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How we do things in America, large, small and not always pretty

Sometimes doing things the American way is like watching sausage get made — not pretty, from national cases that make you wince down to a gentler dispute over whether two local pols get to stay on the ballot.

Take the infamous Phelps family (please). Does it get any uglier than a "church" that goes to military funerals to rant about the deaths being God's wrath against gays? Hard to imagine them coming up with anything more offensive or cruel.

But this is America, and even hate-filled gas-bag attention mongers get the same free-speech protections as the rest of us, which is what a federal judge ruled this week in declaring Missouri's ban on protests near funerals unconstitutional.

Pretty, no. But the rules are for even the lowest of the low.

In America, the president can defend plans for an Islamic mosque blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (even if he won't comment on the "wisdom" of putting it there) because we're all about religious freedom, even now.

Forgive the pairing of those notable national disputes and their sausage-making tendencies with one of infinitely smaller impact, but a little hard to watch just the same. At least no one hated anyone, though we had plenty of party politics and some lawsuits to boot.

Two seasoned Tampa City Council members running for the Hillsborough County Commission missed the deadline for filing required letters saying when they would resign their seats. According to the rules, you must turn in that letter well before the deadline for candidates to qualify to run for office. This gives others time to know a seat is opening up before it's too late to run for it. It makes sense, but more on that in a minute.

In the scramble that followed the mistake, first John Dingfelder and then Linda Saul-Sena abruptly resigned their City Council seats to try to stay on the ballot under the rules. (Side note: The English, Spanish and Italian newspaper La Gaceta opined that, "the loser was the Jewish community. They went from two council members practicing their faith to none. Oy vey!" A little Yiddish in your tri-lingual paper — now that's America.)

Next, both ditched their County Commission campaigns. Madness, you say? Nope, just politics. The Democratic Executive Committee, which gets to fill such vacancies on the ballot, made you-guessed-it picks: Dingfelder and Saul-Sena.

Which is where things started to smell a little gamey.

Naturally, this being politics, they got sued in an effort to oust them. But the judge in Dingfelder's case reminded everyone about the value of our right to vote and how disputes like this one should be resolved in the candidate's favor.

As in: more choices on the ballot, not fewer. It was nice to have a little perspective in there while everyone was busy playing politics.

Saul-Sena similarly got a judge's thumbs-up, though appeals, and the election, loom.

Bottom line? You could argue that, politics aside, both had to give up City Council seats they loved much earlier than intended, something of a punishment for busting deadline. You could also call no harm, no foul, since the aforementioned qualifying for the city seats they vacated doesn't happen until next year.

Pretty? No. But pretty American anyway.

How we do things in America, large, small and not always pretty 08/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 8:23pm]

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