Saturday, September 22, 2018
  • Bay Buzz
  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Appellate court sides with Hillsborough Dems, blocks referendum on non-partisan offices

TAMPA – Party affiliation will remain a part of the elections for Hillsborough County's sheriff and other constitutional officers following an appeals court decision Wednesday that kills a move to let voters decide.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed a ruling by circuit court Judge Robert Foster, who found that switching to nonpartisan elections would be unconstitutional and instructed the Supervisor of Elections to keep a referendum off the Nov. 6 ballot.

The decision effectively sinks the referendum. It was adopted by the Hillsborough County Commission on a  5-2 vote, with Republican members approving of the measure and Democrats opposed.

The appellate court panel of three judges issued no opinion, letting stand the lower court decision and leaving county attorneys little option to file another appeal: The deadline to finalize ballot language is Thursday.

The vote in June by the County Commission prompted the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee to sue the county and the Supervisor of Elections.

The Democrats argued that the move to strip candidates of Democrat or Republican affiliation would result in less voter engagement and amounted to voter suppression.

It also cited a legal precedent in a case out of Orange County where appellate judges sided with the sheriff, tax collector and property appraiser in a lawsuit to restore their party affiliation so they could run as Democrats. The case has been accepted by the Florida Supreme Court.

"We're thrilled," said attorney Ryan Barack, who represented the Hillsborough Democratic Executive Committee. "We're glad the court recognized that voter suppression efforts were unconstitutional."

Rob Brazel, chief assistant county attorney, said the county will not appeal the case further since the Supreme Court will be taking up the issue anyway.

The high court is unlikely to decide the case until early 2019. By then, a new Hillsborough County Commission will be in place since four seats are up for election Nov. 6.

"It would be up to a future board to decide if they want to put it back on the next go around," Brazel said.

Ione Townsend, Hillsborough Democratic Party chairwoman, welcomed the appellate court's decision.

The measure would have moved the election of constitutional offices to the primary election, when turnout typically falls short of general election turnout by 100,000 voters. The result would have been fewer people voting, Townsend said.

"It's mind boggling to me why the county kept pursuing this," she said.

Republicans who backed the plan said it would increase participation since it would mean no-party and minor-party voters could cast a ballot for the offices in the primary elections. Currently, the primary election in those races is open only to voters registered as Republican or Democrat.

Republican Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who proposed the change, said there are no plans to revive it. But he disputes that it was motivated by politics.

"It's frustrating for me that this became a partisan issue," Higginbotham said. "I looked at this as a practical move. "I had the best of intentions when I made the proposal."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

Comments
‘Strippers, Cigars and Gasparilla’: Topher Morrison wants to rebrand Tampa

‘Strippers, Cigars and Gasparilla’: Topher Morrison wants to rebrand Tampa

No one can accuse Topher Morrison of not having ideas.The branding consultant turned political candidate has lots of them. Make Tampa known for its rooftop scene? Yes, and: hold a contest to see who can build an elevator that wraps around a building ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Hillsborough commission candidates still dancing on sales tax for transportation

Hillsborough commission candidates still dancing on sales tax for transportation

In a Seminole Heights forum last week, only one of four county commission candidates, Kimberly Overman, responded directly to a question about whether they back a proposal for a one-cent sales tax increase for transportation improvements – she'...
Published: 09/21/18
Pinellas commission candidate Amy Kedron loses support from council member and commissioner

Pinellas commission candidate Amy Kedron loses support from council member and commissioner

Pinellas County Commission candidate Amy Kedron has lost a key endorsement from one of the few elected officials who publicly supported her campaign.St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll said she pulled her endorsement after Kedron told th...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/21/18
Capin on Buckhorn and Ulele: ‘If it was his bust, he’d light it up.’

Capin on Buckhorn and Ulele: ‘If it was his bust, he’d light it up.’

Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin blasted Mayor Bob Buckhorn for his administration's decision to remove a bronze bust of Ulele, a mythical Indian princess, from the city's Riverwalk this week.Capin, who has clashed with the mayor over the...
Published: 09/20/18
Tampa City Council approves liquour and rezoning for Stovall House making it private club

Tampa City Council approves liquour and rezoning for Stovall House making it private club

It took nearly 13 hours over three weeks, but developer Blake Casper won City Council approval to convert the historic Stovall House on Bayshore Boulevard to a private club.On Thursday, council members listened to nearly six hours of testimony on the...
Published: 09/20/18
Buckhorn says Tampa City Council playing politics with budget

Buckhorn says Tampa City Council playing politics with budget

Mayor Bob Buckhorn's hot take from watching Monday's City Council budget hearing?"I think, unfortunately, reality met election year politics," said the mayor on Tuesday.The City Council voted unanimously to delay final approval of the city's more tha...
Published: 09/18/18
Updated: 09/19/18
DeSantis’s school visit is “not a campaign stop,” Hillsborough district says

DeSantis’s school visit is “not a campaign stop,” Hillsborough district says

Social media this morning was abuzz with questions about gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis's planned 2 p.m. visit to Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, a public middle school in Hillsborough County.Educators are asking: Wouldn't this be a violatio...
Published: 09/18/18
Bronze bust of Princess Ulele hauled away before dawn from Tampa Riverwalk

Bronze bust of Princess Ulele hauled away before dawn from Tampa Riverwalk

TAMPA — With only a moving crew as witnesses, an 1,800 pound bronze bust of Native American Princess Ulele was hoisted up and hauled away before dawn Tuesday under orders from the city of Tampa.The sculpture was installed in December on ci...
Published: 09/18/18
Tampa City Council rejects Buckhorn budget over health care costs

Tampa City Council rejects Buckhorn budget over health care costs

TAMPA — The city's $1 billion-plus city budget was put on hold Monday evening by a City Council determined to strike a better deal for Tampa employees on health care costs.After a sometimes tense 2 ½ hour hearing, the City Council delayed ...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18
Pinellas commission will let St. Petersburg use some tax dollars to develop Trop site

Pinellas commission will let St. Petersburg use some tax dollars to develop Trop site

The Pinellas County Commission agreed last week to let St. Petersburg direct about $115 million in tax dollars to help redevelop 86 acres around Tropicana Field, regardless if the Rays move to Tampa or not.With a 5-1 vote, the commission approved May...
Published: 09/17/18