Term Limit Pledges and the FL US Senate Race

A nice post in the Orlando Sentinel on Tallahassee insider Adam Hasner’s effort in 2005–when he was a state lawmaker–to refer a  constitutional amendment on the ballot which would have raised legislative term limits from eight years to 12 years. The legislature reversed itself the following year, removing the measure from the 2006 general election ballot.

Hasner’s unbridled hypocrisy was highlighted by the campaign of fellow US Senate GOP hopeful, George LeMieux.  But Hasner’s effort isn’t new. Several state lawmakers have tried–some even successfully, such in Idaho in 2002–to overturn or extend legislative term limits imposed upon them by the voters at the polls.

That Hasner has taken a term limits pledge should he be elected to the US Senate should be taken for what it is–a meaningless publicity stunt.  As I’ve opined elsewhere, term limit pledges are essentially costless to those candidates who sign them.  Just ask two Florida Congressmen who have signed term limit pledges, Republican Representatives John Mica and Cliff Sterns. Both have overstayed their self-imposed limit of terms in office.

Voter Suppression, in Massachusetts? More here

According to a story in the Boston Globe, Olivier Kozlowski, a local elected official from Mansfield, MA, has filed an initiative that would require citizens to show a government-issued photo ID card in order to cast a ballot in person.  His ballot initiative campaign will need to collect nearly 69,000 valid signatures by mid-November in order qualify the initiative for the 2012 November ballot.  Because of Massachusetts’ indirect initiative process, the state legislature will first get a crack at the measure. More on that process, here (chapter 5):

Although substantively different from Florida’s voter suppression effort, HB1355, this is yet another attempt to depress turnout leading up to the 2012 election.  Most of these efforts have language strikingly similar to that being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Of course, there is scant evidence of voter fraud at the polling station in Massachusetts. If successful, the initiative will likely disenfranchise many low-income, minority, elderly, and student voters who lack state-issued photo IDs.

CA Signature Gatherers Fight Back

Petition gatherers are fighting back in California, picketing Safeway‘s corporate headquarters in Pleasanton, CA. They’re claiming that the grocery chain is disrupting their free-speech rights. According to a San Jose Mercury News story, a press release handed out by a dozen or so petition circulators claimed that “Safeway’s unconstitutional policies specifically target the rights of citizens to lawfully collect signatures to qualify ballot measures,” and that recently, “Safeway managers have been harassing, photographing and threatening signature gatherers with restraining orders, denying their right to participate in California’s direct democracy.”

The California petition gatherers are on pretty solid legal ground.  Why? California’s state’s constitution, which has strong freedom-of-speech protections that generally exceed those of the federal constitution’s 1st and 14th Amendments.  A 1946 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Marsh v. State of Alabama, which found that pamphleteers could not be ejected or arrested when petitioning on private property that is essentially a “company town,” as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1980 decision dealing directly with petition gathering in California, Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, clearly extends petition rights to smaller private venues, such as shopping centers, at least in California. As the majority in Pruneyard noted, California’s constitution protects “speech and petitioning, reasonably exercised, in shopping centers even when the shopping centers are privately owned.”

Welcome, in contrast, to petition gathering in Florida. In the Sunshine State, the barriers against signature gathering are considerably steeper.  In 2007, the grocery giant Publix helped to push a bill through the Republican-controlled Florida state legislature that gave corporate entities the right to remove unauthorized petition gatherers from their private property.  Previously, in a 2005 decision, Publix Super Markets, Inc. v. Tallahasseans for Practical Law Enforcement, et al., the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that signature gatherers in Florida “are not entitled to the First Amendment or the Florida Constitution to solicit signatures…on Publix’s privately owned property without Publix’s permission,” and as such, do not have a “constitutional right to solicit at such properties over Publix’s objection.” Interestingly, the 2007 Florida law (Section 106.371(8), Florida Statutes) banning ballot initiative petition gathering on private property does not apply to petitions being solicited for candidates.  “This issue,” as the Florida Secretary of State’s Candidate Petition Handbook states, “has been addressed by the Florida courts and turns on whether the private property is a quasi-public or public forum (such as a mall) rather simply a private business.”

The attack on citizens initiative rights in Florida has gained considerable steam over the past decade, as Republican lawmakers–and former Governor Jeb Bush–saw ballot initiatives as a direct threat to their control over public policy in the state.  But more on that sordid story another time….