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Column

Best brace yourself for politics in 2008

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Tallahassee Bureau Chief
Published December 29, 2007


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If you like craziness with your politics, you're probably going to like Florida more than ever in 2008.

Round 1 is the property tax vote on Jan. 29. It comes in tandem with the early-bird presidential primary that Democratic candidates are boycotting. They act as if our 27 crucial electoral votes were some dreaded disease.

As for an election on Jan. 29, when was the last time you voted during Super Bowl Week?

While New Yorkers Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani look toward Florida as a fire wall against setbacks in Iowa and New Hampshire, the tax vote will pit populist Gov. Charlie Crist against a dangerous coalition of firefighters, teachers and others with Democratic Party ties.

A "yes" vote to cut property taxes even a little? You'd think it would be a no-brainer, but tax plan opponents don't have to get a majority of votes to defeat the proposal.

The tax question represents the first test of the 60 percent threshold demanded by the Legislature and adopted by 57.8 percent of voters in 2006 to makeamending the state Constitution harder.

Lawmakers could easily outfox themselves. It's conceivable that the tax plan could "pass" with, say, 58 percent, which means it would still lose election day.

Next, mark May 2 on your calendar. That's the last day for candidates to qualify to run for Congress next year.

It's a big deal because of another change the Legislature made, to allow elected officials who hold other offices to run for federal office without having to resign their current jobs.

The Charlie Justice Rule (named for the St. Petersburg Democratic senator who sponsored it) allows county commissioners, sheriffs and state senators to run for Congress with no risk of leaving politics.

It could force members of Congress to run for re-election against experienced and credible opponents. Gee, what a shame.

On July 1, Florida will officially send all of those 35,000 touch screen voting machines to the scrap heap, replacing them with optical scan units and paper ballots marked by voters (fill in the oval).

The statewide primary is apt to sneak up on people because it falls on Aug. 26, a week before Labor Day.

By now, we all know that strange things happen with elections in Florida.

Looking back on 2007, it was hard to know that there would be an astounding nine special elections for legislative seats. Those vacancies resulted from lawmakers leaving for high-level state jobs, such as Sen. Nancy Argenziano of Dunnellon, now a Public Service Commission member, and Rep. Holly Benson of Pensacola, who runs the agency regulating businesses and professions.

Rep. John Quinones of Kissimmee became a county commissioner, Rep. Mark Mahon of Jacksonville became a judge, Rep. David Mealor of Lake Mary left to seek a high-level education post, and Rep. Mike Davis of Naples died.

On Nov. 4, the general election will again tell us how much of a role Florida will play in electing the next president.

Further down the ballot there will probably be questions involving taxes, to be proposed by a 25-member reform commission, and possible initiatives on same-sex marriage and restrictions on local development plans.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified December 29, 2007, 01:15:00]


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