Down with non-partisanship

There's no such thing as a Republican pothole. That one sentence describes the argument for nonpartisan elections. In Central Florida, all of our municipal races and county government races are nonpartisan, which means, for instance, that Buddy Dyer can't campaign as "Buddy Dyer, Democrat." The idea is that local politicians should focus on neighborhood issues and not be drawn into partisan pissing matches.

In a simpler time -- when an incumbent mayor didn't have to raise $500,000 for his re-election campaign -- nonpartisanship was a good idea. But these aren't simple times, and the logic of nonpartisan elections no longer holds up. As proof, I offer examples from two recent mayoral elections. First, Ocoee: There, incumbent Scott Vandergrift easily defeated Debra Booth, a well-known labor leader who last year actively campaigned for Dyer. Booth is a Democrat; Vandergrift, a Republican.

Booth has filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission alleging that a flier Vandergrift sent out in the campaign's waning days violated state law because it referred to Booth as a Democrat -- more specifically, a "union boss" -- and identified Vandergrift as a Republican. Is that illegal?

Well, yeah. According to a legal opinion the Florida Department of State issued to Dyer (at Dyer's request) during last year's mayor's race, "as a candidate for nonpartisan municipal office you are prohibited from campaigning based upon party affiliation. Therefore, you must be very careful that your political advertising cannot be construed as such."

Vandergrift shamelessly ignored those guidelines. "On Tuesday, you can join President Bush's efforts to cut taxes and government waste by voting to keep Scott Vandergrift as Mayor of Ocoee," the disputed flier reads. "Mayor Scott Vandergrift is the highest ranking Republican Mayor in Orange County! The choice is clear and the choice is ours ... (sic) Republican Scott Vandergrift or Democrat Labor Union Boss Debra Booth."

There's no statutory penalty for such blatant lawbreaking. In his defense, Vandergrift said that Booth went partisan first, but he hasn't offered any evidence except that Booth's campaign was advertised on the local Democratic Party's website. Parties, according to department opinion, can endorse candidates, which makes his complaint moot. Even if she did break the law, which she didn't, that doesn't make his flier any more legal.

(For the record, Orange County Republican Executive Committee director Lew Oliver disputes the Department of State's legal interpretation, and thinks it an unconstitutional breach of Vandergrift's First Amendment rights. "What the hell does that mean?" he asks. "It's nonsensical. I defy them to take that to court.")

Example No. 2: Orlando's mayoral race, in which Dyer narrowly escaped a runoff. Dyer followed the letter of the law, though he did approve a flier that was bought and paid for by the Florida Democratic Party. In response, local Republicans campaigned for Ken Mulvaney. Under current state and city laws, this is legal. "`A` political party may make an independent expenditure regarding a candidate for a nonpartisan mayoral office."

The difference is a matter of splitting hairs. If, for instance, Lew Oliver wanted to run for political office, he could talk about his high-ranking position in the Republican Party and what he accomplished. But he couldn't call himself a Republican.

While Dyer can run fliers with the words "PAID FOR BY THE FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY" at the bottom, he can't call himself a Democrat.

Ridiculous, no?

What Vandergrift did was illegal, but what's the harm? The flier was underhanded, but politics get dirty. Debra Booth is a proud Democrat. So what if Vandergrift's fliers describe her as such? If she doesn't like it because that puts her at a disadvantage in a conservative town, too bad. Were the tables reversed, why shouldn't she have the opportunity to label Vandergrift an "incompetent right-wing Republican freak job?"

Orlando is grown up enough for big-boy politics, and censoring candidates on such minute points is, well, pointless. Did anyone not know that Dyer was a Democrat, or Mulvaney a Republican?

The alternative is to see things as they really are: partisan. In the end, the Dem machine will line up behind Democrats, and the Republicans behind Republicans. As an added benefit, partisan races would produce partisan primaries, which would narrow the field and produce viable, competitive runoff elections.

Unfortunately, the joint move by Oliver and his Democratic counterpart Doug Head to do just that -- alter the Orange County charter to create partisan elections -- appears to be going nowhere. The charter review committee is instead focusing on the pressing issue of whether or not to call Rich Crotty "chairman" or "mayor."

There's another possibility: If the election commission agrees that Vandergrift broke the law, but says it can't do anything about it, that renders the law pointless and frees up candidates to proclaim their affiliation. Ignoring laws is not a good thing, but here, it's for the best.

Oh Sisters, Where Art Thou?

In 1981, Lynne Cheney -- the veep's wife -- wrote the book Sisters, which describes thusly: "Cheney's breathy, gothic novel celebrates condoms, free love and lesbian romance in nineteenth-century Wyoming."

Now, that's hot, especially with her daughter being a lesbian and her husband's administration pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Problem is, the book is out of print, and couldn't be found on or eBay.

So if any of Slug's loyal readers can produce (or steal, whatever) a copy, you will be justly rewarded with beer. Start digging.


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