County Democrats losing in recall over union supporting tax increase

March 8, 2011 06:56

County mayor Carlos Alvarez and county commissioner Natasha Seijas are being recalled for a vote they took last year to raise property taxes, in some cases by 10% or more to support public employee unions.

The Americano

A few short weeks ago it was a local state battle in Wisconsin between Governor Scott Walker and state employee unions over the right of collective bargaining. Gov. Walker said he needed to eliminate that right in order to balance the state budget.

The unions say they are willing to increase their personal contributions to pay for part of their health coverage and for their pension plan. But they say Walker really wants to bust the unions and they will not stand for that.

Soon similar issues came up in other states, in Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey. It has become a local story with national implications. Union supporters hope this will help mobilize and energize a weakened union movement across the nation. Republicans believe it is not fair for tax payers already hurt by a bad economy to have to pay increased taxes to cover the premium payments for privileged and pampered state employees.

Still the story keeps growing and now it is pitting conservative Hispanic voters against conservative Hispanic politicians.

Witness what is taking place in Miami-Dade County.

Two of the most prominent Cuban American politicians in the county – county mayor Carlos Alvarez and county commissioner Natasha Seijas are fighting for their political lives in a recall election to be held a week from Tuesday.

Usually politicians are recalled for political corruption; for malfeasance or misfeasance in office from forging absentee ballots or maybe for spending campaign monies improperly. That is not the case in Miami-Dade this time. In the case of both Alvarez and Seijas the issue is a vote they took last year to raise property taxes, in some cases by 10% or more.

And according to a poll conducted by the polling firm of Bendixen & Amandi International, for The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald, CBS4 and Univision 23, the two politicians are likely to be swept out of office.

Two out of three voters surveyed — 67 percent — favor recalling Alvarez, and 60 percent say Seijas should also get the boot, according to the poll.

According to The Miami Herald, a tidal wave of voter discontent crossing all political and demographic lines threatens to sweep away both politicians. They are both behind in the poll conducted last Thursday and Friday. Even though the election is non-partisan, the opposition to Alvarez and Seijas is large among the county’s Republican, Democratic, and Independent voters. They also do not have the support of Hispanics, African-Americans or white voters.

Their only support base are Miami-Dade County’s powerful labor unions that are working to deliver votes in a county bureaucracy numbering more than 27,000 employees.

Still they are behind, according to the 78,000 voters who say they have already mailed their ballots or voted early. The polls show that 76 % of those who already cast their ballot did so to recall Alvarez and 65 percent of them said they did the same in the case of Seijas.

“They are facing a perfect storm of voter unhappiness, anger and frustration,” Fernand Amandi, managing partner of the Miami-based polling firm Bendixen & Amandi said in the story published by The Miami Herald. “There is not a single aspect of the electorate showing they support either one.”

In a story done on Feb. 28 by WPLG, the ABC affiliate in South Florida, Alvarez said he was going to campaign vigorously to get the Hispanic vote because Latinos make up 62% of the electorate. According to the poll results, not even that is working.

For Alvarez and Seijas, the most unhappy part of the electorate are Hispanic voters and Republicans. Seventy-six percent of Hispanics and 76 percent of Republicans want the county mayor out, according to the poll. For Seijas, 66 percent of Hispanic respondents want her removed and 65 percent of Republicans want her long political career ended.

The ethnic and political breakdown of the vote is almost as bad for the two veteran politicians – Alvarez has been elected twice as mayor and before that he was Miami-Dade Police Chief, and Seijas has been the commissioner from the predominantly Cuban-American city of Hialeah for 18 years.

According to the poll 56 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of political independents, and 66 percent of white voters want Alvarez out. The Herald said that among black voters, 49 percent want the county mayor ousted while 31 percent are undecided, likely resulting in a majority swinging against the mayor.

In Seijas’ race, 55 percent of white voters and 65 percent of political independents favor recall. Among Democrats, 47 percent want her recalled and 25 percent are undecided, likely resulting in a majority favoring her ouster there, also according to the polls.

There are differences between what is happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and other states and what is occurring in Miami-Dade. Polls show that in Wisconsin Gov. Walker is losing the public relations battle and that nationally a majority of Americans do not approve of what Walker is trying to do to the public employee unions.

But the election on March 15 in Miami-Dade will be the first time that two union-backed candidates are running to avoid being recalled from office by voters who disapproved of their vote to raise county taxes. And in Alvarez’s case for raising by more than 10 percent of the salaries of his staff last year. The last time county commissioners were recalled in Miami-Dade was in 1974.

Maybe there is some truth to what former president Franklin D. Roosevelt used to say about public service unions. You cannot have unions in places where it is the average taxpayers, not big corporations, who are paying their wages.

The Americano/Agencies

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