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Happytown: Ethical quandaries 

Republican Party of Florida continues to implode and hell freezes over as League of Women Voters praises Republican leadership in Tallhassee

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Since we're all bathing in the warm, greasy afterglow of moistened potato flakes and the spittle of family dinner-table acrimony, it only seems natural that the flatulent embrace of Thanksgiving would carry over – along with the requisite hangover – into a full week of political apologies and corrections. That thing we said before dinner? Didn't mean it. We love you, man.

Well, if you consider the kind of backstabbing we've become accustomed to within the ranks of the slightly scratched and dented Republican Party of Florida to be a sort of twisted camaraderie, then the current round of just desserts is going to come off that much richer. Over the weekend, the Palm Beach Post ran with an exclusive bit of bad-mouthing over recriminations stemming from the Republican need to address that pesky alleged voter fraud that nobody seems able to prove. In truth, the story wasn't that much of a get seeing as elephants in rooms are hard to avoid, but there's still something charming about former and present party insiders sharpening knives to stab at the obvious.

The focus, of course, was the governor-fed insistence that HB 1355 – the 2011 law that cut back early voting days from 14 to eight and punished voter-registration efforts – was necessary to streamline the voting process and ensure honesty in the sacred electoral institution. Some immediately called bullshit, and now those first responders have taken to public ranting about the issue, noting that things aren't always as they are presented.

First up, former RPOF chair – and current squealing deposition pig – Jim Greer, who, despite allegedly filtering cash to himself and others through his own vanity consultant group Victory Strategies, can still be considered a trusted source on matters involving an untrustworthy party.

"The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates," Greer told the Post, adding, "They never came in to see me and tell me we had a [voter] fraud issue. It's all a marketing ploy."

Greer told the Post that there is some "prejudice and racism" in the Republican Party of Florida and that "the real prevailing thought is that they don't think minorities will ever vote Republican." Seriously.

Coming up from behind, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist backed up the assertion, telling the Post that he'd been approached about the voting crackdown during his gubernatorial stint, and though the race card wasn't specifically played, "it looked to me like that was what was being suggested. And I didn't want them to go there at all." In other words: uh-uh, girl.

What does it all mean? Nothing really. Current Republican flacks deny the assertions, noting that their high-profile sources are less than credible (though unnamed current operatives indicated to the newspaper that this spade was indeed a spade). Still, the truth is pretty much out there.

But will it be enough truth when the bigger issue of the 1965 Voting Rights Act comes before the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future? Apparently not.

As you may know, five counties in sunny Florida are covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – mostly because like the nine full states that are also beneath it, they have a tendency to inflict harm upon the rights of minorities come voting season – and it took the federal courts to soften the blow of Florida's HB 1355 just this year. Section 5 is going to be questioned by the ultimate judicial body because of a complaint brought by our friends in very (not) liberal Shelby County, Ala.; their sentiment is that, because we've elected an African-American president for two terms now, we don't need no special rights for minorities, y'all. Except, as Florida has recently proven, we probably do. At least that's what synaptically minded ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon told the Post. "And if the Supreme Court finds Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, then we are at the mercy of manipulators of our elections like (Gov.) Rick Scott." In other words, the marketing ploy lives on.

Speaking of Republican marketing schemes, last week saw the shiny-faced launch of new day in the Tallahassee legislature, or so we're supposed to believe. Headlines blared over the Thanksgiving holiday that incoming legislative leadership – specifically, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, the two men who brought you the hilarious traveling redistricting midway ride we almost tossed our cookies on last summer – had had it up to here with shady politics. Then, in cackling unison, they announced "ethics reform."

In truth, the ethics reforms they've presented are a bit like legislative orientation: New legislators will be forced to endure a full hour of learning how not to exercise improprieties while holding power. Please, just don't look like you're voting in your own personal interest, because the media will run with that! Also, Gaetz and Weatherford hinted that somehow they were going to figure out this voting shambles thing, because, God, it made us look bad.

"Whether you were happy or disappointed with the results, the truth is, the election is over," Weatherford scolded the grumblers on the House floor. "We have a president. To those who wish him to fail or Congress to fail, you are wishing for America to fail."

Cautious optimism followed from continual pariahs – and "hysterical women" – the League of Women Voters of Florida, members of which are currently engaged in a lawsuit with some of that Republican leadership over redistricting. On Nov. 21, the group's president Deirdre Macnab shot out a letter to Gaetz (and a press release with said letter) praising the "step in improving our political system in Tallahassee." What gives, Deirdre?

"I would say that I mirror your level of skepticism," Macnab says. "However, we did hear some very positive speeches about election reform. They did make a law in the Senate rules that people can no longer vote on issues that they have a conflict of interest with. We've been critical for so long. We thought this was a meaningful, positive step forward."

Macnab also praises the Tallahassee murmurs about campaign finance reform that could see the end of money factories like Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs) and a higher donation cap for individuals, because, you know, Citizens United means that people need to keep up with corporations in getting their voices heard. Now, if only we could all vote!


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