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Politics

Backroom Briefing: Dems Try to Get Voters Out, Hold Court

July 16, 2014 - 6:00pm

At their annual fundraiser in Hollywood less than a month ago, Florida Democrats heard an earful from former President Bill Clinton about the importance of getting the party faithful -- who historically have been lackluster when it comes to voting in midterm elections -- to the polls.

Now, national Democrats are putting their money where their mouth is.

The Democratic National Committee has hired homegrown lawyer Zach Learner to head up the state's "Voter Expansion Project," the DNC announced this week. Learner, a University of Miami law-school grad who's been working as Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs' chief of staff, will be based in Tallahassee.

The project is part of the DNC's effort to fight back against laws that critics say create obstacles to registering voters and make it harder for working-class Democratic voters to cast ballots.

"My home state has had our share of intentional and unintentional challenges in past election cycles, but the DNC is ready to help all Floridians have a hassle-free voting experience this year and beyond," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents part of Broward County in Congress, said in a prepared statement Tuesday announcing Learner's appointment.

Democrats are still smarting from changes to the state's voting laws passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature in 2012 that resulted in yet another election black eye for Florida after some voters waited up to eight hours before casting their ballots. Lawmakers addressed the issue last year but failed to require that elections supervisors be open for business on Sundays during early voting periods to allow what has become known as "Souls to the Polls," a program in which black churchgoers are urged to vote after attending services.

Learner worked for President Obama's voter-protection teams in Florida in 2008 and 2012.

COURTING A DEBATE

One of the rallying cries for Democrats goes like this: If Republican Gov. Rick Scott gets re-elected, he could remake the Florida Supreme Court by appointing conservative justices.

But as she wages a guerrilla campaign for governor, Democrat Nan Rich is turning that argument against party front-runner Charlie Crist. While serving as the state's Republican governor before becoming a Democrat, Crist appointed four members of the Supreme Court -- including the court's most-conservative justices, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston.

Canady and Polston often join together in dissents while the other five justices form a more-liberal majority in many cases. Speaking to a group of news executives and editors last week in Coral Gables, Rich went so far as to say Canady and Polston remind her of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

"When I look at Charlie Crist, all I can see are all the 5-2 decisions,'' Rich said.

Rich didn't focus on the fact, however, that Crist also appointed two members of the more-liberal majority, current Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justice James E.C. Perry.

A day before Rich addressed the issue, Crist told the same audience that judicial appointments are a "big part of this election" and that the judicial branch has stymied parts of the agenda of Scott and the GOP-controlled Legislature.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Grease back your hair and practice up on the "Hand Jive." The Democrats are getting ready to party.

North Florida congressional candidate Gwen Graham is holding a "Rock 'N Roll Party" Tuesday at Waterworks, a Tallahassee nightspot, with special guest Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, who became famous as a member of the '50s-tribute band Sha Na Na. Bauman also campaigned for Democrat Alex Sink in a special congressional election earlier this year, though that didn't work out so well.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "I just won a straw poll w/ 75% of the vote in St. Augustine while away at a medical conference in Istanbul, Tur." -- state Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart (@DocRenuart), a Ponte Vedra Republican who is running for re-election this year.

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