McCollum strikes again 

In just a few more days, we'll have a much clearer picture of how our world will look for the next four years. We'll know (barring some 2000-esque fiasco) if we're going to be subject to four more years of a Bush presidency, for example. We'll know if Tom DeLay clones will continue to rule Congress. We'll know if the Supreme Court will soon be recast in the mold of Antonin Scalia.

But we've written a blue streak about politics in the last few months, and we're sick of it. So it's time to let the candidates themselves do the talking.

Thus, we proudly present the possibly annual Orlando Weekly Candidate Pop Quiz. The rules are simple: We asked candidates in local and statewide races questions about things they should know to be effective in the offices they seek. They were given 30 seconds to answer (we couldn't cut Clerk of Courts challenger Mary Johnson off, so she went on a little longer; sorry). We tape-recorded their answers to make sure we got down exactly what they said, and we report them here verbatim, stutters and all. Candidates did not know we were calling, did not have a chance to see the questions beforehand and did not get a second chance.

We didn't want candidates to recite talking points; that's what the Orlando Sentinel is for. This little exercise is designed to test basic knowledge, and get candidates thinking on their feet. Call it a political IQ test.

You'll notice that some candidates refused to take our quiz. Read into that what you will. Remember: Everyone got an equal chance to answer the questions, unfiltered. If they chose not to step up to the podium, it's their loss.


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Ric Keller (left, Republican, incumbent) vs. Stephen Murray (Democrat)

Nobody thought much of Keller the first time he ran for Congress in 2000. But after he upset Bill Sublette in the GOP primary, and then Linda Chapin in the general election, and then was re-elected easily in 2002, people started getting the sense he might be around for a while. He got divorced last year – which ranks right up there in the Republican panorama of sins with having a gay daughter – but that hasn't been a real impediment.

The only thing (barely) standing in the way of a Keller three-peat is Murray, a Full Sail Real World Education teacher turned politician, a super-chatty Democrat with a libertarian streak who is struggling to make a dent in Keller's Republican-leaning district.

Yeah, Keller has a right-wing voting record, but it's unlikely that will cost him his seat.

Q: To date, how many American soldiers have died in the Iraq war?
Murray: American soldiers died to date, uh, uh, um, more than 1,005. I don't know the exact answer to date.
Keller: Did not respond.*
(Answer: 1,086 as of Oct. 14, according to the Department of Defense.)

Q: How many came from Orlando?
Murray: Ooh. (pause). This is a hard quiz, dang. I actually don't know that. I mean, from my own district, more than 20. But, um, I'm not quite sure. I definitely know of nine, personally.
Keller: Did not respond.
(Answer: As of Oct. 14, four soldiers from the Orlando/Winter Park area have died. Forty soldiers from Florida have died.)

Q: As of August 2004, what was Florida's unemployment rate?
Murray: Uh, these questions, they're just too hard. August, 2004, Florida's unemployment rate. (Breathes into phone heavily.) It's, was way too, um, way too high, that's what I'm going to say about that.
Keller: Did not respond.
(Answer: 4.5 percent)

Q: What, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is the United States' projected budget deficit for this year?
Murray: The deficit, not the debt. I think it's $418 billion.
Keller: Did not respond.
(Answer: $422 billion)

Q: According to current estimates, Social Security will be solvent until what year?
Murray: That depends on who's estimating.
OW:According to the system's trustees.
The system's trustees, uh, the system's trustees. And that's including the tax cuts and all the other stuff that's happening?
OW: At the current setup, yeah.
Uh, for another 40 years.
Keller: Did not respond.
(Answer: 2042. Source: The New York Times, Oct. 2)
*After repeated interview requests, Keller's chief of staff, Bryan Malenius, sent us this response: "Ric isn't up for a pop quiz. Try Corrine Brown."


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Lui Damiani vs. Mildred Fernandez (non-partisan race)

For nearly eight years, Damiani served as an assistant to county commissioner Mary Johnson, which would seem to give him the home-field advantage in District 3. But via her Hispanic surname in a heavily Hispanic district, and her ringing endorsement from the Orlando Sentinel, Fernandez came out on top of the crowded Aug. 31 primary, with Damiani a close second. Whether or not his connections in the district will enable him to overtake Fernandez Nov. 2 remains to be seen.

Q: How many people live in District 3?
Fernandez: One hundred and fifty thousand residents.
Damiani: Hmmm, today? Uh, um, it's uh – (mouth flapping noise) – um, 50,000. After the redraw in 2002, we were shooting for an optimal number of around 140,000 when we redrew the districts and of course the districts have grown since then. I guess about 150,000 would be my best guess.
(Answer: 145,480)

Q: What is Orange County's budget for the current fiscal year?
Fernandez: Orange County, $2.3 billion.
Damiani: Current budget approved? You know, I would – man – we, I don't know what was finally approved. I know they were discussing, what was proposed was around $2.3 billion, plus or minus, and I didn't see the final adopted number.
(Answer: Just under $2.4 billion)

Q: Including both operating budget and capital projects, how much money did the county allocate to the sheriff's office for the current fiscal year?
Fernandez: Uh, you know what, I think it's about $1 million something.
Damiani: Sheriff's budget is about, oh – (breathes heavily) – it's around $150 million, plus or minus.
(Answer: $157.3 million)

Q: How about the parks and recreation department?
Fernandez: Huh. That one I don't have the exact amount.
Damiani: Sheesh, thir-, thirty to thirty-five million dollar range.
(Answer: $46.9 million)

Q: Define the county's urban service boundary? Where is it located?
Fernandez: OK, it's located in, uh, between the city and the line of Orange County, which will start in downtown.
Damiani: The urban service boundary is the, is the urban core all the way out to, umm, basically the periphery of the urban development area. This side of the Econ, west of the Econ, um, south of the Seminole line, um, to the east of uh, boy, of the, of the Horizons West area, the five. I guess 545 would be the delineation point, plus or minus, in that area, you know, and the sort of north of the southern end of South Chase. I guess those are the best points I can give you.
(Answer: The urban service boundary is the point at which the county discourages growth on its outer edges. The boundary parallels the Little Econlockhatchee River on the east side, and runs just west of Windermere on the west side – though, we should note, the county's focus on restricting growth in recent years has been on the east side.)


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Jim Kallinger, left, vs. Bill Segal (non-partisan race)

A friend who pays close attention to county politics and lives in District 3 recently told us, "Jesus, I wish we had candidates like District 5."

Indeed, the race to succeed the term-limited Ted Edwards has boiled down to two smart, well-informed men: Kallinger, a state representative and former activist with a conservative pro-business group; and Segal, a real-estate developer and one of the more intelligent voices on the Mayor's Parramore Task Force. Q: How many people live in District 5?
Segal: (Whistling the Jeopardy theme song) I would say that there are, there's about 80,000 registered voters, so I'd venture a guess, um, you know, that there are um, shhh, jeez, I'll tell you, let me see, let me extrapolate 80,000, I'd say 140,000 people.
Kallinger: `Did not respond to six calls for this story.`
(Answer: 148,690)

Q: What is Orange County's budget for the current fiscal year?
Segal: I think we take in 1.3 billion. Now obviously there's always other funds and whatnot, you know ...
Kallinger: Did not respond.
(Answer: Just under $2.4 billion)

Q: Including both operating budget and capital projects, how much did the county allocate to the sheriff's office during that year?
Segal: Um, I must tell you (pause) that I'm not sure what we give to the sheriff. Um, let's see, I'd say it's about $300 million.
Kallinger: Did not respond.
(Answer: $157.3 million)

Q: How about the parks and recreation department?
Segal: Um, let me see. I'd imagine parks and rec, it's about $50 million.
Kallinger: Did not respond.
(Answer: $46.9 million)

Q: Define the county's urban service boundary? Where is it located?
Segal: I think on the east side, and that's where I'm mostly concerned with. It sort of parallels the Econ, maybe, right about the Econ, and to the south I'm not quite sure because it's Linda Stewart's district, and to the west I think it goes through Horizons West and then as it goes out to Apopka, I think it includes Apopka, you know, there's been some controversy about that, and, uh, you know, Apopka to Seminole County and then to the north, um, the Seminole County line ... if I've rounded it out pretty well.
Kallinger: Did not respond.
(Answer: The urban service boundary is the point at which the county discourages growth on its outer edges. The boundary parallels the Little Econlockhatchee River on the east side, and runs just west of Windermere on the west side – though, we should note, the county's focus on restricting growth in recent years has been on the east side.)


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Mike Hart (Republican, left) vs. Bill Cowles (Democrat, incumbent)

In March, political neophyte Mike Hart ranked fourth out of four in a city council race, and without hardly blinking, he set his sights on the supervisor of elections office. Despite Hart's insistence that Cowles is too passive and doesn't do much of anything to increase voter turnout, overcoming Cowles' entrenchment seems a long shot.

Q: How many signatures does Orange County require to get on the ballot for a county-wide election?
Hart: Four thousand three hundred and ninety-six.
Cowles: For a county-wide election? The percentages are ... for a county-wide one, you've got me stumped here a minute, start over again.
(Question repeated.)
Well, if it's county-wide, then you need, the percentages are 6 percent, I believe, of the signatures to get on.
OW: 6 percent?
I think. Jeff, you've got me caught, I'm in the middle of traffic. Let me call you when I get to the office. Would that be all right? I'm in the middle of traffic, I'll call you back.
(He calls back six minutes later.) Rewind, though. (Laughs). Start over because I thought you were talking about qualifying fees, go ahead.
(Question repeated.)
County-wide election, it's 1 percent of the registered voters based on the last general election.
(Answer: One percent of the registered voters in the last general election, or 4,396 for candidates in 2004.)

Q: What is the maximum financial contribution an individual can make for a county race?
Hart: $500.
Cowles: $500.
(Answer: $500)

Q: How long does a candidate have after a race's conclusion to remove his or her signs from public property?
Hart: Fourteen days.
Cowles: State law says you have 10 days to remove your campaign signage.
(Answer: 10 days)

Q: What is the penalty for not doing that?
Hart: (Long pause.)
OW: You there?
Yeah, I'm there, OK. I'm using the whole 30 seconds because I don't want to say I don't know. I don't, I don't know – I've never known anybody to do that. I assume they would take the signs, take the, county zoning people or the county enforcement people would take the signs down to the, I guess, to the impound lot or whatever lot they use, I don't know what the fine would be.
Cowles: Uh, the penalty is not very specific in the statute. Many times, city code enforcements may take over.
(Answer: Technically, Orange County code enforcement could fine the candidates $1,000 per day per sign. Practically, code enforcement officers throw the signs in the trash, says Orange County spokesman Steve Triggs.)


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Kevin Beary, (Republican, incumbent) left, vs. Rick Staly (Democrat)

Beary is a pillar of Central Florida politics. In office for 12 years, and with an army of political connections and a truckload of money, he trounced opponent John Tegg in the primary despite a bevy of bad press.

Staly was Beary's No. 2 for eight years, and has used his insider status to blast Beary for a host of alleged sins, from wasteful spending to nepotism to low crime-solving rates. Beary, in turn, has forcefully defended his office, and accused Staly of distorting his record for political gain.

Q: According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, how many murder arrests were made in Orange County in 2003?
Staly: (Long pause). Uh, huh, heh heh (nervous laugh), if I'm having to do this from memory, but I think there were eight. Well, I, I, uh, can only tell you from the unincorporated Orange Counties, I'm having to do this from memory, but I believe there were eight out of 30-something murders.
Beary: Did not respond.*
(Answer: 43)

Q: How many total arrests?
Staly: I don't have that information ... I mean, I could get it for you.
Beary: Did not respond.
(Answer: 44,395)

Q: According to the FDLE, how many combined incidents of murder, sexual offenses, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft (classified together as "serious crimes") were reported in Orange County in 2003?
Staly: Well, I have all that data but I don't know it off the top of my head.
OW: If you had to venture a guess?
(Long pause) Did you include burglary in that?
OW: Yes.
Um, about, run by the crime categories again ... in the unincorporated areas, about, uh, thirty- to thirty-five thousand.
Beary: Did not respond.
(Answer: 62,735)

Q: Including both operating budget and capital projects, how much money did the county allocate to the sheriff's office for the current fiscal year?
Staly: Uh, $155 million for both.
Beary: Did not respond.
(Answer: $157.3 million)

Q: Name the last Orange County deputy to die in the line of duty.
Staly: (Long pause). Um, Weaver.
Beary: Did not respond.
(Answer: James Weaver, November 2003)

Q: Please recite the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Staly: I can't give it to you verbatim (laughing).
OW: Well, a general thing then.
Um, it deals with, uh, search and seizure and, um, unlawful search and seizure and that kind of stuff.
Beary: Did not respond.
(Answer: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.")
*Previously, an Orange County Sheriff's Office public information officer informed us that the sheriff had blacklisted Orlando Weekly because of perceived unfavorable coverage. We received no response to interview requests made through the sheriff's office, so we're going to assume we're not getting a Christmas card from Beary this year, again.


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Mary Johnson (Democrat, left) vs. Lydia Gardner (Republican, incumbent)

Johnson can't get enough of public life. After a 12-year stint as city commissioner, followed by a 12-year stint as county commissioner, the term-limited Johnson first set her sights on tax collector, then changed her mind and ran against Gardner for clerk of courts. Though a win would put her in an administrative, rather than policy-making, role, it would allow taxpayers to continue paying her salary for another four years. And although calling yourself a good administrator – since the clerk has to strictly follow state law – doesn't make for an exciting political platform, this is still a weighty position. After all, thanks to those cost-cutting GOP legislators, as of July 31 of this year, the clerk's office now has to operate solely with the fees it collects from lawsuits, copies, divorce filings, marriage licenses, etc.

Q: Describe, to the best of your ability, what exactly the Clerk of Courts does?
Johnson: Ready? OK. The Clerk of the Courts position is to have run of the filing system and all the documents and pleadings and motions and all to keep in the file for all the judges and attorneys so they can be ready for the trials. And it's very important that they keep accurate records so they, the judges, will keep accurate records so the judges will be ready and the attorneys will be ready. There's a slew of things that they have to do. The clerk is, to do, you know, oversees the passports, the marriage license, divorce, adoption and the list goes on and on, but the main thing is to keep records of everything in the courthouse and have it, uh, you know, available on the electronic technology that they have for the people that are able to check into the files, and that doesn't mean, you know, there's a privacy law and we know that, so there's certain things that cannot be put on the, uh, on the electronic, the computers and that.
Gardner: The Clerk of the Courts is the information hub of the justice system. And in the clerk's role, she collects all dollars that come through the clerk's registry – last year it was $147 million – every case is filed with the clerk, every piece of docketing information comes in to the clerk and the clerk assists judges in the courtroom. The clerk operates an office with 525 people in it, a budget of about $4.4 million. We are operating completely on fees we collect at the counter with no tax dollars.
(Answer: You know, going into this we weren't really sure. Consider us educated.)

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