Just ahead of the official start to the presidential primary and caucus season, the Bradenton Herald and State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota will stage a public forum focusing on the 2016 election. Our Jan. 28 Community Conversation, coming just days before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus opens the lengthy presidential candidate preference season, will focus primarily on the issues that concern Florida voters.
The Sunshine State's primary comes later, on March 15, after more than two dozen states have settled on their leading candidates and doled out Republican and Democratic delegates to the national party conventions.
These are some of the issues drawing the most media attention:
Florida's politically tainted process of drawing new congressional and state Senate districts drew lawsuits and court action over violations of the Fair Districts amendments approved by voters in 2010.
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While the congressional boundaries were settled by a state Supreme Court decision earlier this month -- five years after lawmakers began the process -- the Senate map remains in the hands of the Leon County Circuit Court. This week's trial will yield a recommendation to the Supreme Court.
One of the state Senate maps under consideration in the court case was drawn by the chamber's Reapportionment Committee chairman, Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano. Earlier, the chamber admitted violating the law three years ago in allowing political operatives to influence the redistricting proceedings with partisan intent. Galvano is scheduled to testify in this case Wednesday. All Senate seats will be up for election in 2016 under a new map.
The Florida League of Women Voters and other challengers to the now discredited Senate maps submitted their own boundaries for the judge's consideration. Both sides accuse the other of partisan intent. By the time the Community Conversation is held, this situation should be settled and worthy of discussion.
On the congressional side, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan's District 16 will shift into the southern part of Hillsborough County and away from southern Sarasota County. All of Manatee County remains in the district. The ramifications of that change remain to be seen. Buchanan, expected to run again, has not drawn an opponent yet.
Floridians could once again vote on a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana as the forces behind the failed 2014 initiative return with a rewritten ballot issue that addresses the language that opponents cited as opening the door to drug abuse. The pro-medical marijuana organization United for Care still must collect enough signatures to make the ballot. With almost 390,000 signatures already validated by the Florida Department of Elections, the campaign needs around another 300,000 to secure a place on the ballot.
Two competing solar power amendments could reach the ballot by citizen petition drives. One, Floridians for Solar Choice, would eliminate the ban on property owners who want to sell excess electricity generated by solar panels to neighboring homes and businesses.
The other, Consumers for Smart Solar, retains the status quo, restricting property owners to only one option -- selling excess energy to utilities at retail prices. Power companies, not consumers, are pushing this initiative.
The Jan. 28 Community Conversation will include other issues, too.
This free public forum offers you the opportunity to hear from well-informed experts on political matters.
The panel will feature Frank Alcock, a New College associate professor of political science and environmental studies as well as a frequent political commentator in the media; Rosalie Shaffer, president of the League of Women Voters of Manatee County who has organized and moderated many of the organization's political forums; and Michael Rogers, an assistant professor of comparative politics and American government at State College of Florida.
SCF President Carol Probstfeld and Herald Editorial Page Editor Chris Wille will moderate the 90-minute discussion, which will begin at 6 p.m.
We invite the public to not only attend, but to send us your questions and concerns about Florida election issues ahead of the forum. There will also be the opportunity to ask questions during the latter part of the forum. Manatee Educational Television will tape the event for multiple broadcasts and post the video on both the Herald's website and METV's YouTube channel.
The forum will be held at the Howard Studio Theater, located in Building 11, Room 163 on SCF's Bradenton campus, next to the Neel Performing Arts Center. Please join us for a lively discussion.