That's right, I did it. Even though I'm not 100% sure my vote will be counted correctly, and even though it probably would have been easier to not bother... although if I had done that, then I would have no better than the "sheeple" who unfortunately seem to make up such a big percentage of the country.
I've been keeping an eye on local politics for the past few months. Last night I went to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections web site and downloaded preview copies of the ballots, so that I could see exactly what I would be voting on, and have time to research anything I wasn't familiar with, so I could make an informed decision, instead of just randomly guessing about the issues I didn't really know much about.
If anybody is curious, I don't mind telling the world how I voted- so here's a list of how I voted, and why.
President: Chuck Baldwin and Darrell Castle, from the Constitution Party.
Why? The tenth amendment to the Constitution states:
The federal government has grown FAR beyond the limits specified in the Constitution. When I read the Constitution, I don't see anything which says the federal government is supposed to provide jobs for everybody- so why do we need a Department of Labor? Or a Department of Transportation? Or Education? Health & Human Services? When did WE THE PEOPLE hand over these jobs, which properly belong with the States, cities, or PARENTS, to the federal government?
The only thing I can figure is that they've taken the phrase "promote the general welfare" and run as far as they could with it.
My vote would normally have gone to Ron Paul, however he decided to not run as an independent, after the Republican Party gave their nomination to John McCain. The Constitution Party is about as close as I could find to my own beliefs and opinions, and their candidate Chuck Baldwin echoes the same beliefs. And, of course, the fact that he was endorsed by Ron Paul just made the decision that much easier for me.
State of Florida
State Attorney: Mercedes León
León is a Cuban immigrant who put herself through law school while waiting tables for Disney. I'm not a big fan of lawyers to begin with, but the job needs doing, and she seems to be able and willing to do it. She also wants to bring the agency "into the internet age", and points out that her opponent doesn't even have a web site.
As for her opponent, the incumbent, Lawson Lamar...
I've always had a very strong distaste for back-room politics, elected officials who make decisions without public scrutiny, and who hide their actions and their reasons from the public. Florida has always had a "good old boy network" of politicians who trade favors behind closed doors.
Lamar has had the job for over 20 years, and is one of the "goodest" of the "good old boys." He also has a long reputation of never being available to talk to the press, or the people... basically, anybody who isn't in the "good old boys network." The only reason this joker still has the job is because nobody has ever bothered to run against him.
Basically, León is an unknown- but I don't think she could possibly be any worse than Lamar.
State Senator, District 19: Belinda Ortiz
This was one of the easiest decisions I've ever made. Her opponent, the incumbent Gary Siplin, was convicted of third-degree felony grand theft a few years back, because he used the services of one of his employees to run his re-election campaign, while she was still being paid by the state. The felony conviction was later overturned on a technicality, although the three-judge panel did give permission to re-try the misdemeanor charges associated with the incident.
The whole case just makes the guy "feel" dirty to me... I haven't met him in person so I can't say for sure, but I tend to feel a bit uneasy about having him represent me.
Ortiz comes from a professional background- she owns a public relations company, and more importantly, she's NOT A LAWYER. Another relatively unknown quantity, but she doesn't have Siplin's tainted past.
State Representative, District 36: Scott Randolph
I haven't lived in Winter Park all that long, so I hadn't really heard much about him. He's been serving as a state rep for two years. I looked up the record of the bills he has proposed and co-sponsored, and while most of them died in various committees, they were all things which I probably would have agreed with.
The only other information I could really find about the guy was a story in the Orlando Sentinel where they endorsed him- not enthusiastically, but his opponent, Stephen Villard, couldn't or wouldn't even find a few minutes to talk to the biggest newspaper in the district.
Clerk of the Courts: Don S. Mitchell
Mitchell is running against the incumbent Lydia Gardner. The Orlando Sentinel sent each candidate a list of questions, and published their responses. Gardner's responses sound like a set of polished propaganda- more like a marketing brochure than any real information.
Mitchell has been a private investigator for several years, as well as a supervisor at both adult and juvenile correctional facilities, so he's in a position to have dealt with the Clerk of the Court's office on a regular basis, and know about problems as seen from the viewpoint of the people they serve, rather than from within.
He talks about problems within the Clerk's office staff which he intends to fix, including doing away with one of the most asinine things I've ever heard of: if one employee turns in another employee who makes a mistake, they get a "coin" good for ten minutes of paid free time, at the taxpayers' expense. Aside from the idea of paying employees to take extra time off, this encourages an attitude among the staff where they're constantly looking to stab each other in the back rather than help each other to do a better job.
Sheriff: Jerry Demings
For the past several months I've been hearing so much about problems in the Sheriff's office, scandals involving deputies who were planning to run for Sheriff (or who were friends of people who were planning to run) going through the sitting Sheriff's desk at night, looking for dirt... I got sick of it.
The one thing I was 100% sure of, is that I would NOT be voting for Malone Stewart. This guy made up signs which said, in big red letters, "CRIME IS TERRORISM". I was thrilled beyond words to NOT see this guy's name on the final ballot. I don't know what happened- if he ran out of money, changed his mind, or somebody finally knocked some sense into his head about how his campaign slogan sounded like so much fear-mongering, but he wasn't on the ballot, and there wasn't a write-in slot, so I don't have to worry about this guy becoming Sheriff.
The two guys who WERE on the ballot, John Tegg and Jerry Demings, I didn't really know much about- probably because I was so sick of hearing about both of them all the time. I looked at their campaign web sites, and again checked the Orlando Sentinel's web site with their answers to the Sentinel's questions.
Tegg's answers were all "short and sweet". It sounded to me like his solution to every problem was to put more officers on the street, and to make sure they were more highly visible whenever and wherever they went. To me this brings up images of jack-booted thugs patrolling the streets during a martial law crackdown- not something I would ever support.
Demings's answers sounded more well thought-out, and tended toward more sensible solutions- changing the district lines to be more in line with population density, and making smaller districts so that deputies work in smaller areas, and the residents and business owners work with the same deputies on a regular basis. Most importantly, he didn't sound like he wanted to turn Orange County into a prison camp.
Property Appraiser: Bill Donegan
Bill Donegan has been the property appraiser since 2001. During that time he has done a lot to bring the PA's office out of the stone age, including an online interactive GIS system on the web, which allows people to look up public information about any parcel in the county. His time in office so far has been smooth and relatively quiet- it's one of those jobs you never hear about unless he does something really wrong, and so far he seems to be doing a good job. I don't really see any reason why he should be replaced.
His opponent, Mary Emily Shannon, has some experience in the field of Property Appraisal, and from her web site she sounds like she has the right attitude about being fair and unbiased in her work.
Normally I would have no problem voting for her, but I also have no reason not to vote for Donegan. If anything, having Donegan retain the office ensures that there will be no upheavals during a change from one official to the other, which means the office will continue to run as smoothly and uneventfully as it has been for the past several years.
Tax Collector: Earl K. Wood
This was another case where I had never heard anything bad about the incumbent, Earl K. Wood, and I had never heard anything at all about the challenger, Jean Ruiz-Sandor. Neither candidate responded to the Orlando Sentinel's list of questions, so again I voted to keep the incumbent in place, in order to minimize the stress within the office of changing to a new boss.
Supervisor of Elections: Manny Garcia
I remember hearing where the incumbent, Bill Cowles, had accepted campaign donations from companies which also provided services to the Supervisor of Elections' office. I don't know what ever happened with it, but not having heard anything to the contrary, it's enough to make me wonder.
Reading the candidates' answers on the Orlando Sentinel's web site, Garcia mentions the potential conflict of interest, and also points out that the Supervisor of Elections' budget is significantly higher per-voter than any other county in Central Florida (i.e. the Orange County SoE's budget is four times the size of the Seminole County SoE's budget, even though Orange County only has twice as many people.)
These are issues I was not aware of. I have a friend who works for the SoE's office, doing technical support for their computers. He told me that this time of the year they're pretty busy, and they bring in a few extra people to help with the case load, but for most of the year they sit idle, waiting for somebody's computer to break. To me it seems like they could reduce their costs by outsourcing their technical support functions, especially during the slow times when no elections are coming up, to the County's IT department.
This was a case where I felt more strongly that a change might need to be made, than I did about either candidate. I voted for Garcia simply because he was not the incumbent- hopefully if he wins, he'll be able to reduce their budget (and therefore the property taxes within Orange County.)
Retain Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Wells? YES
This was a bit strange for me. The Florida Supreme Court has a policy where the justices are required to retire on their 70th birthday, unless more than half of their current six-year term has been served, in which case they can stay until the end of that term. Justice Wells turns 70 in March 2009, so essentially I voted to let him keep the job for one more year instead of six.
I look at it this way- if the vote comes back "no", then they have to spend a few months finding somebody to replace him, during which time the Supreme Court will be one Justice short. If the vote comes back "yes", he'll still be sitting, but because they know he'll be retiring next year, they can start looking for a replacement now, and when he retires they'll already have somebody to replace him, so the Supreme Court won't have to be short a guy.
Retain Judge Kerry I. Evander of the 5th District Court of Appeals? YES
Retain Judge Alan C. Lawson of the 5th District Court of Appeals? YES
Retain Judge Richard B. Orfinger of the 5th District Court of Appeals? YES
Retain Judge William David Palmer of the 5th District Court of Appeals? YES
Retain Judge Thomas D. Sawaya of the 5th District Court of Appeals? YES
For a judge, a big part of the job is impartiality- which means that even if they might have a pre-conceived opinion about the issues in a case, they make their decisions based only on the evidence and the law. The court system has a review board which watches the judges, and takes action to remove any who have ethical issues- and a lack of impartiality is one of the reasons they have removed judges in the past.
Without knowing more about them, I don't really have any opinions about them at all. The legal review board hasn't found any reason to remove them from their offices, and I'm sure if there were any issues, there are several other outside "watchdogs" who would have made enough noise to turn up on a google search. I didn't find anything on searches for any of their names, so I can only assume they're doing their jobs correctly and deserve to keep doing them.
In fact, the only one I had ever heard of before was Sawaya, who in a former office was the judge who sentenced Aileen Wuornos to death. (If you don't recognize the name, she was a prostitute who hitchhiked her way up and down Florida's highways, killing and robbing several middle-aged men in the process.)
Circuit Judge 9, Group 22: Jim Turner
I hadn't really heard much about Turner, but I have heard about his opponent, Fred Schott, several times. The impression I've had of Schott is that he's another "good old boy"- he has a list of endorsements longer than my arm, many of which come from other "good old boys", or the companies and groups they control.
I hate to admit it, but in this case I voted against Fred Schott more than I voted for Jim Turner.
Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor, Group 1: Jessy Hamilton
Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor, Group 3: (none)
Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor, Group 5: Carl Howard
This was another office, or set of offices, about which I had never heard at all. In fact, I wasn't aware that Florida had "Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisors", or that they were elected- I had heard of the Saint John's Water Management District, but that was about it.
A set of google searches on the names of the four people who were running for each of the three seats turned up a whole lot of nothing. The Orlando Sentinel sent out questions to each candidate, and of the twelve, only two even bothered to respond- so those two (Hamilton and Howard, both school teachers) got my vote, simply for taking the time to answer a few questions.
And because I knew absolutely nothing about the candidates for the Group 3 office, I just plain didn't vote on that issue. I figured that was safer than allowing random chance to choose what might be the wrong person for the job- I'll allow others, who may know more about them, to choose the right person for that job.
Amendment 1, Declaration of Rights: YES
The amendment removes language from the Constitution which was used in the past to prevent foreigners, specifically Asian immigrants, from owning property in Florida. I don't believe this was ever necessary, or even appropriate... and it's certainly no longer socially relevant.
Amendment 2, Florida Marriage Protection Amendment: NO
This was nothing but a thinly veiled attempt by religious nut-jobs to legally re-define the word "marriage", thereby preventing legal recognition of partnerships which are just as personally valid as a traditional man-woman marriage, simply because the two people involved happen to have the same kind of plumbing.
My own take on the issue is simple- maybe too simple for many people to be able to accept. The word "marriage" is a religious concept. One of the founding principles of the USA is the separation of church and state. So all we need to do is choose another term- call it "domestic partnership", or "domestic union", or whatever you want. Assign all of the legal and financial changes in status to this new term, without ever using the word "marriage", and without trying to restrict what kinds (genders) of people are allowed to form these unions.
If the religious types want to get married in a church, that's fine- more power to them. And if the churches want to refuse to allow same-sex couples to "marry", great. But the term "marriage" will be a religious concept, totally separate from the legal concept of a "domestic union". Basically, if a couple wants to be both religiously married, and legally union-ized, then they'll need to perform two separate acts- one in a church, and one at the Clerk of the Court's office.
I know, it makes too much sense to ever work... The religious nut-jobs will never allow it.
Amendment 3, Changes and Improvements Not Affecting The Assessed Value of Residential Real Property: YES
Come on, guys, do you think you could have come up with a longer title for this puppy?
Normally, if a homeowner installs hurricane shutters, a solar power system, or some other improvement which saves energy, the cost of that improvement is added to the assessed value of the house, which makes the property taxes go up. This amendment will change the Constitution so that these kinds of improvements don't affect their assessed property value for the first ten years, which gives them a break on the property taxes, which gives them incentive to install the improvements and save energy.
The total savings is estimated to be about $17 per thousand in value they add to the home- no major financial impact to the state, and if it makes people do more to save energy, then I'm all for it.
Amendment 4, Property Tax Exemption of Perpetually Conserved Land; Classification and Assessment of Land Used for Conservation: NO
This amendment provides a tax exemption for privately owned parcels which have been put aside for conservation purposes- wildlife reserves and so forth. It sounds like a good idea, to promote conservation of the natural land and so forth, but if the land is going to be paid for by the public (i.e. if the parcel will be non-taxed, the tax revenue will be recovered from from everybody else in the district) then the public should have guaranteed access to, and use of the land, for camping, hiking, and other conservation-friendly non-destructive activities.
Basically, if somebody owns a huge plot of land and wants to get themselves a tax break by declaring the "back forty" to be a wildlife preserve, they should just sell that part of the land back to the state so it can be used as a PUBLIC wildlife preserve.
Amendment 6, Assessment Of Working Waterfront Property Based Upon Current Use: YES
More and more pieces of waterfront property are being bought up by developers and turned into condos. A parcel which is being used as a marina or a boat ramp might not generate a whole lot of tax revenue, but if a developer were to buy that parcel and build a high-rise building full of condos, every one of those condos can be taxed individually, which results in more money for the county.
Some of the counties are starting to tax these parcels as if the condos were already there, if the surrounding parcels have already been turned into condos. The higher tax bills are driving a lot of small companies out of business, essentially forcing them to sell the land.
The amendment changes the law so that these parcels are required to be taxed based on what they ARE being used for, rather than what they COULD BE used for.
Amendment 8, Local Option Community College Funding: NO
This amendment would require the Legislature to authorize counties to levy taxes to support community colleges in their areas, subject to voter approval within each county.
This would allow the state to further cut educational funding by reducing their funding of community colleges, which either forces the counties to make up the difference (i.e. we'll still be paying for them, it'll just be a county tax rather than a state tax) or forces the schools to raise tuitions, making it harder for students from low-income areas to attend.
I remember when they started the lottery, how the money was supposed to go to the schools... Well, it IS going to the schools- but for every dollar the lottery sends to the schools, one dollar less comes from the state's general budget. The schools aren't any better off, the state just found a more direct way to make those who most need the schools (i.e. those who are dumb enough to play the lottery) pay for the schools directly.
To me this sounds like another attempt by the state to be able to pay even less money to the schools, while turning the counties into the "bad guys" wanting more tax money from everybody.
Orange County Charter
Question 1, Requiring Financial Impact Statements for Amendments or Revisions Propsed by the Charter Review Commission: YES
If the Charter Review Commission proposes any change to the County Charter, this rule will require them to include with that proposal, an analysis of any increase or decrease in the costs or revenues for the county or local governments, or the citizens, if the change is enacted.
I didn't realize they weren't doing this already. Damn straight, this should be required.
Question 2, Requiring a Local Code of Ethics and Disclosure of Business and Financial Relationships: YES
This will require a Code of Ethics to be adopted, requiring elected officials and certain county employees to disclose any business or financial relationships, restricting gifts to the Mayor and County Commissioners, and other items including annual educational sessions on ethics.
Again, I thought they already had something like this in place. Another no-brainer for me.
Question 3, Providing Citizens with the Right to Public Input and the Right to Be Heard: YES
This adds a statement to the Charter which explicitly gives citizens the right to appear before the Board of County Commissioners for presentations on issues within the county's authority; requiring the Board to set aside at least fifteen minutes before each meeting for citizens to speak on any matter, regardless of whether or not it appears on the agenda; and allowing the Board to adopt rules for the orderly conduct of public meetings.
Wow, really? They need to add a rule which guarantees the citizens the right to speak to their elected officials?
Another no-brainer, something which should have been there all along.
Orange County Special Referendum
Question 1, Proposal to expand Orange County School Board to include an elected chair elected districtwide: NO
Right now, the school board has seven members, one from each district, and they elect one of themselves to serve as chairman. This proposal would create an eighth member, elected county-wide, to serve as chairman. This person would have an extra "tie breaker" vote, essentially giving them two votes and requiring a five-of-eight supermajority to override them.
I voted NO for a few reasons. Primarily, I don't like the idea of any one person having a magical "tie breaker" vote. I'm also not real crazy about the already dwindling money going to the schools, being used to pay this new person a salary.
The Orlando Sentinel has an article about this issue, explaining how it's supposed to work in more detail, and giving the top ten reasons given by people who do and don't support the idea.