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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: GOP learns boogeyman strategy was a flop

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:06 AM

Gov. Rick Scott and top Republicans in the Legislature basically admit they blew it last fall with their election crackdown, and they promise to consider changes. That's nice, and I certainly hope they are serious about fixing the mess they helped create.

Let's get real, though, shall we?

While it almost sounds like actual leadership when Scott says he realizes voters "are frustrated" with the process, that's not why change is in the wind. It's because the boogeyman strategy backfired and helped deliver Florida to President Barack Obama.

Voters sent a message to Tallahassee that you don't conquer by dividing. The Legislature tried to do that by suggesting there were thousands of felons, illegal immigrants, and, for all I know, space aliens out there trying to cast votes.

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The GOP swore it wasn't suppression, but Democrats got fired up anyway. They also got organized. Some voters in Democratic precincts waited hours in line, a bad image that looked even worse when it turned out there were only a handful of improperly registered voters in the state. Oops.

The Repubs don't have a copyright on the boogeyman strategy, though.

Democrats have done an equally good job of smearing bankers, investors, religious people and conservative thinkers. If you believe some liberals, basically anyone who goes to church on Sunday, worked hard to make money and would like to keep it or believes in the Second Amendment is to be feared and demonized.

Division is everywhere.

The president campaigned that rich people need to pay higher taxes, which they'll do now in this "fiscal cliff" debacle. But it won't help the debt because spending went up too.

One of the more intriguing subplots was how some Repubs believed the tax hike was justified but feared reprisals at the ballot box if they went along with the president's plan. I guess holding on to their sweet gigs in Washington mattered more than voting in the national interest.

That's what you get in a divided house, though.

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People don't get elected today because voters consider them true leaders. Rather, they swallow six months of attack ads filled with less-than-half-truths and distortions and decide they're more afraid of the other guy. The smarmy attempt at electioneering last fall in Florida was all about fear, and that's the first thing Tallahassee needs to fix.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a really bright guy, told Tribune political writer William March the GOP was not trying to suppress voting. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

Maybe, but many still saw it as a Republican gambit to win an election by protecting "us" from "them."

They have a chance to change that perception now.

The voter issue represents an opportunity for Tallahassee to kick the boogeyman to the curb by pushing through true voter reform. It's not what politicians do when holding on to power is all that matters, but it's what statesmen do.

We'll know soon enough if they're up to it.


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