The campaign for governor strikes many Floridians as all sound and fury, signifying nothing but that too much money is being put to too little good. Some are even questioning why they should bother to vote.
The answer is elemental. If they don’t, other people will be voting for them. At the end of the day Nov. 4, a governor will be elected for four fateful years. Better it be your choice rather than someone else’s.
The pity of it is that there are serious issues behind the fire, smoke and fog, and vast differences between how Rick Scott and Charlie Crist would likely deal with them.
The two most important are the courts and the Constitution.
Scott’s contempt for judicial independence — which means judicial integrity — is transparent and terrifying. He wants judges who will echo his far-right biases and rubber-stamp his deeds. The proof is in his total domination of Florida’s judicial nominating commissions.
He’s not satisfied with appointing whomever he pleases to five of the nine seats on each nine-member commission. It seems to irk him that the other four appointees must come from lists submitted by the Florida Bar. So he’s rejected those lists 19 times to get new names that suit him better.
That’s to make sure there will be no dissent, even within a commission’s closed-door deliberations, to the nomination of a party hack, a campaign contributor, or a special interest lobbyist with no redeeming legal qualifications.
Judges are the only people in government with the power to take your money, your liberty, your children and even your life. If you have been wronged, you turn to a judge for justice. The bench is no place for partisan politics, let alone Scott’s rabid style of it. The prospect of Scott appointing the successors to four age-limited Supreme Court justices is chilling — unless you’re a Koch brother.
When Crist was governor, his appointments weren’t free of politics either, but he took care to balance conservatives and moderates in his four choices for the Supreme Court, named 15 blacks to various courts compared to Scott’s nine, and never rejected any of the Bar’s proposed nominating commissioners.
Crist’s election would be better for the courts, but in the long run the nominating commissions need to be restored to the independence intended by Reubin Askew, the great governor who established them in 1971. He appointed only three of each nine-member panel. The Bar chose three more, and the six then selected three public members.
It was an unfortunate oversight to not put that formula in the Constitution. This could and should be corrected by the next Constitutional Revision Commission, which will be appointed and convened in 2017.
The commission is another compelling reason for electing Crist, not Scott, and for George Sheldon to replace Pam Bondi as attorney general.
The governor appoints 15 of the 37 members, and names the chairman. The chief justice, with the Supreme Court’s advice, picks three more. The House Speaker and Senate President each name nine. The attorney general is automatically a member.
If Scott and Bondi are re-elected, and with the Legislature remaining inevitably under Republican control, there would be only the court’s three appointees to bring political balance to the hugely important commission.
It’s a process unique to Florida, inspired by the long and bitter struggle to adopt a modern Constitution, a fight finally won, in 1968, only after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Legislature fairly reapportioned and disposed of the rural ruling clique known as the Pork Chop Gang. The commission’s recommendations go directly to the next general election ballot for a final decision by the voters. They do not have to pass Go in either the House or Senate.
The framers in 1968 recognized that a Constitution should not be a straitjacket; that it needs to adapt to experience and to changing times.
There are at least 10 functions for which experience suggests amendments are needed — amendments the Legislature is unlikely ever to approve. But a commission appointed without reform in mind, with partisan bias rather than balance intended, could block them all, and possibly drag Florida backwards.
The independence of the judicial nominating commissions is one of those issues. The others include a nonpartisan board of elections, a nonpartisan redistricting commission, liberating the Public Service Commission from a Legislature wholly owned by the utilities the commission is supposed to regulate, and replacing legislative term limits with recall elections.
That’s a preview of what I’ll elaborate on in subsequent columns.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.