Putnam County Florida


Republicans at the State Level

Mission Statement: The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) will promote the principles upon which our nation and our state were founded: freedom, liberty, personal responsibility, and accountability. We will advocate fiscally-sound, common-sense solutions that will promote job and economic growth, provide the best education to our children, and create a path to prosperity for Florida and America.

Members of the Republican Party of Florida will be united by these principles and will work to elect Floridians with integrity who will work to enact such solutions. We will seek to be the most effective state party in the nation and serve as a model for other party organizations.

The RPOF has adopted the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) Platform and does not have one specific to the State’s needs.  Below is the RNC’s stated beliefs:

We believe in American exceptionalism.

We believe the United States of America is unlike any other nation on earth.

We believe America is exceptional because of our historic role — first as refuge, then as defender, and now as exemplar of liberty for the world to see.

We affirm — as did the Declaration of Independence: that all are created equal, endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We believe in the Constitution as our founding document.

We believe the Constitution was written not as a flexible document, but as our enduring covenant.

We believe our constitutional system — limited government, separation of powers, federalism, and the rights of the people — must be preserved uncompromised for future generations.

We believe political freedom and economic freedom are indivisible.

We believe that people are the ultimate resource — and that the people, not the government, are the best stewards of our country’s God-given natural resources.

As Americans and as Republicans we wish for peace — so we insist on strength.  We will make America safe.  We seek friendship with all peoples and all nations, but we recognize and are prepared to deal with evil in the world.

The Republican Party of Florida (RPOC) does not have a goals/strategies plan independent of the Republican National Committee (RNC).

To take its place we are asking users of the website who are registered Putnam voters to take a survey to identify what state level issues they feel are most important.


The Republican Party of Florida (RPOC) does not have an action plan independent of the Republican National Committee (RNC).

To take its place we are asking users of the website who are registered Putnam County voters to take a survey to identify what state level actions (in line with Republican values) they would like to see implemented in the upcoming election cycle.

The Republican Party has held a trifecta in state government (governor, majority of both houses are Republicans) by narrow margins for 20 years.  During that time state government has been remarkably fiscally responsible, yet the power, size, and cost of state government has grown while we profess limited government ideals.

History of the State Republican Party

Florida gained statehood in 1845, helping the Whig candidate Zachary Taylor get elected president in 1848 – the last general election not won by a Republican or Democratic candidate. Very much a southern state at the time, Florida seceded during the Civil War and did not participate in the 1864 election. Like most southern states, Florida voted almost exclusively Democratic from Reconstruction until the mid-20th century, before turning primarily Republican in 1952. [This statement is FALSE–registered Republicans only outnumbered registered Democrats in 2021–70 years after 1952–and voted primarily Democrat except for President until this century].  Florida’s population has exploded in the past 60 years and its electoral importance has grown with it, from eight electoral votes at the end of World War II to 29 during the 2010s. The state gained a 30th electoral vote after the 2020 Census, surpassing New York for third most in the country.

Influxes of Cubans, retirees, service workers to the theme park economy booming near Orlando and other groups have resulted in a state much more diversified – both economically and politically – than many of its southern brethren. As a result, although leaning slightly Republican, Florida is today seen as perhaps the ultimate battleground state, its population a microcosm of the country as a whole. This reputation was enhanced by the closeness of the 2000 election, where it took a month of legal wrangling to decide the winner. Donald Trump won twice here; it was the only battleground state where he expanded his winning margin from 2016 (1.2% to 3.3%).



Governor Ron DeSantis

Governor Ron Desantis

Ronald Dion DeSantis (born September 14, 1978) is an American politician and attorney serving as the 46th governor of Florida since 2019. Before assuming the governorship, DeSantis served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Florida’s 6th district from 2013 to 2018.

Born in Jacksonville, DeSantis spent most of his childhood in Dunedin, Florida. He graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School. DeSantis joined the United States Navy in 2004, where he was promoted to lieutenant before serving as an advisor to SEAL Team One and being deployed to Iraq in 2007. When he returned to the U.S. a year later, the U.S. Department of Justice appointed DeSantis to serve as an assistant U.S. attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida, a position he held until his honorable discharge in 2010.

DeSantis was first elected to Congress in 2012, defeating his Democratic opponent Heather Beaven. During his tenure, he became a founding member of the Freedom Caucus and was a known ally of President Donald Trump. DeSantis frequently criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He briefly ran for U.S. Senate in 2016, but withdrew when incumbent senator Marco Rubio sought reelection.

During his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis emphasized his support of Trump. He won the Republican nomination in August, and chose state representative Jeanette Nuñez as his running mate. The close results of the general election between DeSantis and the Democratic nominee, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, triggered a machine recount. DeSantis was certified the winner with a 0.4% margin of victory.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida, DeSantis resisted imposing restrictions such as face mask mandates, stay-at-home orders, and vaccination requirements. In May 2021, he signed into law a bill that prohibited businesses, schools, cruise ships, and government entities from requiring proof of vaccination.

Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez

Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez

Jeanette Marie Nuñez (born June 6, 1972) is an American businesswoman and politician serving as the 20th and current lieutenant governor of Florida since 2019. A member of the Republican Party, she represented Miami-Dade County in the Florida House of Representatives from 2010 to 2018, also serving as speaker pro tempore for her final two years in the office. 

Of Cuban descent,[1] Nuñez was born in Miami and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and international relations from Florida International University (FIU) in 1994. In 1998, Nuñez completed her Master of Public Administration at FIU.

Chief Financial Officer
Jimmy Patronis

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis 

Jimmy Patronis is a native Floridian born and raised in Panama City. He earned his associate degree in restaurant management from Gulf Coast Community College and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University. He is a partner in a family-owned seafood restaurant called Captain Anderson’s that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. His public service career began with experience as an intern in the Florida Senate and the United Kingdom’s House of Commons. Following Patronis’ college graduation, Governor Lawton Chiles appointed him to the Florida Elections Commission, and he was later reappointed by Governor Jeb Bush.

He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2006 to 2014, representing his hometown region in the Florida Panhandle. He was appointed to serve on Florida’s Public Service Commission, as well as the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets once every twenty years to propose changes to the state constitution.

He and wife Katie are proud parents to two sons, Jimmy Theo III and John Michael.

Attorney General Ashley Moody

Attorney General Ashley Moody

Attorney General Ashley Moody, a fifth generation Floridian, was born and raised in Plant City, Florida. She attended the University of Florida where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting and law degree. She later attended Stetson University College of Law earning a Masters of Law in International Law.

Attorney General Moody began her legal career with the law firm of Holland & Knight where she practiced commercial litigation. In her spare time, she volunteered assisting domestic violence victims seeking protection in court.

She subsequently joined the United States Attorney’s Office prosecuting drug, firearm, and fraud offenses. While a federal prosecutor, General Moody was commended by the DEA for prosecutorial excellence and outstanding initiative in drug law enforcement. She was also recognized by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for her lead of “Operation Round-Up,” a targeted prosecution of violent and repeat offenders.

In 2006, at the age of thirty-one, Attorney General Moody became the youngest judge in Florida when she was elected Circuit Court Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County. As a judge, she founded the Attorney Ad Litem program recruiting volunteer attorneys to stand in the place of parents who did not appear in court with their children. She also developed a mentoring program for at-risk children within the juvenile delinquency system.

Attorney General Moody served as an adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law and on the judicial faculty for Florida’s New Judges College, Advanced Judicial Studies, and the Circuit Judges Conference. She was a frequent lecturer on crime and justice as well as best practices for Florida attorneys. In 2015, Attorney General Moody was recognized by the National Legal Services Corporation for her significant contributions to pro bono legal service and was awarded the Florida Supreme Court’s Distinguished Judicial Service Award.

On January 8, 2019, Attorney General Moody became Florida’s 38th Attorney General. Since taking office as Attorney General, Moody has been recognized as a leader having served as a Commissioner on the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, as Chair of Florida’s Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse, and continues to serve as Chair of Florida’s Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.

Attorney General Moody and her husband, Justin, a federal law enforcement agent, have two sons, Brandon and Connor.

Florida State Senator Keith Perry

FL Senator Keith Perry

Legislative Service:  Elected to the Senate in 2016, reelected subsequently; House of Representatives, 2010-2016

Honors and Awards: 

  • Honorary Guardian Ad Litem, 2013
  • Legislator of the Year, Able Trust, 2011
  • Cofounder, House of Hope
  • Defender of Liberty, American Conservative Union, 2011, 2012
  • Legislative Honor Roll, Florida Chamber of Commerce


  • Chamber of Commerce, Board Member
  • Gainesville Quarterback Club
  • Boys and Girls Club, Past Board Member
  • House of Hope, Past President

Biographical Information

Occupation: Founder, CEO Perry Roofing Contractors    Spouse: Amy Cekander   Children: Alexis, Amanda

Born: Tallahassee, FL    Religious Affiliation: Christian  Recreation: Gator sports, classic cars, fencing

Florida House Representative
Bobby Payne

FL House Representative Bobby Payne

Conservative values are the foundations of Bobby Payne’s life. Growing up in Palatka, he was blessed to be born to conservative parents in of a community where people worked hard, looked out for each other, and freely expressed their faith in God.

Bobby was elected in 2016 as State House Representative for District 20. Since that time he has defended and promoted Floridian Conservative Values in Tallahassee. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and Vice Chair of the State Affairs Committee.

During his years of service Bobby has sponsored bills for  Veterans, Seniors, Environmental Protections, as well as Business and Agricultural Initiatives. He has the experience we need to continue representing us in Tallahassee.

A natural leader, Bobby excelled in the classroom and on the field. He graduated from St. Johns River Community College and Jacksonville University. Later in life, he earned an MBA from Nova Southeastern University.

Throughout his life, Bobby has been a community leader, giving of himself to build a brighter future for others. He has served as Chairman of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, past President of Sunrise Rotary, and a longtime board member of the Putnam County United Way. He continues to serve on numerous boards and committees.

Bobby understands our conservative values because he lives them each day of his life. He is ready to fight for us as our state representative again. Let’s give him that opportunity!

FL Supreme Court Chief Justice
Charles T. Canady

FL Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady

Justice Charles Canady was born in Lakeland, Florida, in 1954.  He is married to Jennifer Houghton Canady, and they have two children.  He received his B.A. from Haverford College in 1976 and his J.D. from the Yale Law School in 1979.

Justice Canady practiced law with the firm of Holland and Knight in Lakeland from 1979 through 1982.  He practiced with the firm of Lane, Trohn, et al., from 1983 through 1992.

From November 1984 to November 1990, Justice Canady served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives, and from January 1993 to January 2001, he served four terms in the United States House of Representatives.  Throughout his service in Congress, Justice Canady was a member of the House Judiciary Committee.  For three terms, from January 1995 to January 2001, Justice Canady was the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

Upon leaving Congress, Justice Canady became General Counsel to Governor Jeb Bush.  He was appointed by Governor Bush to the Second District Court of Appeal for a term beginning November 20, 2002. 

On August 28, 2008, Justice Canady was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Governor Charlie Crist and took office on September 8, 2008. He served as Florida’s 54th Chief Justice from July 2010 through June 2012. He was elected by his colleagues to serve as Chief Justice for a second time starting July 1, 2018, and a third time starting July 1, 2020.

FL Supreme Court Justice
Jorge Labarga

FL Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga

Jorge Labarga was born in Cuba in 1952. He is married to Zulma R. Labarga, and they have two daughters. He arrived in the United States at the age of 11 where he initially lived with his family in Pahokee, Florida. He graduated from Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach in 1972 and received his B.A. (1976) and J.D. (1979) from the University of Florida.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga

Justice Labarga began his legal career in 1979 as an Assistant Public Defender with the Public Defender’s Office in West Palm Beach, assigned to the appellate, misdemeanor and felony trial divisions. In 1982 he joined the State Attorney’s Office in West Palm Beach, where he tried cases ranging from theft to homicide. In 1987 he joined the firm of Cone, Wagner, Nugent, Roth, Romano & Ericksen, P.A., and specialized in personal injury trial work. In 1992 Justice Labarga participated in founding the law firm of Roth, Duncan & Labarga, P.A., in West Palm Beach, where he continued to specialize in personal injury litigation and criminal defense.

Governor Lawton Chiles appointed Justice Labarga to the Circuit Court of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, in and for Palm Beach County, in 1996. In that capacity he served in the family, civil and criminal divisions. He also served as the administrative judge of the civil division.

In December 2008 Justice Labarga was appointed by Governor Charlie Crist to the Fourth District Court of Appeal. On January 6, 2009, he took office on the Florida Supreme Court after appointment by Governor Crist. He is the 84th Justice to take office at the Florida Supreme Court since statehood was granted in 1845. On July 1, 2014, he became the 56th Chief Justice of Florida — the first Cuban American to lead the state judicial branch. He held that office for two terms until June 2018.

FL Supreme Court Justice
John D. Couriel

FL Supreme Court Justice John D. Couriel

John D. Couriel is the 90th Justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Justice Couriel was born in Miami, Florida in 1978.  He is married to Rebecca L. Toonkel, M.D.  They have two children.

Justice Couriel received his A.B. magna cum laude from Harvard College in 2000 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2003.  He clerked for the Honorable John D. Bates of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before joining Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York.  His practice there included securities offerings, mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy matters, and investigations.  In 2009, he became an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.  He prosecuted hundreds of federal offenses, including international money laundering, public integrity, healthcare fraud, and human trafficking crimes.  In 2013, he joined Kobre & Kim LLP, where he specialized in cross-border disputes and investigations relating to financial products and services, asset recovery, and government enforcement defense, with an emphasis on clients in Latin America.

Justice Couriel is a native speaker of Spanish.  His parents emigrated from Cuba in the 1960s, his father as one of approximately 14,000 unaccompanied minors welcomed to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan.

He was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Governor Ron DeSantis on June 1, 2020.

FL Supreme Court Justice
Jamie R. Grosshans

FL Supreme Court Justice Jamie R. Grosshans

Justice Jamie R. Grosshans was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court on September 14, 2020 by Governor Ron DeSantis. Previously she was appointed to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 2018 by Governor Rick Scott. Prior to her appointment to the appellate court, she served as an Orange County Court Judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida where she presided over criminal and civil matters.  

Justice Grosshans was raised in Brookhaven, Mississippi and graduated cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law. During law school, she clerked for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi. Following admittance to the Florida Bar, she served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Ninth Circuit of Florida in both the misdemeanor and felony divisions where she tried numerous criminal jury trials.

Justice Grosshans later entered private practice and founded her own law firm where she focused on family law and criminal defense matters for nearly ten years.  During this time she also served as an Adjunct Professor at Valencia College where she taught Hospitality Law for the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program. She also frequently volunteered as a guardian ad litem with the Orange County Legal Aid Society. Justice Grosshans has served on state court system advisory committees and has been involved in numerous activities with the Florida Bar and other legal organizations. 

Justice Grosshans regularly speaks to lawyers and law students on topics such as challenges in the practice of law, the role of judges, professionalism and respect in the legal profession, criminal law, and family law.

FL Supreme Court Justice
Alan Lawson

FL Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson

BIRTHPLACE:  Lakeland, Florida, in 1961  SPOUSE:  Julie Carlton Lawson  CHILDREN: Two  GRANDCHILDREN: Two

LEGAL OFFICES & POSITIONS:  Justice, Supreme Court of Florida, 2016 – present; Chief Judge, Fifth District Court of Appeal, 2015 – 2016; Judge, Fifth District Court of Appeal, 2006 – 2016; Judge, Ninth Judicial Circuit, 2002 – 2005; Assistant County Attorney, Orange County, Florida, 1997 – 2001; General Counsel, Verses Wear, Inc., 1996;
Associate & Partner, Steel Hector & Davis, Miami & Tallahassee, 1987 – 1995.

STATE COURT SYSTEM ADVISORY COMMITTEES: Budget Oversight Committee, 2017 – Present; Trial Court Budget Commission, 2017 – Present; Standing Committee on Fairness & Diversity, 2017 – Present; Code & Rules of Evidence Committee, 2017 – Present; Probate Rules Committee, 2017 – Present; Space Planning Committee, 2017 – Present.

BAR & EXTRAJUDICIAL OFFICES & ACTIVITIES: Florida District Court of Appeal Budget Commission, Chair, 2013 – 2016; Appellate Courts Technology Committee, Member, 2008 – 2016; Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges, Legislative Chair, 2011 – 2013; Appellate Practice Section, Fifth District Representative, 2006 – 2014;
Appellate Court Technology Committee, Fifth District Representative, 2006 – 2016; Rules of Criminal Procedure Committee, 2004 – 2009; First Central Florida Inns of Court, 2002 – 2007 & 2016 – Present; Orange County Bar Association, 1996 – Present; Former Test Writer (Evidence) and Grader, Florida Board of Bar Examiners; Code and Rules of Evidence Committee, Past Member.

DEGREES: J.D., Florida State University, 1987, with Highest Honors; B.S., Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management (with emphasis in Natural Resource  Management), Clemson University, 1983, with Highest Honors; A.A., Tallahassee Community College, 1981, with Highest Honors.

Martindale-Hubbell “A.V.” attorney rating; Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency, Outstanding Jurist Award (2005); University Graduate Award and Fellowship, Florida State University; O’Kelly Civil Trial Practice Award and Scholarship, Florida State University; Book Awards in Evidence and Legal History, Florida State University; Rhodes Scholarship Nominee, Clemson University; Hartzog Award and Scholarship, Clemson University; Order of the Coif.

Orthodox Church of St. Stephen (Member); First Presbyterian Church of Orlando (Member); Vision Orlando (Board Member); House of Hope (Former Board Member and Volunteer); Surgical and Medical Assistance Relief Teams (Volunteer); Hope for Honduras (Volunteer); 2008 Boston Marathon Qualifier and Finisher.

FL Supreme Court Justice
Ricky Polston

FL Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston 

Spouse – Deborah Ehler Polston 

Children – Ten (Adoptive parents of a sibling group of 6)

Degrees – J.D. with High Honors, Florida State University, 1986; B.S., Summa Cum Laude, Florida State University, 1977; A.A., Chipola Jr. College, 1975.

Offices and Positions – Justice, Florida Supreme Court, October 2, 2008-present; Judge, First District Court of Appeal, January 2, 2001-October 1, 2008; Private Law Practice 1987- 2000; Adjunct Law Professor, Florida State University 2003-present; Certified Public Accountant 1978-present; Public Accounting Practice 1977-1984.

Legal Activities – Member, The Florida Bar. Admitted to practice before United States District Court, Northern District of Florida; United States District Court, Middle District of Florida; United States District Court, Southern District of Florida; United States Tax Court; United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit; United States Court of Federal Claims; United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; United States Supreme Court. Certified Circuit Court Mediator (1997-2003). Florida Bar Appellate Court Rules Committee (2003 – 2006).

Other Honors and Awards – Florida State University Most Outstanding Accounting Student, 1977; Beta Alpha Psi Honorary Accounting Society, 1977; Florida State University College of Law, Law Review 1985-86; Order of Coif.

Legal Recognitions and Associations – Martindale-Hubbell AV rating and Bar Register Preeminent Attorneys; Tallahassee Bar Association; Tallahassee Inn of Court (alumni, former Treasurer); Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges, Treasurer (2006 – 2008).

Other Activities – Prior Church leadership, including being an elder, deacon, and Chairman of Deacons, teacher of various student and adult classes; member, Florida Institute of C.P.A.’s; American Institute of C.P.A.’s.

FL Supreme Court Justice
Carlos G. Muniz

FL Supreme Court Justice Carlos Muniz 

Justice Carlos G. Muñiz was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Governor Ron DeSantis on January 22, 2019, becoming the 89th Justice since statehood was granted in 1845. Prior to joining the Court, he served on the staff of Secretary Betsy DeVos as the presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed general counsel of the United States Department of Education.

In addition to working as an attorney in the federal government and in private practice, Justice Muñiz had an extensive career in Florida state government. He served as the deputy attorney general and chief of staff to Attorney General Pam Bondi; as deputy chief of staff and counsel in the Office of the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives; as general counsel of the Department of Financial Services; and as deputy general counsel to Governor Jeb Bush.

Justice Muñiz is a graduate of the University of Virginia and of Yale Law School. After law school, he clerked for Judge José A. Cabranes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Judge Thomas A. Flannery of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Justice Muñiz lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Katie Muñiz, and their three children. He grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., where he attended St. James Catholic School and Bishop Ireton High School.

Fifth District Court of Appeals
Chief Justice Brian D. Lambert

Fifth District Court of Appeals Judges

There are currently eleven judges in the 5th District Court of Appeals.  You can learn more about them by visiting the above link, but there is little presented on this website that will help a voter decide who should stay and who should be replaced.

Not all judges are on the ballot this year; see below for who is a candidate in 2022.

Seventh Judicial Circuit Judges

There are currently 27 judges in the 7th Judicial Court.  You can learn more about them by visiting the above link, but there is little presented on that website that will help a voter decide who should stay and who should be replaced.  

Not all judges are on the ballot this year; see below for who is a candidate in 2022.

There are a LOT of state offices on the ballot in 2022.  Most of the Republican representatives do not have a strong primary opponent, but the only Democrat in state office (Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried) is running for Governor so there is a hot primary for that office.

 If you need help deciding who to vote for in the primaries, check out our RESOURCES page, or visit our NEWS page, candidates section for links to articles submitted by members about various candidates.

Voting for non-partisan judges is a challenge, and it is obvious from Covid and other decisions that state and local judges ARE partisan in some of their actions.  Read the article at right/below about judicial retention elections

The following offices are on the ballot in 2022.  Named are the current office holders. Republican primary opponents are now confirmed and their names with links to biographical material are below.







FLORIDA SENATE D7–Due to re-districting we are no longer in Keith Perry’s District.  View the new district boundaries HERE


FLORIDA HOUSE D20–Due to re-districting our boundaries have changed, but not our incumbent.  View the new district boundaries HERE.

There are no opposition partisans so this election will be determined IN THE PRIMARY.



  • Charles T Canady
  • Jorge Labarga
  • John D. Couriel
  • Jamie Grosshams
  • Ricky Polston


  • Brian D. Lambert
  • Jay P. Cohen
  • James A. Edwards
  • Dan Traver
  • Mary Alice Ardella
  • Carrie Ann Wozniak


  • Kenneth J. Janesk II
  • Matthew M. Foxman
  • Stasia Warran
  • Dennis Craig
  • A. Kathleen McNelly
  • Howard O. McGillin, Jr
  • Dawn D. Nichols

Merit Retention Elections by Joseph W. Little in 2013, below, explains the problems with electing judges.  The Guide for Florida Voters from the Florida Bar Association offers more information on this troubling topic.

“Florida Bar Immediate Past President Scott Hawkins’s law review essay publishes this eye-catching fact: “90% of the participating voters do not understand what the term ‘judicial merit retention’ means.”

This ignorance sends a troubling message because merit retention of appellate judges has been the law in Florida since 1976…Even worse, Florida voters themselves chose this method to hold appellate judges accountable instead of submitting them to periodic popular elections, which was the rule in Florida for most of its history as a state.

Much has been written about the controversial history of how judges are selected and retained in the United States.  The controversy arises from a clash between irreconcilable political goals: a desire for judges to make decisions free of partisan biases, and an urge to hold judges publicly accountable when decisions stray too far from some measure of political legitimacy in the public eye. The Florida “merit” system reaches a somewhat uneasy compromise between these goals. Appellate judges are screened by nominating commissions, presumably on the merits, and appointed from a slate by the governor. They are then periodically “evaluated,” presumably also on the merits, in an election in which the electors vote “yes” to “retain” for another six years or “no” to end a judge’s tenure. Hawkins’s essay laments that few voters know anything about merit retention elections much less about whether to vote yes or no.

This ignorance casts doubt on the system’s theoretical premises.  To date, the Florida merit retention system has equated to life appointments for appellate judges.  In thirty-three years, the electors have voted out no judge or justice in a retention election. In other states, removal has been exceedingly rare.  Even then, voters have not usually ousted incompetent, slothful or corrupt judges, but those who endorsed decisions offensive to the political beliefs of a major portion of the
electorate. These include judges who steadfastly voted against the death penalty, voted to invalidate school vouchers for religious schools, and voted to invalidate restrictions on gay marriage…

While it might have had merit in olden days, popular election of appellate judges in today’s cash-driven electoral world would be a democratic travesty.   Although merit retention offers a better alternative to direct election, these elections in Florida are nevertheless a sham…

From whence came this notion of judicial immunity to political scrutiny?  In pre-revolutionary England, judges bowed and scraped to the person of the monarch who appointed them, removed them, and sometimes did worse things to those who acted contrary to the monarch’s will…In England, with few exceptions, the legitimacy of an act of parliament is not subject to judicial review.

Hated decisions of royal judges who were answerable to England and not to the colonials gave great impetus to the American independence movement. That experience produced American constitutions, both federal and state, designed to make judges “independent” post-appointment from the ire of the executive branch. Just as important, Marbury v. Madison—that most famous of all American judgments—emphatically booted the notion of parliamentary sovereignty out of the American political system.  Congress, said Chief Justice John Marshall, is subservient to the Constitution and this court has the last word on what the Constitution means. That decision was inflammatory at the time…President Jefferson hated the opinion and despised Marshall. Despite that, from that day to this, any act of Congress may be upended by what the judges deem to be an overriding constitutional principle.

The Florida Supreme Court claimed the power to render statutes unconstitutional in its first clear chance to do so and has emphasized its
supervisory authority in these no uncertain terms: “The judiciary is in a lofty sense the guardian of the law of the land and the Constitution is the highest law.” 

The American doctrines of constitutional sovereignty and judicial interpretive supremacy inevitably create clashes between legislatures and judges. Call them what you may, judicial resolutions of these clashes are “political” decisions. The people freely vote to remove legislators  whose decisions they dislike. Who, then, could convince them that they are not entitled to vote against judges whose “political” decisions they dislike?

What then are we to do? Until someone devises a better system for retaining judges, supporters of an assailed judge’s “political” decisions must duke out retention elections with those who abhor those decisions.  The judges’ defenders and editorialists may plead for “judicial independence” as much as they please, but what will count most is the political strength of the warring partisans for and against the galvanizing decision. In the vernacular, are you “fur it” or “agin’ it?” While disappointing to merit retention proponents and a great shame, political conflict is inherent in the system.

What can the judges do to protect themselves from backlash retention opposition? One thing they cannot do is replace American constitutionalism with “legislative sovereignty.” …Neither may judges duck constitutional issues. Nobody benefits from timid judges. Still, judges might occasionally invoke what used to be called the “political question” doctrine… courts might legitimately leave breathing room for political processes to work out some issues before making a dispositive judicial ruling…

Toning down judicial rhetoric might be more palatable and effective…Today’s judges might be well advised to craft opinions in a manner that corresponds to what they repeatedly say they are doing: merely measuring governmental actions against constitutional standards that the people have imposed. Eliminating high-minded language about “the duty of the courts” to protect this or that interest might go a long way to defuse personal attacks upon judges by electors who do not agree that this or that interest deserves constitutional protection.  It could refocus that ire into campaigns to change the constitutional standards.

After all, in Florida, “[a]ll political power is inherent in the people” including the power to initiate amendments to the Florida Constitution. Widely debated constitutional amendment campaigns might supplant vendettas against virtually helpless judges in unnoticed retention elections. Then, the people as a whole could engage in determining what kind of constitution they want to govern them.

What then should Florida voters do in the 2012 merit retention election? That one is easy. They should vote to retain the current justices, none of whom has demonstrated undue partisan bias or unfitness to continue to serve.

Become a Putnam Republican today.

Putnam County Florida