COST OF PROPOSED MAY 27 SPECIAL ELECTION FOR ORANGE COUNTY THAT WOULD, AMONG OTHER THINGS, EXPAND THE NUMBER OF COMMISSION DISTRICTS FROM SIX TO EIGHT, ELIMINATE THE ELECTED TAX COLLECTOR’S OFFICE AND RESTRICT CITIZEN PETITION INITIATIVES
NUMBER OF CITIZENS CURRENTLY RESIDING IN ORANGE COUNTY, WITH 697,830 REGISTERED TO VOTE: 295,506 DEMOCRATIC, 202,443 REPUBLICAN.
GROWTH OF ORANGE COUNTY HISPANIC POPULATION BETWEEN 2000 AND 2010
“THE ADDITION OF TWO NEW COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICTS, ALONG WITH AN ATTENDANT REDISTRICTING PROCESS THAT TAKES INTO ACCOUNT THE DIVERSITY OF OUR COMMUNITY, WILL CREATE GREATER ACCESS FOR CANDIDATES OF EVERY BACKGROUND. IN PARTICULAR, THE VOICE OF THE COUNTY’S SUBSTANTIAL HISPANIC COMMUNITY HAS BEEN HEARD THROUGH THE RECENT VRA LAWSUIT. TRIAL DATES FOR THAT CASE ARE SET FOR THIS SUMMER. AMENDING THE CHARTER NOW TO CREATE TWO NEW DISTRICTS WILL BE A TREMENDOUS SHOW OF GOOD FAITH HEADING INTO THE TRIAL, AND MAY OBVIATE THE NEED FOR THE TRIAL.”
– COMMISSIONER FRED BRUMMER
Sources: Orange County Government, Florida Division of Elections, CNN, Orange County Supervisor of Elections
In what may be the most ostentatious act of municipal overreaching we’ve ever witnessed in Orange County – barring the uncomfortable fiscal rape brought about by the still flimsy interlocal agreement for billions in venues spending – waning front-porch rocking-chair screamer of “get off my lawn” and Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer went for the gusto last week when he introduced the “Representative Districts and County Reform Amendment.” While it basically reads like an 8-year-old’s MadLibs of Republican sorcery (and, let’s be clear, that’s exactly what it is), the jaw-droppingly cynical piece of Machiavellian intention – bait the Hispanic population while serving up revenge to Democrats like Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph (fire him!) and the damn progressive hippies who forced textgate via an earned sick time initiative (make public initiatives more difficult) – has gone over surprisingly well among the nonpartisan (cough, Republican) Board of County Commissioners. According to the Orlando Sentinel, most of the dais is actually seriously considering Brummer’s Kampf as a serious option. Go figure!
Here’s what we know so far about this blooming onion we’ll be unraveling in more detail in coming weeks. Brummer cannot write, so the Sentinel confirmed that basically all of his typed windbagging came from the fingers of attorney and conservative operative Wade Vose. Vose, you might note, is the one who filed a lawsuit to make sure that earned sick time will not be on your Aug. 26 Orange County ballot, because, oh noes, girl-talk-texters Commissioner Jennifer Thompson and Mayor Teresa Jacobs don’t want that kind of ish cluttering up their electoral feng shui. Brummer’s (or Vose’s) amendment would, by default, move the sick time question – which, you’ll recall, is a red herring after disgraced former state Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, passed a pre-emption bill last year forbidding counties from making their own fiscal choices for private businesses – up to a new mail-in special election ballot right around the no-mail zone of Memorial Day weekend, May 27.
But wait! What’s the election even about? Brummer is suggesting that the county add two new commission districts to accommodate the burgeoning Hispanic population with awesome representation, even though said representation at first would not come democratically, but rather by gubernatorial appointment (conveniently before Rick Scott is thrown out of office in November). Neither Brummer nor any of his peers were too hot on making Hispanic districts a couple of years back, and that’s why the county is currently being sued by Hispanic groups; this will totally fix that. Except it won’t.
What’s really happening here is a warped funhouse mirror of race-baiting and spite, obviously, because the county doesn’t even need to call a special election in order to adjust its charter, not to mention the fact the county already has a Charter Review Commission, formed in 1986, to address issues involving the county’s charter independently once every four years. Brummer (er, Vose) is merely trying to circumnavigate and/or confuse the process with a crappy rush job that has too many cooks from too many Republican and chamber kitchens splattering all over its walls.
“This is a power grab of the rawest sort,” says CountyWatch leader (and former Orange County Democratic chair) Doug Head, adding that there’s a lot more going on in Brummer’s manifesto than meets the eye. Republicans, especially in Orange County, have had a difficult time recruiting Hispanics, and they fear losses in 2014 and 2016 if something isn’t done to appease that population. “What’s driving it is that sudden awareness that they’re going to get their asses kicked,” he says.
But even that doesn’t fully explain what’s going on here. Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie says that, though it may look like a populist move, increasing the number of districts will absolutely cost the county more money. There would be new offices, new aides. What there wouldn’t be are new savings.
Which is peculiar, especially in light of the proposed ordinance’s main target, the Orange County Tax Collector’s office – or, more specifically, Tax Collector Scott Randolph. The commission and mayor have been rallying to push Randolph out of office – and, in fact, to eliminate the office of tax collector altogether by absorbing it into county staff – even assigning a task force which, perhaps bogusly, found that doing so could save the county a whole $1 million. Haynie says she’s seen no evidence that such an act would save anything, noting that previous attempts to absorb offices have resulted in dramatically increased costs. But, whatever, Randolph openly supports mayoral hopeful Val Demings in her run against Jacobs, so the county’s gloves (and calculators) are off.
“I’m confident that the majority of the County Commission is going to reject this Chris Christie style of retaliation politics,” Randolph said, upon hearing of the initiative on Feb. 24. “I think the commission is going to focus on creating good jobs in Orange County and not looking for bridges to close as punishment to those that they have disagreements with.” Ha. Not likely.
But the real kicker in this whole revision of county governance is that it doesn’t really aim to give people more power. In fact, the openly Republican board wants to make it more difficult for citizens to participate in their own local democracies by raising the threshold for petition-driven initiative, because, BrummerVose says, we need to “ensure that our community is not subjected to an avalanche of divisive, destructive and manipulative issues undermining civility and community spirit.” Wow, that’s a convoluted “fuck you,” right? In fact, buried in the ordinance language is a get-out-of-jail-free card for the commission that allows the board to determine if an issue just isn’t up their alley and then deny it. Karl Rove, your car is here.
Oh, and there’s so much more wrapped up in this bluster burrito that we’ll be following up on in coming weeks. For now, the practicalities are that the county is willing to spend nearly $2 million to possibly save $1 million while spending untold millions on two new districts. Really.
“I hope the discussion is not over what the cost [of the election] is going to be, solely,” Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles says. “I don’t want it to be the sole issue. It needs to be a discussion on the merits.”
There are no merits.
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