All should vote for State Attorney

Author: Michael Putney, Political Reporter, mputney@Local10.com
Published On: Jul 11 2012 11:08:02 AM EDT
Michael Putney Voices
MIAMI -

Here's a radical idea:  Let Republicans and independents, not just Democrats, vote for Miami-Dade state attorney on August 14.

What, you say, they can't?  The answer, unbelievably, is no they cannot---because two stalking-horse write-in candidates are on the November general election ballot who the election supervisor deems to be legitimate opponents.  To which I say, hogwash.

Without a Republican in the race, whoever wins the August 14 primary will be the next Miami-Dade state attorney.  Hence, either Democrats Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the incumbent, or challenger Rod Vereen will be the winner. In this situation NPA's and GOP voters are supposed to be able to vote, according to the 1998 constitutional amendment that called for universal primaries. But then came along a legal opinion in 2000 from Sec. of State Katherine Harris, an intellectual giant if there ever was one, that said write-in candidates constitute a legitimate opponent and once they've qualified the primary is closed.

Well, Katie bar the door, boys.  It's been write-in heaven ever since in Florida with the number of write-in's from both parties going up exponentially so as to favor one candidate or party after another. Enter Omar Malone and Michele Samaroo, two black Miami lawyers who signed up at the last minute as state attorney candidates. Ms. Samaroo tells me in an email that nobody put her up to it and that she's running because she disagrees with some of Ms. Rundle's "prosecutorial decisions...over the last few years."  Fair enough, but Ms. Samaroo isn't running much of a campaign to show her displeasure.  She lists no campaign contributions or expenditures.  Neither does the other SA candidate, Omar Malone, who doesn't return phone calls or emails. Neither his nor Samaroo's names will appear on the November ballot, just a blank line beneath the name of the Democratic primary winner.

Nevertheless, the Harris Opinion, as it's come to be known, says they're qualified candidates and by law the primary must be closed.

To which I'll quote Mr. Bumble from (itals) Oliver Twist, who tells a judge, "If the law supposes that.... then the law is an ass, an idiot."  

Attorney Roberto Martinez puts the argument more elegantly in the lawsuit he filed on behalf of an independent Miami-Dade voter, Vincent Mazzilli, and a Republican, Armando Lacasa.  "I think it's unconscionable that I would be denied the right to vote for state attorney," Lacasa, a former Miami commissioner, told me the other day.  "I don't know yet who I'd vote for, but I absolutely have the right to vote on August 14."  We'll find out if he does after a hearing Thursday morning before U.S. District Judge William Zloch.  Martinez is asking the judge to order Miami-Dade Election Supervisor Penelope Townsley to open the state attorney primary to all registered Miami-Dade voters.

Here's hoping Zloch does. Preventing 700,000 voters from a voice in choosing Miami-Dade's chief law enforcement prosecutor is absurd, a travesty, anti-American.  The Legislature could fix this, but not before the primary and probably not afterwards because members of both parties use the Harris Opinion to political advantage.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez apparently has the power to fix the problem, too, since Townsley reports directly to him and Gimenez has the authority under the home-rule charter to open the primary.  Gimenez tells me he won't order Townsley to open the primary because he's on the August 14 ballot and it would look like he's trying to manipulate it. 

The subtext behind this ballot controversy is a bit murky, but goes like this:  Black voters in Miami-Dade make up about 20 per cent of all voters, but 40 per cent of registered Democrats. They want a countywide office holder. Some black voters, who cast ballots for Kathy Rundle in the past, are upset with her for twice charging Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.  So she and others  picked Rod Vereen, an experienced lawyer who is black, to run against Rundle and hope to get a big black voter turn-out for him Aug 14.  One Vereen strategist predicts black voters will  flock to the polls to vote for Vereen and in the Rep. Frederica Wilson vs. Rudy Moise congressional primary.  Helping the black cause is the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, which detests Rundle because she has brought charges against some dirty cops over the years.

Payback is nothing new in politics nor revenge for that matter.  And ethnic or racial voting blocs often move in lock step even when it's not in the larger public interest.  So the black organizers' objectives are well within mainstream politics.

But disenfranchising 700,000 voters is not.  Republicans and independents should be entitled to vote for the next Miami-Dade state attorney. Otherwise, as Bumble says, the law is an ass.