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Governor should sign 'electioneering' bill cracking down on Florida local government

Complain, complain! Some negative nabobs* focus on what the governor ought to veto. Why not focus on what he should approve?

Here's hoping the governor looks kindly on Senate Bill 216, which bars local governments in Florida from using the public's money to try to influence elections.

That's a shocking phrase all by itself, isn't it?

"Using the public's money to try to influence elections." I can think of few things more contrary to the founding principles of the United States.

Yet it happens all the time.

In one recent election, if you asked for your absentee ballot in Pinellas County — your ballot, your fundamental American right! — with it you got a propaganda brochure.

That brochure instructed you on which way the county wanted you to vote on amendments to the county charter. Some of the claims in it were offensively misleading, too.

It so happens that most local cities were on the other side, fighting the county. I remember getting my water bill and seeing an insert with the smiling face of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, telling me which way he wanted me to vote.

When the Pasco County school system wanted to make sure a school tax passed in 2004, it assigned an administrator on the public dime to run the campaign. Every school was stocked with pro-tax literature; the schools refused to allow brochures prepared by opponents.

For the past few years, some members of the Legislature have filed bills to stop such "electioneering." This year, the bill finally passed.

It changes exactly one thing:

Local governments in Florida cannot spend public dollars to advocate the outcome of an election.

That's all.

This point is very important: Here is what this bill does NOT do.

This bill does NOT bar local governments from putting out "factual information" about what's on the ballot. They can keep "educating" the voters to their heart's content.

The bill does NOT interfere with the free-speech rights of Florida's local politicians.

They can try to sway voters all they want. They can campaign. They can holler. They can wave signs. They can make speeches.

There is just one teeny, tiny rule:

THEY CAN'T SPEND OUR MONEY TO DO IT.

Good grief! What could be more obviously right?

And yet Florida's local governments are trying to get Gov. Charlie Crist to veto it.

I have on my desk an announcement from the Florida League of Cities, with the headline, "Cities urge veto of flawed bill muzzling local governments."

The statement says, in part: "The bill would make it illegal for city officials or employees to do anything proactive to reach out to their constituents to explain what's at stake in the ballot issues citizens vote on."

Great googly moogly! What an awful, ridiculous lie.

They. Can. Still. Put. Out. Factual. Information.

They just can't — how many times does it need to be said? — they can't tell people which way to vote.

This is a bedrock issue, y'all.

This is the USA. The government does not tell American citizens which way to vote. That's how they do it in some countries. Not ours.

How can the governor not sign this bill?

* Me, who else?

Governor should sign 'electioneering' bill cracking down on Florida local government 05/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 6:41pm]
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