When noted economist Arthur Laffer spoke in Sarasota last winter, he cut to the quick while summarizing the Nov. 6 election. Every election, Laffer said, is a referendum on the incumbent’s performance.
Are we better off, are we safer or, most important, are we more free because of the votes our elected representatives cast on our behalf over the past two, four and six years?
Judging it as a singular legislative body, the unequivocal answer for the U.S. Congress — Senate and House combined — is no. It fails miserably. The national debt is 60% higher; annual deficits remain above $1 trillion; unaffordable entitlements continue to grow; our economic and political standing in the world is diminished more than it was, say, four years ago.
Who is responsible? They’re all responsible in Washington, but the Senate-controlling Democrats and president more so than the Republican House.
In Tallahassee, the measurement has a much better result. The Republican-dominated Legislature and governor have moved policies toward increasing Floridians’ freedom — with lower taxation and fewer job-killing regulations. In the whole, Floridians are better off than they were two years ago.
Using our level of freedom as our chief yardstick, herewith our recommendations for the federal and state offices (sans the president; that’ll come next week):
The one overwhelming, incontrovertible issue in Washington is spending — spending more than the federal government takes in. This also includes borrowing.
Congress has for four decades been spending and borrowing far, far beyond our nation’s means — all to fund unearned social benefits that are not enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.
Deficit spending and borrowing denies all of us freedom.
In this context, Bill Nelson — in spite of being a genuinely likable guy — is not a friend at all to taxpayers. Here’s a clear measurement of that statement:
The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, which has examined all congressional roll-call votes since 1989 to identify members of Congress who have defended taxpayer interests or who have backed down on fiscal responsibility, ascribes a lifetime (10-year) rating of “hostile” to Nelson. He is hostile to taxpayers. He votes to spend more of your money than the government should.
When U.S. senators were asked on Nov. 14, 2011, to vote on a joint-resolution that would propose a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, Nelson voted no. Predictably, he supported Obamacare.
Contrast that with challenger U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV. Mack voted in favor of the balanced-budget resolution and against Obamacare. The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste rates Mack with a lifetime rating of “hero” — he is an advocate for taxpayers.
To be sure, there is more to being a senator than voting to stop federal government waste. And there are many Floridians who will stand up for Nelson because of all of his moderate rhetoric about “reaching across the aisle” and “fighting for Floridians.”
Likewise, they will argue that 45-year-old Mack falls short of the statesman-like level of Nelson or Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio. And they will point to all of Nelson’s TV political ads portraying Mack as a loser who hasn’t done his job in Congress and favors special interests.
To be fair, if you watched the Nelson-Mack debate last week, you can be equally critical of both. Typical politicians: Rarely did either of them provide direct answers to direct questions. They regurgitated their campaign talking points. It was annoying.
But in the end, if you truly believe Floridians should send to Washington a U.S. senator who understands that one of his supreme responsibilities is to limit the reach of government in your life and protect your freedom, Mack is the better choice. As he says, it’s time for Nelson to go.
U.S. House, District 16
For us, Keith Fitzgerald, the Democratic candidate in this race, is something of an enigma.
As a Ph.D. in political science and longtime poly-sci professor at New College of Florida, Fitzgerald decisively embraces the Founding Fathers’ principles of a limited government. “We should always be suspicious of government authority because of coercion,” Fitzgerald told us. At the same time, he said, liberty is the freedom to self-realize our dreams. Liberty empowers people to make choices, but it also requires citizenship — a broad set of duties and constraints, he said.
What’s more, Fitzgerald sees what is wrong in Washington. Indeed, go back to our Voter Guide in last week’s edition and read his responses. Fitzgerald gets it.
And at times, when you listen to him, he borders on sounding like a Republican and Libertarian. But he’s a Democrat, in part to obtain party funding for his campaign. And, in part, because he told us, “Republicans are mean … I grew up in a Democratic family.”
What is he? He’s enigmatic. He says Congress needs to cut spending; yet he would not repeal Obamacare. And were he to be elected, he would be expected to follow the party line. For us, that’s a non-starter.
Besides, by the measurement of judging this race as a referendum on the incumbent’s performance, Vern Buchanan has earned re-election.
Ever since he first ran for Congress in 2006, Democrats have wasted millions of their contributors’ dollars trying to smear Buchanan’s reputation. They can’t win on what matters — that Buchanan always earns high marks for providing superior constituent services and votes to reduce government spending and regulations.
As a longtime, successful businessman and entrepreneur, Buchanan understands that: 1) customer (constituent) service counts first; and 2) for any enterprise to survive, it cannot spend and borrow its way to prosperity. For six years running, Buchanan has been one of Congress’ staunchest advocates of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
We have always hoped Buchanan would be more fiscally conservative than he is. In that vein, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste rates Buchanan as “friendly” — not its highest rating. And the National Taxpayers Union gives Buchanan a “B-” for voting to cut spending and regulations. He could be stronger.
But put the whole package together. He brings much to the office: Great work ethic; a deep passion for doing what’s right for the economy; the defense of the nation and constituents; and proven business smarts and leadership.
Of all of the local elected offices, this one has more effects on the region’s quality of life than voters typically appreciate or understand. The man or woman who occupies this office essentially determines how this region addresses and handles law and order.
The state attorney decides what charges, if any, will be imposed on an alleged perpetrator; he often decides whether an accused will go to trial or agree to a plea bargain. The state attorney, in effect, influences whether the region is hard or soft on criminals — and this affects our quality of life. It’s a big job.
Ed Brodsky, currently the No. 2 prosecutor in the office, and John Torraco, a Sarasota criminal lawyer, are vying to replace retiring 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Earl Moreland. They are competing in their first campaigns for elected office.
This race comes down to inexperience versus experience. Torraco has no experience as a prosecutor, nor as a manager/leader of a large organization of attorneys and support staff (more than 160 employees in three offices).
In spite of that inexperience, when you speak with Torraco, you can’t help but conclude he is smart; has studied the operations of the state attorney’s office; and is passionate about wanting to bring positive change to the office. “It’s good to have turnover to get a fresh perspective,” he told us. He is idealistic: “I will honor the responsibility of this position, which is to seek true justice, as I am beholden only to the people of Sarasota, Manatee and Desoto counties.”
All that is to the good. But the state attorney’s job is no place for on-the-job training.
Brodsky has served more than 20 years as a prosecutor in the State Attorney’s Office. He started there before college as an intern. Obviously, in his two decades there he has proven his competence and won the respect of his superior and peers. You have to earn the No. 2 position in the state attorney’s office — and then show your competence to keep it.
When we polled six criminal-justice system insiders about Brodsky, the responses were unanimous. Those who have worked by his side, as opponents in the courtroom or judges who have witnessed his performance in and out of court ascribed three essential characteristics to Brodsky: competent, fair and a man of integrity.
Florida Senate, District 26
This contest is almost like that for the state attorney: experience versus inexperience — former state Rep. Bill Galvano, the Republican from Bradenton, versus Paula House, Democrat lawyer from Lake Placid and first-time legislative candidate.
Like Bennett, Galvano previously reached his eight-year limit as a state representative in 2010. While in the House, he distinguished himself as chairman of five House committees, an indicator of his leadership abilities.
More important, though, are Galvano’s positions on issues. There is a big difference in his and House’s philosophical views on the role of government. House is close to a classic proponent of government intervention and activism. She supports Obamacare; she said she was disappointed that Gov. Scott rejected federal funding for high-speed rail and federal Medicaid dollars; she referred to attempts to purge voter rolls of illegal voters as “voter suppression”; she opposes vouchers for students.
Galvano is the opposite, a classic advocate of limited government. It doesn’t get any simpler than this to distinguish these two candidates:
Asked what his top-three priorities if elected, Galvano responded: repeal unnecessary government regulation; cut spending; and reduce taxes.
Florida House, District 71
District 71: West Manatee, all of Longboat Key and downtown Sarasota north along the bay.
The incumbent in this district is Rep. Jim Boyd, first-term Republican from Bradenton who is seeking his second term. His opponent is Democrat Adam Tebrugge, former longtime assistant public defender from Sarasota.
Using the criterion of making this a referendum on the incumbent’s performance, Boyd has earned the opportunity to retain his seat.
Tebrugge likes to try to paint Boyd as beholden to insurance interests, primarily because Boyd owns an insurance agency in Bradenton. No one should “assume.”
Truth is, Boyd led the Legislature’s efforts these past two years to pass auto-insurance-reform legislation that will reduce all Floridians’ mandatory PIP (Personal Injury Protection) premiums and stem the rise in injury-and-insurance fraud that is costing state consumers close to $1 billion a year.
If Boyd is beholden to special insurance interests, they would be you — individual consumers and taxpayers, not Big Insurance. As an agent, Boyd benefits when the supply of insurance is plentiful and affordable. That means he can sell more. What’s more, Boyd also knows that if insurance rates keep rising, voters will blame him. His incentives are aligned with taxpayers.
We admire Tebrugge. He despises corporate subsidies for economic development as much as we do. And like us, he supports a much more limited role for the state in public education. Beyond that, though, Tebrugge differs from our views on Obamacare, school vouchers and tenure.
Florida House, District 72
District 72: Sarasota County from University Parkway west of Interstate 75 all the way south to Laurel, essentially most of northern Sarasota County.
The race for this seat features incumbent Republican Ray Pilon versus Democrat Liz Alpert, a Sarasota family lawyer. Moderate-to-right conservative versus moderate-to-left liberal. Pilon: Free enterprise versus Alpert: larger government intrusion. More freedom versus less freedom.
Pilon is wired for elected public service, and he does it satisfactorily. He passes the incumbent-performance test.
Florida House, District 73
District 73: All of East Manatee County and Northeast Sarasota County.
This contest is between incumbent, first-term Republican Rep. Greg Steube, lifelong Bradenton resident and lawyer, and Dr. Robert McCann, a lawyer and practicing doctor of osteopathic emergency medicine who is running as an “NPA,” Non-Party Affiliation.
Dr. McCann is our kind of guy — nauseated by the two dominant political parties and all of the “pull peddlers” and leeches who perpetuate the system of buying and selling laws. He is an independent thinker and thinks our way. Asked his philosophy on the role of government, McCann, a man of few, direct words, said: “It should be very limited. I’m going to return government to the people.”
To an extent, this race is a tough call. Floridians need more independent thinkers like McCann.
But at the same time, Steube performed well and as voters expected him to perform in his freshman term. He held true to his self-description as an advocate for free enterprise and more freedom — compiling a record that favored lower taxes (eight votes) less government. There is no reason to reject Steube; there is reason is to encourage him to stay the course — expand freedom.
Supreme Court Justices;
District Court of Appeal
Floridians rarely know how to vote on retaining Florida judges. To an extent, it’s a farcical event. It’s crazy to think Florida’s 11.4 million voters can keep track of Florida Supreme Court justices’ and the Court of Appeal judges’ decisions.
Indeed, Major Harding, a former state High Court justice, says merit-retention votes for judges are not intended to be votes on judges’ decisions. Rather, he says, they are to give voters the opportunity to oust a justice or judge for judicial and behavioral improprieties.
This year, there are groups that want to oust three Supreme Court justices — Peggy Quince, Fred Lewis and Barbara Pariente, regarded by conservatives who watch the court as “judicial activists.” Indeed, they are. They were on the Gore side of Gore v. Harris in 2000, and they also rejected Gov. Jeb Bush’s school voucher plan and a proposed amendment challenging Obamacare.
Recommendation: “No” on the three Supreme Court justices; “Yes” on all of the District Court of Appeal judges.
OBSERVER RECOMMENDATIONS (Corrected version)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week’s recommendations in Oct. 18 edition contained an error for Amendment 8. These are the correct Observer recommendations.
FEDERAL / STATE OFFICES
• U.S. SENATE: Connie Mack
• U.S. HOUSE, District 16: Vern Buchanan
• STATE ATTORNEY: Ed Brodsky
• FLORIDA SENATE, District 26: Bill Galvano
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 71: Jim Boyd
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 72: Ray Pilon
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 73: Greg Steube
SUPREME COURT JUSTICES, DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL
• FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: Retain Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente, Peggy A. Quince? No
• FLORIDA DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL: Retain Judges Anthony K. Black, Darryl C. Casanueva, Charles A. Davis Jr., Edward C. LaRose? Yes
• CLERK OF THE COURT: R.B. “Chips” Shore
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 1: Larry Bustle
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 5: Vanessa Baugh
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 7: Betsy Benac
• SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS: Mike Bennett
• SCHOOL BOARD, District 2: Dave “Watchdog” Miner
• E. MANATEE FIRE COMMISSIONER: James D. BonAmi
• CLERK OF THE COURT: Karen Rushing
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 3: Christine Robinson
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 5: Charles Hines
• COUNTY CHARTER REVIEW BOARD, District 2: Donna Barcomb
• COUNTY CHARTER REVIEW BOARD, District 5: John Fellin
• SARASOTA HOSPITAL BOARD, Central Seat 1: Alex Miller
Amendment 1: Health Care Services. Yes.
Amendment 2: Veterans disabled due to combat injury; homestead property-tax discount. Yes
Amendment 3: State government revenue limitation. Yes
Amendment 4: Property-tax limitations; property value decline; reduction for non-homestead assessment increases; delay of scheduled repeal. Yes
Amendment 5: State courts. Yes
Amendment 6: Prohibition on public funding of abortion; construction of abortion rights. No (Editor’s note: We oppose public funding of abortion; the second part of this amendment infringes on individual freedom.)
Amendment 8: Religious freedom. Yes
Amendment 9: Homestead property-tax exemption for surviving spouse of military veteran or first responder. Yes
Amendment 10: Tangible personal property-tax exemption. Yes
Amendment 11: Additional homestead exemption; low-income seniors who maintain long-term residency on property; equal to assessed value. Yes
Amendment 12: Appoint of student body president to board of governors of the state university system. Yes
Providing timetable for proposed charter amendment referendum; effective date of voter-approved amendments. Yes
Density referendum: May the Town allow conversion to residential use, with a maximum of six (6) dwelling units per acre, the property located at 5440 Gulf of Mexico Drive (currently zoned C-1, Limited Commercial), comprising approximately 0.76-acres legally described as Lot C-1 of Plat for Cedar Woodlands Subdivision, a replat of Lot 22, Subdivision on Longboat Key, as recorded in Plat Book 7, Page 16, Public Records of Manatee County. Yes
Density referendum: May the Town allow conversion to residential use, with a maximum residential density not to exceed six (6) dwelling units per acre, for the property located at 521 Broadway Street, currently zoned C-1, Limited Commercial, comprising approximately 0.44-acres. Yes