Opinions – Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: For now (at least), sanity carries the day

Let’s take a deep breath and briefly examine what we have learned over the last several days.

Lesson No. 1: Separating children from their parents and locking them in cages is bad.

Lesson No. 2: When in doubt, refer to Lesson No. 1.

Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Someone finally got that message through to President Donald Trump, and he announced an executive order that reunites previously separated children and parents. A modicum of compassion and sanity was restored to this nation’s border policy, and I guess we take victories where we can find them.

Hysteria, for the moment, was trampled by millions of Americans who said in loud, unmistakable voices that this isn’t the kind of country we want.

It’s possible to have security without being terrified of the border boogeyman.

That’s a conversation for another day, but it’s an important one — especially here in Florida.

For now, though, just look at how we got to the point where the leader of the free world had to have it pounded through his thick skull that there are lines that can’t be crossed, especially when crying children are standing on the other side.

The arrogance of hard-liners in the Trump administration got us here, along with the president’s unswerving belief that anything which makes his 40 percent base happy is good public policy.

Consider how Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, showed the Fox News audience he had the heart of pit viper when he mocked a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who had been separated from her parents at the border.

This is a guy who had Trump’s ear, and he evidently thinks situations like this are funny. Offered a chance Wednesday to apologize, he declined. Repeat: Lewandowski used to manage Trump’s campaign, and if he had his way that little girl would be nothing more than collateral damage on the way to building a border wall.

And I’ll bet Lewandowski still has Trump’s ear.

Speaking of collateral damage, few people have had a worse week career-wise than Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen of Clearwater.

She was given the fool’s errand to try and back up her boss’s lie that Democrats were blocking any law that could have reunited those kids with their parents, and she dutifully did as she was told.

Turns out, Trump could fix it with the stroke a pen, like Democrats always said.

But Nielsen’s public face on this issue led to an ugly scene with protesters at, oh yeah, a Mexican restaurant where she was having dinner Tuesday night. It rammed home another important lesson: Trying to defend the indefensible is never a good idea.

And just when we think Attorney General Jeff Sessions couldn’t possibly look worse, he did by quoting out of context Romans Ch. 13 from the Bible. Sessions used that to defend the government’s action, basically saying that God would want people to go along with what the administration is doing.

Religious leaders around the country responded with stinging rebukes, and now Sessions could face sanctions from the United Methodist Church, where he is a member.

About 700 UMC clergy and laity across the land, including ten from Florida, signed “a formal complaint against fellow United Methodist layperson Jefferson Beauregard Sessions” for violating the denomination’s Book of Discipline.

They accuse Sessions, among other things, of “chargeable offenses” that include child abuse, racial discrimination, immorality, and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church (see Romans, Ch. 13) — all growing out of his enforcement of the unholy zero-tolerance directive.

I’ve never been prouder to be a member of the United Methodist Church.

This won’t be the last time Trump is moved to rapid excess while he occupies the Oval Office. Just because opponents forced him to change this time doesn’t mean he will quit trying. He has enablers like Lewandowski, and if they suddenly go away, there will be new ones to take their place.

But if you like the president and you think on balance that he is doing what you sent him to Washington to accomplish, hopefully, you just learned something important.

There are limits.

Trump and those who support him just crossed one.

Yes, they were stopped — this time.

One we know for sure, though. They will be back.

Joe Henderson: Bill Nelson visit was right thing to do (and good politics)

The best thing that could have happened to Bill Nelson’s campaign so far took place Tuesday.

Florida’s senior U.S. Senator, in a fight for his political life, traveled to inspect the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children facility.

It’s a holding camp keeping an estimated 1,000 children — some came to America without their parents, and others because their parents are being held elsewhere on suspicion of trying to enter the country illegally.

Given what is going on in Texas, where children are separated from their immigrant parents, Nelson was well within the scope of his job to make sure there is no funny business going on at the Homestead facility.

Nelson said he set up the visit in advance through proper Health and Human Services channels but was advised Tuesday it would have to be delayed because applications for such visits must be submitted to two weeks in advance.

He went there anyway but was blocked from going inside for a firsthand look.

“I thought by the time I got here, they (would have) thought better,” Nelson said.

“Refusing a Senator, the Congresswoman (Debbie Wasserman Schultz), and the Representative (state Rep. Kionne McGhee) of checking on the welfare of children and also finding out about the welfare of children that have been pulled away from their parents.”

He might have found a locked door there, but it was campaign gold and it didn’t cost a cent.

As the cameras rolled, Nelson let ‘em have it.

“They obviously are hiding something,” he said. “They are using the excuse (that) you have to apply two weeks in advance (to visit). That is what the deputy secretary told me this morning.

“And I said, ‘Obviously, that is balderdash. You know better than telling me that we’ve got to fill out a form two weeks ahead of time when children’s lives are at stake So, they obviously are trying to cover up. They don’t want us to see it.”

Nelson’s righteous anger should make his Senate opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, squirm a bit.

After all, after hitting Nelson for weeks with a barrage of TV ads suggesting he has been in Washington too long and is out of touch, it raised the question: Why hasn’t the Governor gone to check?

After all, he is top elected official in this state.

To be fair, Scott has spoken out against the policy of separating children from their parents.

In this case, though, he ceded the stage — and a whole bunch of free media — to Nelson.

That’s blunder No. 1.

Blunder No. 2 was the refusal by HHS to allow Nelson’s visit to continue. Officials could have told him that cameras had to stay outside but to walk around and check things for himself.

By blocking Nelson, HHS only served to heighten suspicion that something really is wrong there. If he eventually is allowed in and everything looks good, suspicion will be that the place was cleaned up before letting Nelson inside.

It hasn’t been a good week for the Trump administration on this issue.

The president has been loudly criticized on both sides of the political aisle for the zero-tolerance policy that led to this fight.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to use the Bible to justify the policy, and there are calls for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen of Clearwater to resign.

Nelson’s visit will undoubtedly be criticized as a political stunt by some, but after absorbing body blows from Scott’s TV blitz, it was a strong countermove.

It had the added the virtue of being the right to do.

Joe Henderson: Making sense of the Susan Valdes paperwork-controversy

If everything goes as planned, Democrat Susan Valdes will travel to Tallahassee early morning and file paperwork to run for House District 62.

Normally, this would be an uneventful event, barely noteworthy.

But, of course, that race has become anything but uneventful since Valdes’ surprise and controversial decision to resign from the Hillsborough School Board to run for the House seat being vacated by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who is challenging for Dana Young’s state Senate spot.

At issue is the charge by a consultant for the Michael Alvarez campaign that Supervisor of Elections Director Craig Latimer’s office accepted Valdes’ irrevocable letter of resignation from the School Board — a mandatory first step to run for another office — after the deadline to make such a declaration.

Political activist Chris Cano also is running.

What is clear so far is that Valdes’ resignation letter arrived and was certified after the close of business at the elections office, but before midnight.

People I have spoken with say the law doesn’t specify that the letter had to be in by the end of the business day, so long as it arrived by the calendar day.

Latimer’s acceptance of the letter would seem to validate that position, although it did open a legitimate question about whether any other candidate would have such an accommodation.

On the other hand, it doesn’t appear that any other candidate asked for that.

Either way, it’s a big deal for Alvarez, who might have been the favorite in that race before Valdes — popular in that heavily Hispanic district — joined the party.

The protest coming his camp, amid suggestions that Latimer’s office unfairly played favorites, would indicate he understands that his campaign just got complicated.

All I can say is this: While it’s obvious that the Valdes resignation came in after the close of business (it was time-stamped at 7:30 p.m.), there is nothing in prior campaigns to suggest Latimer’s office bent the rules for one candidate’s benefit.

Alvarez likely will have to win the Democratic primary on Aug. 28 — and, with that, likely secure a seat in the House — the old-fashioned way: on the merits of his campaign, which are not insignificant.

It won’t be easy, though.

Valdes has the support of both Cruz and Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, who also served in the state House.

The outcome, however it goes, seems unlikely to have much impact on the big picture for the balance of power in Tallahassee, though. The seat almost certainly is going to remain in Democratic hands.

Lest we forget, this also impacts the School Board, where Valdes, first elected in 2004, had two years remaining on her third term. It means the potential for four new Board members at a time when the school district is undergoing considerable financial pressure.

And she also faced two state ethics charges from her time on the Board, which undoubtedly will lead to uncomfortable questions during the campaign.

For now, though, she sounds like someone not worried about anything but running for the state House. She plans to be in Tallahassee bright and early Thursday to make it official.

John Thomas: Duke Energy should keep its promise to Polk County

It’s good when a Florida business can partner with a huge corporation on a project that will revive a struggling community. So, it’s particularly distressing when the corporation acts like a bully, pushing aside the interests of its smaller partner — and the entire community — so it can grab a bigger profit for itself.

Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening right now in the small Central Florida town of Fort Meade, which has been struggling to recover from the closure of phosphate mines that once drove the economy of Polk County. The decision by Duke Energy to abandon its partner, U.S. EcoGen, could cost the local community hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars.

As a director of the Florida Alliance for Consumers and Taxpayers (FACT), an organization that weighs in on consumer issues, and a longtime advocate for local communities, I have seen far too many instances where big corporations run over those who place their trust in them. In this case, Duke Energy’s cash grab has caught the attention of some important state legislators.

A little background: Duke Energy partnered with U.S. EcoGen in 2011 to build a $400 million plant to produce biomass renewable energy, which would provide Duke with enough electricity to power approximately 10,000 homes. Relying on this agreement, U.S. EcoGen has already spent more than $40 million developing the project and bought more than 1,300 acres in Polk County for the new facility. The project was delayed by everything from the discovery of gopher tortoises to the new federal tax reform law — things beyond the control of the smaller company. U.S. EcoGen asked Duke Energy for a one-year extension, meaning it would start delivering power in 2020, but the mega-corporation said no.

This refusal is both baffling and harmful to consumers, since the state Public Service Commission has said the project would save ratepayers almost $60 million. Baffling, that is, unless you consider that it looks like Duke Energy has taken an interest in operating its own renewable energy business. In a PSC document from last year, Duke Energy asked permission to enter the renewable energy field, which would make it a direct competitor with U.S. EcoGen — not a partner. Unless, of course, it found a way to stop U.S. EcoGen’s plant from ever opening.

Unsurprisingly, the project has wide support from the local community who sees this as a unique opportunity to diversify their economic future. Additionally, State Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Jay Trumbull, who chair legislative panels that oversee energy and utilities’ issues, have written letters encouraging Duke Energy to move forward with this project. They cite the financial implications for the community, the potential loss of hundreds of high-paying jobs, and the impact on consumers.

Duke Energy has a real chance to do something good for its ratepayers, good for this community, and good for the public. It’s not too late for the corporation to change its mind, so for the sake of this community and Florida, let’s hope that Duke does the right thing.


John Thomas is a director with the Florida Alliance for Consumers and Taxpayers. He has decades of experience working with local governments and elected officials.

Joe Henderson: Trump giving supporters exactly what they voted for

In his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump basically told the American people what he was going to do about immigration.

He was going to be tough. He was going to be ruthless.

Mercy was only for the weak.

He would show the world his version of America. It was a two-handed shove to the chest.

So, if you voted for him, don’t pretend you’re surprised border agents are tearing families apart and you didn’t think it would go that far.

This is the nation Gov. Rick Scott had a hand in creating during the campaign when he backed Trump at every turn.

It’s what Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam endorse every time they use Trump’s name.

This is the America religious leaders like Franklin Graham supported throughout the campaign and in the first year and a half of Trump’s presidency, even as evidence piled up daily that he was a bully-in-chief.

Now that children are being separated from their parents at the border with no timetable for seeing them again, Graham told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”

Disgraceful? He didn’t see this coming?

How could he not?

Trump’s supporters voted for a man who bragged that his celebrity status gave him the right to grab women anywhere he wanted. He supported white supremacists.

He hired Steve Bannon.

They cheered when he shook a fist and shouted repeatedly about building a wall between Mexico and the United States. They stood with him when he insulted our closest allies.

He called Canada a national security threat, but said of Kim Jong Un, “I think it’s great to give him credibility.”

He tripled the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and if some of them act like jackboots, well, that’s just the Trumpian way of enforcing the law, eh?

Trump has been exactly what he promised to be. Did anyone think he was kidding during the campaign and would somehow realize he is the president of 320 million people, not just those who voted for him?

What’s unfolding over immigration is just the next logical step.

He gave people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions power, who now says separating families is OK because the Bible supports it.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said.

Sessions has been justifiably skewered for taking that out of context, but he also ignored the instruction from Jesus in Mark 12: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

But hey, people should have seen that coming, too.

After all, Trump told students at Liberty University about a verse in “Two Corinthians” instead of 2nd Corinthians, and he told a group of evangelicals in Iowa that he had never asked God for forgiveness.

Um, the Bible kind makes it clear that seeking forgiveness is important.

Evangelicals voted him anyway in large numbers because he pandered to them. They helped create this. It’s too late for some to say they don’t like it.

None of this is an argument against immigration laws and border enforcement, but there is a way to do it without blowing families apart – and on some level, Trump and his minions know this, don’t they?

But they’re all so focused on being tough that they forget everything else.

On Sunday, Father’s Day, Fox News reported Melania Trump’s office said: “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families & hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws but also a country that governs w/heart.”

A heart.

That would be nice. But that’s not what his supporters voted for. They voted for a crude brute who told them what he was going to do. They believed him.

He didn’t let them down.

They own this.

Blake Dowling: Social engineering

Do you need a break from Putnam, Donald, Kim and all the other headlines raging this week in the Sunshine State and our nation?

How ‘bout we talk cybersecurity, so you can make sure you have all the bases covered (baseball analogy for the upcoming College World Series).

Are you familiar with “social engineering?” The term gets thrown around a lot in cybersecurity circles, but according to Webroot:

“Social engineering is the art of manipulating people, so they give up confidential information. The types of information these criminals are seeking can vary, but when individuals are targeted the criminals are usually trying to trick you into giving them your passwords or bank information, or access your computer to secretly install malicious software — that will give them access to your passwords and bank information as well as giving them control over your computer.”

In the political, lobbying and business world we live in, we have long, complex passwords, perimeter security devices, layered anti-spam and anti-virus tools, someone watching the network with a remote monitoring tool, real-time backups, etc.

Social engineering bypasses all that.

I am sure everyone remembers former Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. He got a bogus email from Google, saying he must change his password now, which he did. It was subsequently stolen (as it was not really from Google).

The ramifications were significant, as we all know.

Now think about how former CIA Director John Brennan’s personal email account was similarly hacked. That’s right. The CIA.

Hackers called Brennan’s internet provider, Verizon, and claimed to be from Verizon customer service trying to fix an issue with their client. They didn’t stop until they had his Social Security number.

The hackers took that info, did a password reset and — presto — complete access to all his email.

In Florida, I have personally seen phishing attempts to local, association and lobbying entities were hackers dig up info on key personnel in the organization, an attempt to impersonate them.

If your email address is posted on your website, the bad guys can find it. They then create a fake domain resembling yours and reference something in the news to make the email sound legit and ask for money.

As an example, Bob gets an email from his accounting person saying they need $4K to put on a rally in Miami, the individual needs the money wired because they “can’t use a credit card.”

You would think there’s no way this would work, but occasionally it does. I have seen it happen.

Last week, I took a call from a client who said Microsoft is calling them to do some maintenance and needs their password. As I have said before it is hard enough to get a call through to Microsoft, they certainly never call you for anything, ever. This is an attempt at a hack. What if you have an intern at your office or a campaign volunteer. Do they know about this? Or would they give their password to “Microsoft” putting all of your data in jeopardy?

Sometimes you can’t even trust the security companies as widely known security giant, Kaspersky was hijacked, or maybe even involved in some cyber shenanigans.

Here in Florida, we must protect ourselves every day, especially with some huge elections on the horizon.

Just like college football (and elections), Texas, California and Florida are the states you want to watch, and all eyes — including hackers — will be looking this way. Just like last time.

Make sure you and everyone on your team are ready.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Joe Henderson: Money no object in Jeff Greene’s bid for Governor

It’s debatable if money can buy happiness, but there is anecdotal evidence that it can buy the keys to the Florida Governor’s mansion.

Rick Scott proved that by spending millions from his considerable personal bank account to win the Republican nomination in 2010, then the general election and finally a second term.

Now, Democrat Jeff Green says he is prepared to follow Scott’s script and spend, as he told the Miami Herald, “ … whatever it takes” to become Florida’s next Governor.

Not only that, Green told the newspaper he’s willing to lend a financial hand to other state Democratic candidates to flip the Legislature after 20 years of Republican rule.

Sure, he’s jumping into the race so late that most conventional candidates wouldn’t bother. The primary is only 2 ½ months away, and his rivals — Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — have been crisscrossing the state for months.

The electorate has reacted mostly with a yawn though, and Green told the Herald that’s why he decided to go all-in.

The leader is clearly Mr. Undecided. None of these candidates have really been able to inspire the voters,” Greene said.

Money can buy a lot of inspirational TV ads, and Greene is worth an estimated $4 billion.

He does bring a lot of baggage to the race, starting with the fact he once ran for Congress in Los Angeles as a Republican, but Charlie Crist used to be a Republican too and, well, things change.

Greene did make a mess of things the last time he ran for elected office though. That was an ill-fated 2010 U.S. Senate bid, which blew up following reports Greene was partying hard with people like Mike Tyson and Lindsay Lohan.

Do people even care about things like that any more (see Trump, Donald)?

I guess we’ll find out.

Besides, Greene says he strictly a family man, interested in education, and that all those party stories were exaggerated anyway.

“Here I am eight years later, and thank God I have three beautiful sons,” he told The Associated Press.

“When you have kids who are starting to grow, you start thinking about things like education and what kind of world they’re going to have.”

Well, OK.

In the past or not, that won’t stop rivals from bringing up the party stuff anyway if Greene starts to gain traction. It also could complicate a Democratic race that was increasingly beginning to take on a Levine-versus-Graham look.

Even if Greene’s bid is not successful, it could force the other Democrats to spend even more resources now instead of keeping some cash in the bank for the general election.

And that benefits … guess who?

Adam Putnam.

For as much bad press as Putnam has gotten lately, he has only one rival for the Republican nomination and Ron DeSantis, despite his regular appearances on Fox News and the endorsement from President Donald Trump, hasn’t made much headway.

Putnam has money. Name recognition.

And for now, at least, he seems to have withstood the twin haymakers from the Publix controversy and the bungled handling of concealed weapons permits by his office at the state Agriculture Department.

Even if Greene somehow wins the Democratic nomination, he would find Putnam (I’m assuming) to be a formidable opponent.

But hey, eight years ago I thought the idea of a businessman spending millions of his own dollars to win the Governor’s race was laughable.

No one is laughing anymore.

Joe Henderson: Maybe only Donald Trump could go to North Korea

It has been a little more than 46 years since President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to The People’s Republic of China.

It turned out to be a major diplomatic coup for the darkly devious president, breaking through a quarter century of ice between China and the United States.

Even the most malevolent president in U.S. history (at the time) was able to accomplish something important. As historians noted, only Nixon could go to China.

Maybe they’ll be saying the same thing about Florida’s part-time resident, President Donald Trump, for his just-concluded summit with North Korea’s malevolent dictator Kim Jong Un.

History might show that only a scoundrel could talk to a scoundrel.

Trump’s arms-length relationship with the truth, his juvenile insults, and his penchant for answering every question about ethical lapses with the same two-word answer — Hillary Clinton — may have convinced his North Korean counterpart that this was his kind of guy.

And President Trump got to enjoy a brief respite in the news from Robert Mueller’s investigation into his ties with Russia.  


Of course, the president also is a little shaky with details about what he just agreed to, so for all we know he may have signed over Seattle to the North Koreans as part of the art of this deal.

But seriously, this could be the breakthrough of all time — and, obviously, we hope it is. I guess we’ll find out when we do.

It seems that Trump dangled the promise of prosperity for the notoriously poor people of North Korea, and that was smart — although it wouldn’t surprise anyone if all that money and so on wound up in the vault at the North Korean presidential mansion.
But hey, if it works and the rogue nation really does dispose of its nuclear stockpile — color me skeptical — then Trump will add that to the lists of things he pulled off that no other U.S. president could accomplish.

Alas, that list also includes insulting and threatening longtime allies while continuing to insist Vladimir Putin is really just misunderstood.

After Trump’s abysmal showing at the G-7 summit last week, the question went out far and wide to Republicans across the land — why aren’t your voices raised in thunderous protest?

Do you really want foreign policy operating under the doctrine, as one top inside source told the Atlantic this week, “We’re America, Bitch.

Somewhere around 40 percent of the country apparently does.

 We’ll find out if that number increases by November’s midterms because Democrats are going all-out and Trump will be at the center of everything they say — even when they’re not saying his name.

That’s true in Florida especially, where Democrat Bill Nelson is in the fight of his political life to hold on to his U.S. Senate seat against Gov. Rick Scott.

But for now, Trump has something to talk about besides investigations and angry allies.

Good for him.

He might be wise to keep a little history in mind though.

Nixon called his China trip “the week that changed the world” — and history has shown that to be true.

He also hoped it would make people forget about the Vietnam War and the exploding Watergate scandal.

They did not.

Still, Nixon, a scoundrel of the highest order, was forced from office two years and odd months after that breakthrough.

And it’s about two years and odd months before the 2020 presidential election.

It’s just something to keep in mind.

Kevin Sweeny: Vote pledging — the evolution of the ground campaigns

In the nearly half a century since the legal voting age was set at 18, low participation rates among 18- to 24-year-old voters has perplexed candidates, consultants and researchers.

With the ever-growing importance of field campaigns, a renewed effort to reach and mobilize these younger voters — at the local, state and national levels — will be indispensable.

A relatively new trend is emerging to get these prized electors to the polls — vote pledging — and it is finally warranting closer scrutiny. No doubt, this strategy will be put to the test by field campaigns in both the 2018 midterms and beyond.

First, some background; in the political ecosystem, the “youth vote” is a somewhat new concept.

Driven in large part by the military draft, which conscripted men between the ages of 18 and 21, the push to lower the voting age moved quickly.

In March 1971, the U.S. Senate voted 94—0 in favor of proposing a Constitutional amendment, guaranteeing the minimum voting age could not be higher than 18. Thirteen days later, the House of Representatives voted 401—19 in favor of the proposed amendment.

On July 1, 1971, the 26th Amendment was ratified, giving those 18 years of age and older the right to vote.

Nevertheless, in 1972, only 51 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds made their way to the ballot box, compared to 70 percent of those ages 25 years and older.

Forty-four years later, the participation rates of the younger demographic are no better, lagging behind those 25 years of age and older, with 50 percent participation as compared to 65 percent.

We can point to many reasons for the participation gap between older and younger voters, including lack of geographic stability, logistics of when and where to vote (usually a deterrent to newly registered voters), education and income.

Some evidence suggests allowing young citizens to register to vote before they are eligible, may increase voter turnout from this cohort. It has long been argued, with plenty of evidence to support, a fully operational field and grassroots campaign can play a critical factor in mobilizing specific voting blocks in successful campaigns.

Slowly, after some experimentation, a few field campaigns have realized the key to votes at the ballot box was securing a commitment from the voter and then following up to get them to stick to their pledge.

This approach likely overshadowed — yielding more significant results — the more traditional multiple door/phone outreach which was common until the 2004 cycle.

Modern and advanced field campaigns continue to test the effectiveness of collecting pledges and issuing reminders in person and across social media platforms.

Highly technical and sophisticated campaigns — which are adequately funded and have the workforce to do so — will ask voters to fill out pledge cards and personally return those cards ahead of Election Day.

This “get out the vote” (GOTV) tactic can be used to attract voters of all ages.

Few field campaigns indeed focus on mobilizing young voters because they believe there is a low return on investment (votes). However, “vote pledges” may be the tactic field campaigns can use to increase turnout in the under-24 voting bloc.

Vote pledging is a simple approach based on the premise that if a voter makes an “in-person commitment” to specific future behavior, they are more likely to follow through than a voter who was not asked explicitly to commit and sign a card.

An in-person commitment can be at the door or possibly over the phone.

This campaign tactic bridges cognitive psychology, which focuses on mental processes especially concerning the internal events occurring between sensory stimulation, open expression of behavior and comparative behaviorism.

Simply put, it suggests commitments to perform a specific action can significantly increase the likelihood of such action.

The mechanism of soliciting (and then enforcing) promises may be the most powerful tool in a field campaign’s psychological arsenal. While vote pledging is a relatively straightforward mobilization tactic, it invokes basic psychological processes above and beyond the traditional demographic parameters in models of voter turnout, such as education, race and age.

Theories of commitment, cognitive dissonance and self-perception imply pledging to vote may engage a whole host of behavioral mechanisms — and can be used to explain how an individual’s own actions can be used to persuade future performance.

While it appears simplistic, this theory has rarely been tested by researchers in the political arena. A randomized controlled experiment was conducted during the 2016 Pennsylvania primary election and the 2016 Colorado general election.

Experiments revealed individuals who pledged to vote were more likely to turn out than those contacted using standard campaign materials, such as mailers and an election’s general information guides.

Further, pledging to vote significantly increased turnout among individuals who had never previously cast a ballot, thus having a particularly significant effect for bringing new voters into the electorate in large numbers, rather than just ensuring turnout among regular voters.

Overall, pledging to vote increased voter turnout by 3.7 points among all subjects and 5.6 points for people who had never voted before.

Showing a commitment behind “pledge to vote” increases the participation in elections, and could have real implications for increasing youth turnout.

These findings lend support for theories of commitment and have practical consequences for field campaign mobilization efforts with the goal of expanding the electorate.

It’s also a smart tactic we may see more of from campaigns in the 2018 cycle.

Successful field campaigns must evolve to include a compressive approach, which includes eliciting a pledge (or commitment) to vote coupled with a follow up to reinforce this pledge — all while staying within budget.


Kevin Sweeny is Operations Director for the Florida Justice Association.

Sean Shaw: A legal strategy to combat gun violence

Sean Shaw

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at their school, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have shown remarkable character and courage. Their resilience and capability to advocate for themselves, their fallen classmates and their peers across Florida, and throughout the country, in the midst of this trauma shows mettle rarely found in public life.

While these students continue to march forward and hold elected leaders accountable, it is worth pausing to note that their advocacy compelled Florida’s state government to pass gun safety reforms for the first time in nearly 20 years.

As is often the case in Florida though, Republican leadership rolled common-sense reforms like raising the age to purchase a rifle to 21, banning bump stocks, and more money for school safety, into a bill that would also arm our teachers.

Unfortunately, the tragic reality is it took three of the most horrific mass shootings ever, all occurring in our state in the past two years, and the fierce advocacy and leadership of our state’s children to force a real conversation about gun violence among our elected leaders.

As Attorney General, I will use the independence of the office to hold state government accountable, fully investigate these horrific shootings and other acts of violence, prosecute those breaking the laws we already have in place, and challenge unjust federal laws that provide near-total immunity for gun manufacturers who should be held accountable for their role in gun violence.

Stopping gun violence requires our next Attorney General to embrace the independence of the office fully. Florida’s Attorney General is not appointed by the Governor but elected by the people.

However, over the last 20 years, Florida’s Republican Attorneys General have done little to address gun violence proactively and have acted more like the personal attorneys of the Governor and Republican leadership in the Legislature.

The resulting deference has resulted in our state’s top legal officer fighting for partisan gains and justifying the National Rifle Association’s agenda rather than standing for the safety of the people of Florida.

The most egregious example of this deference to the legislature and Governor’s partisan agenda is the pre-emption of local rules by the state Legislature, even going so far as to make it a crime for local officials to pass gun safety reforms in their communities.

There are tremendous differences between the cities and counties in Florida. Solutions that make sense in Escambia County could be harmful or unhelpful to the residents of Hillsborough County.

Unfortunately, this is the current system levied upon us by the last 20 years of Florida leaders.

Several mayors, city councils, and local municipalities are in the process of preparing to challenge this pre-emption statute. Additionally, several candidates for Governor have stated they will challenge this law if elected.

As Attorney General, I know my top priority is protecting Florida families and keeping the people of Florida safe. I will not waste the state’s resources or taxpayer dollars defending arbitrary and thoughtless policies that prevent local solutions.

I will not defend the state’s current pre-emption policy on gun laws.

The status quo in Tallahassee has based gun laws entirely upon the directives of lobbyists for the Gun Lobby and completely disregards any real concern for public safety or home rule. The truth is we can respect the Second Amendment while passing common-sense gun safety legislation and respecting local control.

Empowering local governments can help reduce gun violence, but it is just one of the steps that must be taken.

As Attorney General, I will fully utilize the office of the Statewide Prosecutor to investigate gun violence across jurisdictions.

These extraordinary powers to investigate and prosecute organized crime, violence, and drug trafficking have been underutilized and mismanaged over the past 20 years. Three horrific mass shootings in less than two years and an epidemic of gun violence where a child is shot every 17 hours in our state demands an investigation to fully understand how violent criminals are gaining access to guns, bullets and other weapons.

We must understand the common threads that allowed the shootings at Pulse, the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to occur.

Moreover, we must go beyond legal prosecutions to proactively recommend precise legislation to ban assault weapons and make it more difficult to access illegal handguns.

By better understanding the common threads between these shootings, we can better prevent future attacks.

The recommendations of the Statewide Prosecutor and local prosecutors who have been proactively fighting back against this tide of violence can be paired with common sense legislation including banning individuals on the terrorist watch list from obtaining a gun, making it harder for convicted domestic abusers to purchase a gun, and requiring schools to have and practice active shooter protection plans.

One of the most effective tactics available to an Attorney General is participating in joint litigation with other Attorneys General or individuals to support cases defending the interests of the people of Florida.

For all the lives lost, families destroyed, and psychological torment caused by gun violence, the one group who has never been held accountable is gun manufacturers. This is because gun manufacturers are the only industry in the United States that have near total immunity or a nearly complete shield from being held accountable for the products they produce through the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA.

I believe this law is unconstitutional, and as Attorney General, I will actively seek out opportunities to challenge the PLCAA either alone or with other states, in order to get this question in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.

As Florida’s chief law enforcement officer and top lawyer, I believe no one industry should be provided near total immunity from being held accountable. On a constitutional basis, I see the federal passage of the PLCAA as a tremendous overreach of Congress.

I support the Second Amendment and believe the Constitution of the United States protects the rights of individuals to have a gun. As someone who grew up in North Florida, I understand the importance hunting plays as a cultural bonding agent for many Floridians.

However, gun violence is an epidemic in Florida.

Our next Attorney General must take these steps and other actions to not only honor the memory of those who were lost at the Pulse Nightclub massacre, the Ft. Lauderdale Airport shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and those killed in acts of gun violence every day in Florida, but to also keep our families safe.


Sean Shaw is currently a member of the Florida House of Representatives for District 61 and the Democratic candidate for Attorney General.

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