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Warning of “Scary Things” in Coming Election, County Attorney Hadeed Urges Voter Education

| September 17, 2012

Al Hadeed concluded his talk at the public library today by citing George Washington’s exhortation to educate younger people about their government. (FlaglerLive)

It’s not a side of Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed the public often sees: the passionate, nearly evangelical lecturer–or explainer, since his conversational explanations never go above anyone’s head–at full throttle on a matter of immediate public concern.

Hadeed juggled a couple of those matters this afternoon as he spoke to about three dozen people at a talk organized by the Friends of the Library to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution: retention elections for Florida Supreme Court justices, which, to his dismay, are getting dragged into the money-slush of limitless and anonymous electioneering; and a November ballot thickened by 11 proposed constitutional amendments, all of them put forward by the Florida Legislature, purposefully in long form, out of spite against the Supreme Court, which had invalidated numerous such amendment summaries for being deceptive. Supervisors of election fear the lengthy ballots, four pages long in some counties, will trigger voter fatigue, lengthening lines at the polls and reducing turnout–which may well be the GOP-dominated Legislature’s intentions, as lower turnouts tend to hurt Democrats and liberal causes more than Republicans and conservative ones.

Florida law requires ballot measures to be summarized and to be no longer than 75 words. But the Legislature exempted itself.

Hadeed termed himself worried about both issues resulting in various miscarriages, absent better the willingness of voters to inform themselves about judicial and constitutional matters on the November ballot. Those matters may seem intricate, but carry heavy consequences. Hadeed’s theme, though he was preaching mostly to a choir of involved voters, was to lay out the judicial matters in play in this year’s election.

“We have entered a new age, and that age is unlimited campaign spending, and you don’t know where the money’s coming from until it’s too late,” Hadeed said. “Florida has been targeted this year. We are now going to be victimized by the 30-second, or 60-second, if they can afford it, sound-byte about judges. This is really of concern to me. Judges are not supposed to be political people. They are not supposed to be subject to pressure. They are not supposed to fear retaliation in making their decisions. Would you want that? I don’t think that any of us would want that.”

Hadeed had spent a few minutes reminding an audience old enough to remember Florida’s great age of judicial corruption, when its supreme court, whose members were elected until 1972, was a swirl of corruption. Martin Dyckman, the former Tampa Bay Times reporter, memorialized the era in A Most Disorderly Court, his 2008 book on “scandal and reform in the Florida judiciary.” Nothing has resembled that era since. But never since had justices of the Florida Supreme Court been targeted for removal as three of those justices are being targeted this year, with flowing money to finance the campaign: Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. They are the court’s liberal wing, and they’re being targeted by conservative groups. Hadeed didn’t mention the justices by name: he steered clear of making so much as a single partisan allusion. But he’d spoken repeatedly of voters’ responsibility to be informed. And informed voters knew what justices he was referring to.

“You’re going to see a lot of mailers, TV ads,” he continued. “And it is wrong. But it is free expression. It is the First Amendment. And the United States Supreme Court said, hence the law of the land, that you can spend these unlimited moneys without having to have limitations. So what does that do? To me, that properly increases the responsibility of the citizens to learn and to know. And you can learn about all these justices on the Florida Bar website. There’s a lot of data about merit retention.”

Since Florida did away with the election of its supreme court justices, it instituted a system of “merit retention,” which also applies to judges on appellate, circuit and county benches (circuit and county court judges are still elected to win office). Judges don’t stand for elections against other candidates, but their names appear on the ballot with one question, asking voters whether that judge should be retained: yes or no. Overwhelmingly, voters say yes, unless the judge is tainted by scandal–or, as may be the case this year, unless campaigns create the impression of scandal.

“Let me tell you about some of the scary things. There’s a couple of scary things coming up here,” Hadeed said. “They’ve done polling and studies. A lot of people think that when they see the name of a Justice–there’s just one name, shall Justice–I’ll make up a name–Smith be retained in office. A lot of people think, Oh my gosh, there’s something wrong with that guy. They’re putting him on there because he did something wrong. Because they don’t understand merit retention.”

Hence the importance of voter education, Hadeed said. But he was only getting warmed up. He then turned to the loading of ballots with constitutional amendments.

“Now, there’s going to be incredible voter confusion and fatigue this election,” he said. “Why? Actually, because the Legislature, just like some of those earlier momentous fights that I talked about in the early history of the country, are fighting the whole court. Because the whole court, as you know, has invalidated a number of ballot measures that the Legislature wants to put on the ballot, because the summary that they wrote, what we read when we go into the voting booth, is misleading. It’s defective in some way. So they remove it from the ballot. So the Legislature said, What–I’d use some choice words here but I won’t–we’re going to show you.

“You know what’s on this ballot? Every amendment, and there are 11 of them, and they are verbatim. They’re written out verbatim. So you get to read all the legalese. There’s a number of articles just coming out. Supervisors of election are saying this is the longest ballot they can recall in history, that voters are going to be very fatigued. They say it will take 30 minutes to go through the ballot. In some counties the ballot will be four pages long because of the length of these provisions. You will not believe it. If you go to our supervisor’s website, you know the sample ballots, there’s a link on sample ballots. Just take a look at it. It is mind-numbing. So: definitely, definitely, you, and you tell your friends, the people you care about, you tell them, exercise either early voting or absentee, or spend a lot of time researching so on election day when they go, they’ll have some capability of being able to go through those issues and decide.”

Framed around the 225th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution, Hadeed’s talk began with the founders and galloped through two and a quarter centuries of constitutional law, from the celebrated enmity between Thomas Jefferson and John Marshal–the most influential chief justice in the history of the court–down to the battle over Obamacare and Chief Justice John Roberts’s surprise vote with the liberal wing of the court. Roberts was an appointee of President George W. Bush in 2005, and until this year had never been the swing vote with the liberal wing. “He was trying to protect the integrity of the court,” Hadeed said, citing other analysts’ theory. “I don’t dismiss it. I think that’s very likely.”

But he had been preaching to the choir, and the audience knew it. One member of the audience told him as much at the end of the talk. “To me what we stand for no longer exists and I’m not sure how we get it back,” the man, who was carrying a vehemently anti-government book, said. The man was concerned that younger people, who vote far less than older ones, will be paying the price. “When I leave this room, I honestly don’t know where to go,” the man told Hadeed.

“I think we can get it back,” Hadeed said, and he pointed to the George Washington quote he’d used to end his talk moments earlier: “A primary object of such a national institution,” Washington had told Congress in his last of what has come to be known as the State of the Union address, “should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important and what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

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16 Responses for “Warning of “Scary Things” in Coming Election, County Attorney Hadeed Urges Voter Education”

  1. Lonewolf says:

    This is article is all about the GOP controlled STATE government….vote in some Democrats to help straighten out this mess.

  2. rickg says:

    The pertinent language here is “11 proposed constitutional amendments, all of them put forward by the Florida Legislature, purposefully in long form, out of spite against the Supreme Court” If you’re upset with state government whatever your political persuasion keep in mind the Rs have been in control of the State Legislature, the Governors Office and most of the Cabinet Offices since 1998. Its time the people of Florida let those in power know that we would like a more logical and cogent government, one that makes sense, not one of ideological idiocy.

  3. DoubleGator says:

    The Florida Bar conducted a poll among its 80,000 members (republicans, democrats and independents) and the Merit retention poll results:
    The poll of Florida Bar members regarding the retention of three Supreme Court justices and 15 appellate court judges indicates overwhelming support for all to be retained. The poll seeks to find whether attorneys who know the most about these jurists believe they should continue in their jobs.

    Who among us knows these judges better than these lawyers. What is playing out here is one branch (the legislative) seeking to diminish another branch (the judiciary). UnAmerican and very dangerous.

    As to the constitutional amendments, it is the duty and obligation of those proposing a change to explain the reason for the amendment. If they fail to do so, we one should vote “NO” as to any or all proposed changes. By failing to vote “NO”, where the amendment has not be explained, we allow the few to highhack the rights of many.

  4. Liana G says:

    Not surprise, Bill Moyers calls the US Supreme Court the 1% court because it is bought and paid for by the 1%. An article on Obamacare in the current issue of ‘The Nation’ magazine said that soon after the court passed down the ruling favouring Obamacare, the CEOs of insurance companies were celebrating their victory while immediately sending out their lobbyists and reaching out to their inside contacts to gut the patient protection piece that says they cannot refuse care to anyone with a pre-existing condition. And it will happen because money buys influence. We just got shafted! The public option would have prevented this.

    • DoubleGator says:

      Well, in this case, are talking about the FLORIDA Supreme Court, but generally I understand your concerns. It is why it is so important for those who get appointed to any Supreme Court are truly representative of a cross section of our society. Half women would be good. Shoot they are half of the voters.

  5. johnny taxpayer says:

    Was Mr. Hadeed delivering this speech on his own time or on county aka our time?

  6. Ben Blakely says:

    Just what America needs. More communist educators. This country is going straight down the toilet with these socialist anti American educators brain washing out youth to hate America and what she stands for.
    4 years of abysmal obama administration economic failure rife with corruption and abject deception and dishonesty. Liberals spending to catastrophic bankruptcy with no concern for the future. OUTRAGEOUS and SICK democrats!

  7. Ben Blakely says:

    The dimocrat liberals do it ever time. They follow the Saul Alinsky cookbook for robbing America and hoodwinking the public page by page.

    All this coming from the teachers who are corrupting your children’s minds and filling their heads with regressive liberal lies and hate America poison.

    Watching the liar in chief barry obama stand in front of an audience and blatantly lie, fabricate, mis state and vilify knowing full well that he is reading outrageous lies. Who cares? Barry obama or his liberal media will just “walk obama’s lies back” or maybe the liar in chief will manage to “evolve” to a greater level of mendacity using newly created politically correct jargon that distracts and misdirects everyone so that NO ONE even understands what the hopeless, helpless barry obama is actually reading from his ever present teleprompter. Truly a tragic situation and a primary reason why America is rapidly going right down the toilet due to Dimocrat party corruption and damage.

  8. Will says:

    The nonpartisan League of Women Voters encourages a “NO” vote on all eleven amendments this year.

    • Anita says:

      The only two amendments I will vote “YES” to are:

      Amendment #2, which expands the availability of the property discount on homesteads of veterans who became disabled as a result of combat injury to include those who were not Florida residents when they entered the military;

      and Amendment #9, Providing a Homestead ad valorem tax exemption to the surviving spouse of military veterans who died in the line of duty and those of first responders who perished under like circumstances.

  9. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    So how long before we have an Ecat test to vote…
    You know kind of like the FCAT test?
    We can then teach the voters how to Pass the test, instead of Pick the best qualified candidate.
    The reality here in our POLITICAL SYSTEM…
    Money Talks & BS gets voted in.
    If there was true transparency and a will to do what is right……
    Does anyone think our choices for President would be Obama or Romney?
    You have the reality of the Rich Democrats, and the Rich Republicans, both legislating over everyone beneath their paygrade.

  10. Hrrumph says:

    Mr. Blakely, with respect, what our youth and country do not need are citizens who clearly form opinions based upon what they hear or are told, rather than on opinions formulated from facts they have confirmed on their own. On the issue of an “abysmal Obama administration”, I do not think I have seen a single objective study that demonstrates we are worse off than during Mr. Bush’s administration or that our current problems can be linked to anything except Mr. Bush’s policies. On the issue of educating our country’s youth — well someone has to do it. Conservatives have had tremendous success in engineering civics and government courses out of our schools and we are filled with a nation of youthful voters who have been taught by their non-reading parents that sound bites are what we should listen to, without independent verification. With respect, it often takes more room to tell the truth than to throw a temper tantrum like a child. Please read.

  11. PJ says:

    Nice work Mr. Hadeed great information for people like me who actually vote!!!!!!!

    Get out and vote so you all can stop complaining………………….

  12. anon1 says:

    I’m going to buy “The Money Spiders” and go to the book signing. Thanks for the link!

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