislator. Eight-year limits are, however, the most common in the United States from the president, to governors, to state legislatures, to county commissions and mayors. He does not explain what makes being a Florida legislator so particularly daunting.
Hint: It isn't.
Fortunately, I was provided a chance to respond. "Blumel said that when politicians say eight years is too short, people should keep in mind that the Florida Senate is made up of many former members of the state House of Representatives who possess considerable legislative experience, while the lower chamber has more political newcomers who provide better representation of the citizenry."
Instead of focusing on the centerpiece of the legislation, the weakening of term limits, Perry instead focuses on the fact the bill also lengthens the terms themselves from two to four in the House and four to six in the Senate. But these are just window dressing. Legislators have tried to loosen their limits numerous times and continue to test new angles to slip this idea by voters.
Perhaps the best quote in the article isn't by Rep. Perry or me. It is by Alachua County Democratic Party Chairman Robert Prather.
"We're disappointed that Rep. Perry seems more interested in protecting jobs in Tallahassee... than ... Gainesville, Alachua County and Dixie," Prather said.
For the complete articles, see Blumel op-ed and Perry news article.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

KEEP 8-YEAR TERM LIMITS bumper sticker available!

http://flatermlimits.blogspot.com/2011/02/florida-loves-term-limits.htmlPolling suggests an overwhelming majority of Floridians oppose the weakening of our state's voter-approved term limits from eight to 12 years.

Nonetheless, Gainesville Republican Rep. Keith Perry has introduced new legislation to do just that. His personal interest as a legislator apparently is a higher priority than your interests as a citizen.

Floridians spoke in 1992 when they approved 8-year legislative term limits with a 77 percent vote. It is time for the people to speak again.  One way to do it is with this tasteful, high-quality vinyl bumper sticker: KEEP 8-YEAR TERM LIMITS. This sticker is easily removable without any damage to your vehicle. And, they're free.

To get one, go here and include your contact info including mailing address and you'll find one in your mailbox promptly. Thanks.