Leave it to the Conch Republic to bring a little heat to the fray.
Harry L. Sawyer Jr. fifth-generation Conch, former Monroe County Sheriffs detective and for the last 24 years the Key West-based supervisor of elections has told fellow Republicans Gov. Rick Scott and his secretary of state that hes not playing the disenfranchisement game.
Hes not going along with Scotts scheme to keep Florida Democrats from voting in the upcoming presidential election by curtailing early voting hours.
Hell offer 12 days of early voting that includes two Saturdays and will run for eight hours each day at five sites from Marathon to Key West.
Scott wants only eight days, despite a federal court ruling saying such a move could hamper African-American turnout.
Theres an element here of discrimination that has been alleged by the people . . . and I agree with that, Sawyer told me in a refreshingly candid conversation. Its [affecting] mostly working people, Hispanics and African Americans. They just cant take off from their job any time they want to and stand in a long line and vote. They have family to take care of as well. A lot of factors why they need early voting.
In a conference call Tuesday, Secretary of State Ken Detzner tried to strong-arm five supervisors of elections into agreeing with Scotts plan.
Sawyer wouldnt go for it and Monroe County ended up the lone holdout.
Its about time a fellow Republican stood up to Scott, who together with his subservient Republican-dominated Legislature, are giving the party of Abraham Lincoln a terrible face in Florida by restricting voter registration, purging voter rolls when fraud is practically non-existent or minimal, and going way out of their way to cut back voting days.
But here come the Florida Keys, those clever boosters who took an act of symbolic secession from the United States in 1982 and turned it into the greatest tourism campaign ever, to put a damper on the governors plan to hand over Florida to the Republicans in the presidential election.
Although Key West is largely Democratic, Monroe County is populated by a majority of Republicans: 18,701, to the Democrats 16,712; the rest are independent or registered to other parties. Those wise Republicans overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
We deal with diversity all the time in the Conch Republic, says Sawyer, whos retiring and moving to Nassau County to be near family. In a lot of our elections here, we have to appeal to everybody. It makes for interesting campaigns.
Are Conch Republicans upset with his falling out of step with the party line?
No, the local party in Monroe County is fine with me, Sawyer said. They cant come out as supporting what Im doing, but deep down, I know they do. Around here, we dont look down at people and keep them from doing what they want to do.
Sawyer is hoping the court will clear his early-voting plan.
If were ordered by the courts to conduct an election in a certain manner we have no choice but to do it, but otherwise, Im not going to change my mind.
You tell them, Harry.