Can Susan Makowski have supporters who are Democrats? And, if so, can she tout that in a campaign mailer?
The Orange County Democratic Party is saying no, at least to the second question.
Orange County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Wes Hodge signaled Tuesday that he intends to file a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission, alleging that the Orange County Commission candidate violated state laws when she tried to highlight an endorsement from Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell in a campaing mailer last week.
“Democratic and Social Justice Leaders Back Susan Makowski for Commissioner,” declares the mailer, which also features kind words about Makowski from Moore Russell; onePulse Foundation Chairman Earl Crittenden, a Republican; and Watermark, a magazine aimed at Florida’s LGBTQ audience.
There was that word: “Democratic.”
Makowski is a Republican, who’s been trying to appeal across party lines in a district where Democrats have an advantage in voter registration.
She’s also running in a non-partisan election.
She’s seeking the District 4 seat in a five-way, Aug. 28 election that includes Gina Perez-Calhoun, Nicolette Springer, Kevin Ballinger, and Maribel Gomez Cordero. Party names are no-nos in non-partisan campaigns. So, Hodges charges, Makowski is trying to imply a tie with Democrats that the Democrats in the field, Springer, Ballinger, and Gomez Cordero, can’t.
“A candidate for nonpartisan office is prohibited from campaigning based on party affiliation. Susan Makowski knowingly approved a campaign mailer specifically using the party affiliation of the Democratic Party to campaign in a nonpartisan race. It is my belief that this is in direct violation of the aforementioned statute and is subject to the penalties as prescribed by Florida Statute Chapter 106.625,” Hodges wrote in the complaint he intends to file.
Hodge also argued that candidates cannot cite parties without the party’s permission, and the Democrats gave her no permission.
And he’s also asking the office of Floria’s 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala to look into it.
He called a news conference for Wednesday to lay out his case.
John Dowless, a campaign consultant working with Makowski, suggested the Hodges appeared to be doing the bidding of “downtown business interests” who don’t want her, and that he was misinterpreting the law.
“Wes Hodge needs to stop doing the bidding of the downtown power brokers because they’re leaving him with egg on his face – again,” Dowless said in a written response issued late Tuesday. “This is the second time he has misinterpreted the law and publicly attacked people for it. The first time was when he attacked Commissioner [Jennifer] Thompson trying to convince the public that she would lose her First Amendment rights if she used her title to endorse Susan. I never heard him complain with Mayor Buddy Dyer did it [endorsing Springer and another county commission candidate.] We posted the Attorney General opinion which shut that adventure down.”
The move may signal the Democratic Party’s nervousness about Makowski’s efforts to seek Democrats’ votes, something that she has always professed she can do; and about her apparent status as the frontrunner, and her chances to win in the battle royal.
The use of the word “Democratic” aside, the mailer would have broad support for Democratic voters, addressing Makowski’s commitments for afforable housing, equal rights, and protecting the environment. At least in Orange County, the three issues have much bipartisan support at the county level, yet Democratic voters may be more likley to identify them as among Democrats’ core issues.
If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 28 election, the top two head for a Nov. 6 showdown.
While candidates themselves aren’t supposed to reflect any party affiliations, their parties know who they are and offer support accordingly.
Based on fundraising, endorsements and campaign activity, Makowski and Springer would appear to be the front-runners.