In daily newspaper conference rooms across the state, editorial writers in shirts and ties or conservative dresses have been meeting every candidate for public office and carefully scrutinizing their records, all so they can offer readers a sober, reasoned recommendation about who deserves their vote November 4.
That seems like a whole lot of work. And frankly, we really couldn't care less who gets your vote. But even for a midterm election, there is such a stunning number of soul-crushingly terrible candidates on the ballot that we couldn't help but give you a short guide on who to avoid at all costs.
Honestly, vote for anyone else on the ticket. Write in your favorite Futurama character. Just run screaming from these menaces to good democracy:
How do we loathe thee, Rick Scott? Let us count the ways.
1. As chief executive of Columbia/HCA in 1997, you led a company that admitted to 14 felonies and later agreed to pay more than $1.7 billion for bilking Medicare and Medicaid in the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history.
2. As governor of Florida, you turned down $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money that would have been used to build high-speed rail, then supported slow-speed rail by All Aboard Florida, which has ties to your chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth.
3. You hire scumballs. One chief of staff resigned after being accused of giving no-bid contracts to buddies, and his replacement, Hollingsworth, lied about his college degree. Your education chief quit amid corruption allegations, your head of economic development bowed out amid claims of receiving improper unemployment benefits, and your lieutenant governor disappeared after a scandal involving a charity defrauding veterans. Your attorney general even delayed an execution so she could attend a political fundraiser.
4. You support a 474-mile natural gas pipeline even though you hold several million dollars in natural gas company stock, including $53,000 in Spectra Energy, which is building the project. That is big-time conflict of interest.
5. You were a partner with the man who would become the worst president of the past century, George W. Bush, in ownership of the Texas Rangers.
6. Your debate smile is really, really creepy.
Rep. Daphne Campbell
When Daphne Campbell ran a chain of ten group homes for the disabled, four people died under her watch in a one-year period. Then, when the Miami Democrat was elected to the Florida House a few years later, she quickly cosponsored an initiative to block the state from making lists of troubled assisted-living facilities available to the public.
Luckily that measure was vetoed, but Campbell wasn't: The registered nurse and native of Cap Hatien, Haiti, was reelected in 2012 to represent the state's 108th District, which includes parts of Miami and North Miami. Since then, she's only expanded her repertoire of public disservice. She and her husband, Hubert, were slapped with a $145,000 IRS tax lien; they were accused of scamming business partners, her family was reportedly investigated for Medicare fraud, and her former secretary was arrested for ripping off Campbell's constituents.
Campbell also apparently never learned that old conflict-of-interest lesson from her first term. After she sponsored a bill to ban red-light cameras, the Miami Herald reported that Hubert -- yes, the same Hubert who pleaded guilty in 2007 to securing $800,000 in loans with someone else's social security number -- had already racked up five of the controversial tickets with the family's minivan.
Don't vote for Daphne Campbell. Actually, stay as far away from her as you can. And, in the unlikely event she or her family approach you with any kind of business deal or offer to care for your loved one, run away with extreme speed.
Curbelo has a lot going for him. He's young and handsome. He's an outsider at a moment when Congress' approval ratings are approaching absolute zero. His very name sounds like it means "spending cuts" in Spanish. And then there is his opponent in the race for Florida's 26th District: Joe Garcia, a one-man political fuck-up machine, like Joe Biden without the charm.
Underneath the pretty political wrapping, however, Curbelo is a disaster. He was first elected to office in 2010, when he won a seat on the Miami-Dade County School Board. A few months later, Rick Scott tapped Curbelo to head his "education transition team," which advised the governor to slash $1.3 billion from the education budget. Teachers were canned. Public schools were shuttered. All the while, funding for charter schools skyrocketed. It's a recipe that Curbelo had also pushed here in Miami-Dade.
But Curbelo's policies go way beyond conservative into cuckoo territory. He has called Medicare and social security "Ponzi schemes." Even stranger is Curbelo's stance on Cuba. Born to exilio parents, Curbelo now wants to crack down on those fleeing the Communist-controlled island, calling on Cuban immigrants to prove that they are fleeing political persecution and not just escaping, you know, soul-crushing poverty.
The biggest reason not to vote for Curbelo, however, is his eerie similarity to the man who used to hold the congressional seat. David Rivera was infamous for his secrecy. He claimed to be a USAID contractor (though the agency had never heard of him) and was eventually charged with 11 ethics violations, including hiding a $1 million casino consulting contract. Rivera is now under investigation for allegedly paying a sham candidate to run against Rep. Joe Garcia in 2012.
Curbelo is at risk of appearing equally shady. His P.R. firm recently copped to representing Roberto and William Isaías, banker brothers who have been convicted of embezzlement in Ecuador. That hasn't stopped Curbelo from setting up meetings between them and members of Congress. And although Curbelo constantly touts his bona fides as a small-business owner, his P.R. firm is actually registered under his wife's name. It's a legal loophole that allows him to avoid disclosing his clients' names.
Maybe Mr. Clean isn't so spotless after all.
The state senate district straddling north Broward and southern Palm Beach is one of the state's most hotly contested. Two years ago, Democrat Maria Sachs nipped Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff by just 11,000 votes. And now, the pair are facing off again with a hot debate on where Sachs lays her head.
Sachs owns a $1.5 million mansion in Boca Raton -- but it's clearly outside her district. Instead, when she went for the seat in 2012, she claimed to be camping out at a new address in Fort Lauderdale. But the pad turned out to be a tiny, 740-square-foot condo. It was also owned by a lobbyist. And then a private detective caught footage of Sachs tooling her silver Corvette back and forth from her Boca address. After Local 10 aired the footage in 2013, questions began swirling about whether the Fort Lauderdale condo was just a ruse.
Since then, Sachs has been the target of multiple ethics complaints on everything from where she lives to whether she included all her assets on disclosure forms.
The incumbent has maintained that she's done nothing wrong. But the excuses on the Fort Lauderdale address are flimsy at best, and whether or not you give her the benefit of the doubt, Sachs is a distraction. She's now a constant target for Broward bloggers, who gleefully toss ethics complaints at the pol like teenagers egging a high school on Halloween.
Look deeply -- deeply -- into Gov. Rick Scott's eyes and ask yourself: Do you trust this man? If you emerge from the abyss of that unblinking, sharklike gaze -- and can overlook the overwhelming evidence that Scott is to Florida what Taylor Swift is to sophisticated songwriting -- then Amendment 3 might be the perfect ballot initiative for you.
Because once you get underneath Tallahassee legislators' claims about why they put this abomination of an amendment on the ticket, the decision really comes down to a simple question: Do you want Scott to stack the state's Supreme Court on the way out of office? Or maybe not so much?
Of course, the Legislature isn't selling the amendment that way. Its supporters, like Judiciary Chairman Tom Lee, say the amendment is vital to avoiding a constitutional power struggle in five years. That's when three left-leaning Supreme Court justices are all scheduled to retire. And, at least according to Lee, there's a dispute over whether the outgoing governor or the guy who wins the 2018 race will get to replace them. That's where the amendment kicks in: It explicitly gives the outgoing guy the right to pick.
Now, the only problem with that logic is that the Supreme Court itself looked into the question back in 2006 and found that, nope, there's no problem at all. The new governor coming in 2019 gets to make the new judge selections.
So why all the fuss? Well, Republicans think their boy Rick Scott has a pretty good shot of winning reelection this year, and who knows what happens after another four years of his leadership? Assuming he does win, the amendment gives Skeletor, ahem, excuse us, Governor Scott the chance to stack a left-of-center court that's been about the only check on far-right policy in the Sunshine State.
We'd love to make one more local unendorsement, but honestly, there are few other tight partisan races in town. That's by design. Gerrymandering, the incumbency advantage, and the Florida Democratic Party's wondrous inability to ever churn out decent candidates (it's running its former number-one enemy for governor, remember) all contribute to keeping the system as usual in place.
This should have been the case in Republican state Rep. Steve Southerland's race. Elected in 2010 on the Tea Party wave, Southerland should have had a similarly breezy reelection in the Tallahassee-area Second District.
Then came along Democrat Gwen Graham, daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, and her Chevy Tahoe. She put 36,000 miles on her truck while campaigning face-to-face across the district, and her early campaigning efforts caught Southerland off-guard in a district where President Obama's approval rating is just 30 percent.
His predisposition for blunders hasn't helped either -- his decision to hold a "men's only" fundraiser made national headlines, and he ignored early warnings to ramp up his campaign over the summer. GOP leadership is said to be privately peeved that it's had to pour so much money and resources into what should have been a guaranteed win. Party heavyweights like Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio have all been called in to raise cash and stump for Southerland.
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So while one of Florida's southernmost newspapers will probably have little effect in one of Florida's northernmost congressional races, consider our unendorsement of Southerland a stand-in for business as usual in Sunshine State politics and all the politicians who figure that will guarantee them another term with minimal effort.
Burn down the status quo, Tallahassee!
Story by Trevor Bach, Tim Elfrink, Michael E. Miller, Kyle Munzenrieder, Chuck Strouse, and Kyle Swenson.