I’m feeling good about tonight. Obama won, and better yet, it looks like he won Florida, thanks to the voters of South Florida. Evidently you can’t lie and buy your way into the White House. Not yet, anyway.
And we helped! (At least a tiny bit.)
Also it looks like the most noxious of the proposed constitutional amendments lost as well.
The three supreme court judges get to stay.
And David Rivera is toast!
The US Senate remains Democratic, and Bill Nelson won.
Elsewhere, gay rights won in Maryland and Maine on a popular vote! Tammy Baldwin will be a senator from Wisconsin (and still an out lesbian!).
Nate Silver called it almost exactly right.
And Romney is still being a prick. It’s almost 1:00 a.m. EST, and he still hasn’t conceded. [Okay, 1:00 a.m., and Romney just conceded. Not a very gracious speech, but it's something.]
I knew I would have to be away from home on election day, so I voted absentee three weeks ago. I had never voted absentee before and had misgivings about doing that because of the rampant fraud involving absentee ballots in South Florida and because I have always liked the experience of actually going to the polls on election day.
But after seeing the stories on television and the Internet about the outrageously long lines at the early voting sites in Miami and elsewhere, I have to say—a little guiltily, perhaps—that I’m glad I took the absentee option. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have the sitzfleisch to wait in line for four or five or nine (!) hours in order to vote.
Perhaps the situation tomorrow will be a little better since there will be many more polling stations open, but I fear that it will be just as bad on election day. Ever since I saw what the ballot looked like—all ten pages in Miami-Dade—it seemed obvious that we were in for yet another FUBAR Florida election. I had done considerable homework to figure out what the proposed constitutional amendments and local questions and other semi-obscure issues really meant, and it still took me upwards of 20-25 minutes to make sure that I had completed the ballot as I intended. I can only imagine how long a naïve voter might ponder over this monstrous ballot if presented with it for the first time.
I can’t help thinking that this is by design. First, sneak a dozen politically loaded (and mostly meritless) amendments (often obscurely or misleadingly worded—my “favorite” is the “Religious Freedom” amendment) past voters who very likely have no idea what they’re actually voting on and therefore would be inclined to check the “Yes” oval. Second, make the very act of voting so onerous that people would be tempted just to say “Fuck it” and go home or back to work without casting a ballot. Tedium may be the ultimate form of voter suppression.
I wish I thought that the shameless office holders who created this situation would suffer from public outrage for making the most basic civic duty an exercise in tenacity and boredom. But that probably won’t happen.
Instead, I just hope that voters will stick it out and make simply voting an act of defiance of the cynicism and mendacity of the people who are now running this state.
Yeah, I know…easy for me to say, since I’m not standing in line.
There is no vote for US Representative from Florida District 24 in the November election, because that was determined in the August primary. The Republican party did not put up a candidate, so the primary became a “universal primary” which meant that members of both parties could vote for the Democratic candidates, and incumbent Frederica Wilson won—overwhelmingly—over Rudolph Moise (also running as a Democrat), thereby determining the outcome.
The redrawn District 24—which, full disclosure, is my district—is unusual in South Florida because it is majority black and therefore presumptively a “safe” Democratic seat. It runs from downtown Miami through the historic black neighborhoods of Overtown, Liberty City, and Brownsville through Opa-Locka and Little Haiti and includes North Miami, North Miami Beach, and Miami Gardens (all of which also have large numbers of Haitian-Americans) into far southern Broward County as far as Miramar. About 55 percent of the voting age population is black. Another 30 percent are Hispanic (only about one-fourth of them Cuban), Only about one-eighth of the residents are Anglo whites—mostly in the neighborhoods east of Biscayne Boulevard like Morningside and Belle Meade and in largely white municipalities like Miami Shores and Biscayne Park.
Frederica Wilson gained the seat in 2010 when Kendrick Meek resigned to run for the Senate against Marco Rubio. As a freshman representative, she lacks a substantial legislative record and is probably best known for her flamboyant hat collection, but she has been a reliable supporter of President Obama and his policies, and she gained some prominence by demanding a fuller investigation of the Trayvon Martin killing this past spring. I think she deserved a second term, and almost certainly I would have voted for her if she had had an opponent in the general election.
There is, in the redistricting business, something called “packing”, where districts are drawn in order to put as many of a given ethnic or political group as possible into the same district. The positive effect is that it all but guarantees that that group will have some representation in Congress. The negative effect is that it tends to minimize the influence of the same group in surrounding districts, and therefore is sometimes a subject of controversy. (The opposite—and more nefarious—practice is called “cracking” and consists of splitting a coherent community among several districts in order to dilute its influence.) I suppose District 24 could be viewed as an example of packing, but all things considered, I think the way the district is drawn is defensible.
However, as happy as I am that my own district will be sending a Democrat to Congress, in a larger sense it does concern me that out of the five congressional districts that include parts of Miami-Dade County, three of them (24, 25, and 27) are essentially or actually uncontested in the general election. That means that most of the residents of Miami-Dade really have no choice over who represents them in Congress. Maybe people are okay with that, but it just doesn’t seem very healthy for democracy.
Congressional District 23 gets a lot of attention because it is currently represented by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is also the chair of the Democratic National Committee. The Republicans would therefore dearly love to unseat her, but the odds of doing that probably aren’t too good.
The L-shaped redrawn district covers most of the inhabited parts of Broward County south of I-595 and then hooks south to include the ocean beach communities all the way to South Beach in Miami-Dade. Unlike other districts that include parts of Miami-Dade, this one has an Anglo white plurality—almost 50 percent. Hispanics are about 37 percent of the voting age population, but only about a fourth of Hispanics in the district are Cuban in origin. Less than one-eighth of residents are black. The official demographic data from the redistricting website doesn’t include this kind of information, but the district obviously includes a substantial Jewish and gay population.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been in congress since 2005, and before that was a Florida state representative for eight years. She has been a rising star in the party, and was chosen the DNC chair in 2011. If you’re at all familiar with the Democratic Party’s platform, you’ll know where Wasserman Schultz stands on the issues. She has been pro-choice on abortion, pro-gay, and pro-gun control, as well as a staunch supporter of the Affordable Care Act and President Obama in general. Her website is here.
She is feisty and outspoken. Soon after she took over the DNC, she got into some controversy over an appearance on Face the Nation in which she said: The Republicans have a plan to end Medicare as we know it. What they would do is they would take the people who are younger than 55 years old today and tell them, ‘You know what? You’re on your own. Go and find private health insurance in the health-care insurance market. We’re going to throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions. We’re going to give you X amount of dollars and you figure it out’. Of course, that has turned out to be a pretty accurate description of the Romney-Ryan position—that is, whenever that position can be pinned down.
Both the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald have endorsed Wasserman Schultz for re-election.
Wasserman Schultz’s Republican opponent is Karen Harrington, who also ran against her in 2010. Judging from Harrington’s campaign website, she appears to be a typical Tea Party candidate. Her website shows her posing with Rick Santorum and firing a rifle at a shooting range (she gets a top “AQ” rating from the NRA). She has an endorsement from the Eagle Forum PAC founded by Phyllis Schlafly, who has always been the conservatives’ favorite female anti-feminist. She is also endorsed by ALIPAC (Americans for Legal Immigration) which says it opposes “any form of Amnesty for illegal immigrants”, and she accuses Wasserman Schultz of “pandering to Hispanics.”
Harrington says she wants to repeal Roe v Wade, believes life begins at conception, and would cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. She fully supports Paul Ryan’s budget plan, and says she would have voted “no” on the last vote to raise the debt limit—apparently not caring that that would have forced a financial crisis of immense proportions. She seems to be trying to be more Jewish than Wasserman Schultz, calling Obama “no friend to Israel”—the phrase that keeps popping up on those ads by the Jewish Republican Coalition PAC bankrolled by Newt Gingrich’s BFF and benefactor Sheldon Adelson.
And she says she fully supports the Defense of Marriage Act, which has now become for gays the single biggest obstacle to obtaining access to rights that heterosexual couples take for granted. Indeed, Harrington’s official photo on her website makes her look remarkably like Anita Bryant back in the day. Like Bryant, she is “no friend to gays.”
Harrington’s experience has mainly been that of the owner of Rickey’s Restaurant and Lounge in Pembroke Pines (and now two other locations), which would make her one of the “job creators”. I’ve never been there, but it’s apparently a beer-and-chicken-wings kind of place. On-line comments by patrons give it lukewarm to negative reviews. One patron (who “liked it”), said: “It’s not the kind of place you find sleaze [sic] drunks passed out and sloppy, but it kind of looks like that. It’s the kind of place you recognize from those 1970′s Clint Eastwood country movies sans bikers. The food is greasy and about what you’d expect…” I’m no restaurant snob, but it doesn’t exactly make you want to eat there, so would you really want to send the owner to Congress? Really?
Note to naturists: The extremely popular Haulover Beach is in this district. Now obviously, it doesn’t appear in the campaign websites, but I’m kind of guessing from their positions on other issues that Harrington would be a lot less sympathetic to keeping part of the beach clothing-optional than Wasserman Schultz. Just sayin’…
Bottom line: Vote for Debbie Wasserman Schultz!
And Why You Should Care
When you fly into MIA from the west, you are looking down on miles and miles of Everglades with no sign of human habitation, and then suddenly you are over a densely populated urban area. The transition is like night and day, and the reason is something called the Urban Development Boundary (or UDB). The UDB is the line that keeps development from intruding further into the Everglades and coastal wetlands.
The main reason I’m writing about this now is that the UDB is the subject of one of the proposed changes in the Miami-Dade charter that is being voted upon in the November election. At issue is incorporating into the county’s charter the current county law requiring a two-thirds majority to move the UDB to allow development in lands that are now undeveloped or agricultural. This is actually one of those better-half-a-loaf-than-none measures, since a three-fourths majority would be preferable, but it does offer some more protection than a simple majority.
To be honest, I had never heard of the UDB until I started following Eye on Miami’s posts on the subject. (The New York Times considered it worth a feature article back in 2007.) But I quickly became convinced of the importance of this issue to the future of our community.
First a little background and geography lesson: On a conventional map, Florida looks like a broad peninsula over a hundred miles wide. But when you see it in a satellite image, you realize that what we think of as South Florida is really just a narrow finger of land along the Atlantic no more than 10 – 15 miles across. We live where we do because a thin limestone ridge parallel to the coast lifts the land a few feet above the ocean on the east and the Everglades on the west. In the hundred years or so since Miami and other communities were established, developers have pushed settlement westward into the Everglades by landfill and swamp drainage, which has resulted in a lowered and distressed water table (which we all depend on) and deterioration of the Everglades ecosystem as the urban sprawl has expanded. The sprawl has in turn created the traffic nightmare that area commuters experience daily.
Back in the 1970s, the first efforts to contain the sprawl were embodied in a Land Use Plan for Miami-Dade, and in 1983 the UDB first appeared as a specific line on the map. [See this fascinating, if slightly wonkish, legal summary here.] However, the UDB has been under constant assault by real estate developers and rock miners ever since, and between 1976 and 2007, some 52 square miles—an area more than twice the size of Manhattan—have been added to the land inside the UDB available for development. [Note: Those rectangular ponds on the fringes of the Everglades that you see in the satellite images are former rock mines that have filled with water from the Biscayne aquifer.]
The pressure is incessant. Earlier this year, the Ferro Investment Group submitted an application to expand the UDB to include 10 acres in West Kendall and rezone the parcel from agricultural to commercial. Approval would mean an adjacent and larger agricultural parcel would be surrounded by commercial development on three sides and therefore ripe for picking on the next round. Development doesn’t just mean environmental degradation—it also means that taxpayers pick up the tab for the infrastructure that the county must provide to support the development.
At stake are huge sums of money, and therefore it is a political issue, though perhaps because it doesn’t involve sex or drugs, it isn’t one that get a lot of attention from the general public. But the developer forces, like the Latin Builders Association, which want to put up new big-box stores, strip malls, and subdivisions on vacant lands, contribute heavily to friendly county commissioners. Lynda Bell is the most shameless among what Eye on Miami calls the “unreformable majority” who reliably vote to support their interests. (There are also a few Good Guys like Dennis Moss and Sally Heyman who are trying to hold the line.)
The anti-environmental Scott administration in Tallahassee has made local resistance to moving the line even more tenuous. As Eye on Miami put it: Until the Republican-led Florida legislature gutted the Growth Management Act this spring, approved by incurious, indifferent Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Community Affairs provided pressure against local county government from doing what powerful lobbyist/law firms and their speculator clients wanted: strip malls, commercial centers, and platted subdivisions wherever and whenever they could find bank financing. The local state senator who has been most active in gutting this environmental protection is Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Broward), who introduced a bill in May that would make it easier to move the UDB (which, fortunately, failed). You know Bogdanoff—she’s the one surrounded by those adorable kiddies in her campaign commercials. You’d never know from her ads that she is also the leading shill for the Genting gambling behemoth behind the push for megacasinos in South Florida.
Long story short: The measure now on the November ballot is a slender reed in the battle against the ongoing destruction of the Everglades, but it’s one of the few we have. Vote YES on this one.
For me, the top of the ballot is a no-brainer: Barack Obama deserves re-election. I have previously stated my reasons for supporting the President, and last night’s debate confirmed my view that Mitt Romney is a snake-oil peddler who will say absolutely anything to make the sale and constantly changes his line depending on the audience. The bottom line is that Romney’s economic prescriptions (about which he never actually reveals any details) would not produce anything resembling a balanced budget, would protect and expand the unfair advantages enjoyed by the wealthiest Americans, and would eviscerate the social safety net built up over the last eight decades. We know that the Republican agenda is to cripple and eventually dismantle Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. As Obama pointed out last night, the Romney/Ryan program is the George W. Bush program with a mean streak. And besides, Romney is just such a prick!
But that’s just the beginning of a very long and complicated ballot. If you’re voting in person, you really need to be prepared before facing the bewildering array of questions on this ballot. It’s really ridiculous!
The next question is the Senate race between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican challenger Connie Mack IV (whose real name is Cornelius Harvey McGillicuddy IV). Apparently about half of Mack’s supporters are under the illusion that they would be voting for his father, former Senator Connie Mack III. In my book, Nelson’s voting record is generally mainstream Democrat, while Mack’s positions veer off into Tea Party craziness. Nelson deserves re-election.
Then come the three questions on retention of Florida Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente, and Peggy A. Quince. If you don’t want to give Rick Scott total control of the state supreme court, you need to vote YES on all three. Everything I have read tells me that all of them are stand-up justices who deserve to remain on the court. See here and here.
Then on my ballot is a run-off for County Judge, Group 24 between Greer Elaine Wallace and Andrea R. Wolfson. It’s not easy to get a lot of information to make a decision on these judicial races, but in this case a compelling factor for me is that Wolfson has accepted the endorsement of the odious anti-gay Christian Family Coalition. As a gay man, that’s a huge red flag for me, and I urge all gay voters and fair-minded straight voters to vote for Wallace.
And that’s just the first page in a 9-page ballot! Next come the full texts of no less than 12 proposed state constitutional amendments, and there is no explanatory synopsis to tell you what you’re actually voting for. Some of them are quite insidious. Discourse.net has a very helpful analysis. Amendment 1 is a Republican attempt to nullify the Afforable Care Act (aka ObamaCare). Amendment 3 is a “starve the beast” measure to limit growth of state revenue. Amendment 4 is another one, but worse. It’s intended to kill local government services by choking off revenue, but presented in the guise of helping homeowners avoid property tax increases. Amendment 5 is basically about giving the legislature the means to intimidate judges. Amendment 6 would prohibit public funding of abortion (which doesn’t happen anyway) but also exempts abortion from privacy protections under the state constitution. Amendment 8 would undermine separation of church and state by removing the prohibition against using public funding for support of religious institutions—it’s also an indirect attack on public schools. Even the few that have some merit would be better handled by ordinary legislation. Bottom line: Vote NO on all of them.
Then comes the Miami-Dade school bond question which would authorize issuing $1.2 billion in bonds for public schools. I’m generally supportive of better funding for schools even if it might mean a slight property tax increase. So I think this one deserves support.
Then there are various proposed Miami-Dade charter amendments. (I know, eyes are probably glazing over by now, but stick with me! Some of these are actually important.) Here’s the Miami Herald’s editorial opinion on these questions, which makes sense to me. The third question regarding the Urban Development Boundary looks particularly important. So YES on all of them except the fourth one (new incorporated cities) and the seventh (county procurement)—NO on those two.
Okay, almost done now. Then there’s a county question on expanding the tennis center in Crandon Park on Key Biscayne using non-public funds. I don’t really see the harm here, so YES on this one.
Finally, there are “non-binding” straw polls on improving animal services and “Contracting with Companies Doing Business with State Sponsors of Terrorism”. I’m not sure there is a need for the first, and the second is just silly and aimed at companies that want to do business in Cuba. So I’m inclined to say NO on both.
Phew, that’s it!!
One more thing: Vote for Debbie Wasserman Schultz for Congress in District 23, and for heaven’s sake vote for Joe Garcia against David Rivera in District 26.
For another opinion that I respect on this election, see the Eye on Miami post here.
The redrawn District 25 stretches from northwest Miami-Dade and southwest Broward across the Everglades to the Gulf of Mexico, including big portions of Collier County and Hendry County. But the demographic center of gravity remains in Hialeah and Doral in Miami-Dade. The district is heavily Hispanic (70 percent), though nearly half of the Hispanic population is now non-Cuban.
Incumbent congressman Mario Diaz-Balart inherited the district when his older brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart decided the grass was greener as a lobbyist and decided not to run for re-election in 2010. Mario, who was facing a real re-election challenge in the neighboring district where he was then the US representative, carpetbagged over to his brother’s turf and ceded his old district to David Rivera.
For Mario Diaz-Balart, the district couldn’t be more ideal. He is unopposed by a Democratic candidate in the general election, and—better yet—had no opponent in the Republican primary. So he can just sit back and sip mojitos during the campaign season.
Since there’s basically nothing to talk about when it comes to the election, the story here is really about the Diaz-Balart dynasty, which requires some looking back into Cuban history. It’s a fascinating story, worthy of a family biography (I was actually surprised that one apparently doesn’t exist). Or perhaps a telenovela.
The one fact that frequently astounds clueless gringos is that Mario’s (and Lincoln’s) aunt, Mirta Diaz-Balart, was Fidel Castro’s first wife. Which means that all that ensued thereafter was in one sense a real family feud.
Fidel and Mirta and her brother Rafael Diaz-Balart (Mario’s and Lincoln’s father) were all students at the University of Havana in the 1940s. Mirta and Fidel married in 1948—according to some versions, against her family’s wishes—and had a son, Fidel Angel “Fidelito”. The familial and political strains on the marriage grew as Fidel moved increasingly leftward and from student activism into violent confrontations against the government. After Fulgencio Batista regained power in a 1952 coup and made himself dictator, the marriage was clearly doomed. Rafael Diaz-Balart became a deputy in Batista’s Ministry of the Interior (which controlled internal security), and Fidel Castro launched a quixotic armed attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago in 1953, which landed him in prison.
In 1955, Rafael Diaz-Balart made an impassioned (and arguably prescient) speech before the Cuban Congress pleading against releasing Fidel from prison in an amnesty. But Castro was released and went to Mexico, and later that year he and Mirta were divorced. There was a prolonged and bitter custody battle for Fidelito—Mirta accused Fidel of kidnapping him during a visit to Mexico—but Fidelito ultimately ended up with his father. (Sort of oddly foreshadowing the battle over Elian Gonzalez.)
Cuba in the mid-fifties was not exactly the idyllic democratic island of nostalgic exile memory. Batista’s regime was a thuggish kleptocracy on the model so prevalent in Latin America in the last century. He suspended civil liberties and formed a secret police force, while aligning himself with Cuba’s wealthiest families. How deeply the senior Diaz-Balart was involved with Batista’s repressive apparatus is hard to know at this point. Later he would try to distance himself from Batista, claiming that he had broken with the dictator, but the disclaimers weren’t totally convincing, as in this fascinating exchange before a US congressional committee in 1960.
In any case, Batista enjoyed US support. In 1960, then-Senator John F. Kennedy noted: At the beginning of 1959 United States companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands – almost all the cattle ranches – 90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions – 80 percent of the utilities – and practically all the oil industry – and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports. Batista also allowed US mobsters—particularly Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano—to run the casinos, nightclubs, prostitution—for a sizable cut. Americans in search of sex and gambling flocked to the mob’s resorts in Havana.
Cuba’s proportionately small but well-educated and industrious middle class did well under Batista, and they became Castro’s target and scapegoat as the Batista regime crumbled. When Castro’s forces swept into Havana on January 1, 1959, Rafael Diaz-Balart had already left for Europe, doubtless seeing the handwriting on the wall. (His brother Waldo, an artist, also left and for a while became a member of Andy Warhol’s Factory and acted in a couple of Warhol films including the 1968 sex-and-drugs classic Loves of Ondine.)
Within three years, Rafael Diaz-Balart had two US-born sons: Jose (now a Telemundo anchor) born in November 1960 and Mario born in September 1961—both in Fort Lauderdale. (Lincoln, the eldest, was born in Havana in August 1954. A fourth son, Rafael J. Diaz-Balart, was born in 1959; he became an investment banker and is currently Chairman of the Board of the Miami Symphony.) The senior Diaz-Balart developed extensive business interests in Spain, where he spent much of his time. Lincoln graduated from the American School in Madrid.
All of the Diaz-Balart siblings have had impressive careers by any measure, and remarkably for such a big and prominent clan, the family has managed to avoid becoming enmeshed in scandal. It is no disparagement of their achievements to observe, however, that they did not start out as penniless refugees.
Lincoln blazed the trail in US politics, and Mario has followed closely behind. Both started out as Democrats, but both switched parties in 1985. Lincoln won a seat in the Florida house of representatives in 1986, then won a Florida senate seat in 1989, then was elected to the US House of Representatives in a newly-created district in 1992 where he remained until 2010. He deviated a bit from the Republican party line on some issues like immigration and gay rights, but fought against the Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare) and voted against the 2008 economic bailout. He also was a staunch opponent of online gambling, which is kind of ironic since he is now the leading lobbyist for the Malaysian Chinese gambling behemoth Genting which is spending huge sums on politicians as part of its efforts to win approval of megacasino resorts in South Florida.
Mario’s path has followed his brother’s: Florida house in 1988, Florida senate in 1992, then the US House of Representatives in 2002. His voting record has been similar to his brother’s as well. Oddly, he seems to have a reputation as a bit of a conservationist, though it’s hard to see why. His League of Conservation Voters score for the last congress was only 11 percent, and he claims to be “agnostic” on climate change.
The main leitmotif that runs through the family is their implacable hatred for Fidel Castro. Both Lincoln and Mario have been in the vanguard of the anti-Castro hardline in Congress, and don’t seem to have modified their views one iota. Well, they keep getting elected, so why should they? And it’s really a symbiotic relationship—the Castros need the hardliners to rally support on the island, and the hardliners need Castro to keep getting elected.
In any case, the 600,000+ constituents in District 25 have no choice.