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Vote smart: Why the Aug. 26 elections are important

Your vote matters, and here’s why

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It wasn’t supposed to be this confusing. Until May, the local part of the Aug. 26 primary election in Orange County had a headliner in former Democratic congressional candidate and Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, presumed to be a viable challenger to one-term Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. Jacobs’ four years as mayor have been full of strategic footholds for almost any candidate that the Democrats could drum up, and Demings was a rising star – it looked like there was going to be a real horse race at the top of the local ticket. (Even though, at least for now, the county mayoral and commission races are nonpartisan – a ballot initiative slated for the November ballot seeks to change that.)

When the earned sick-time issue fermented into the public records nightmare now known as “textgate” in 2012, Jacobs’ mayoral crown was visibly tarnished; her entire administration – including the Board of County Commissioners – descended into an expensive legal nightmare. State Attorney Jeff Ashton eventually slapped some wrists with $500 fines, but reputations don’t come quite as cheap.

But Demings – due to a series of unexpected events, including advice from outside consultants and lukewarm support from within the local Democratic Party structure – suddenly pulled out of the race in May, leaving Democrats without a candidate. Which means that now Jacobs has won re-election by default.

Despite pronouncements from leadership that Demings was still a “rock star” in the party’s eyes (whispers that Demings is already eyeing another congressional run once the dust settles on the redistricting process are already circulating), Demings’ move inspired internal acrimony and left the party in the lurch. Local progressive groups like VoteLocal2014.org have tried to pick up the slack, canvassing door-to-door to remind people that, even in August and even without a big-ticket race, your vote matters – in fact, it matters more. But will the general public listen?

“I think there’s a great deal more cynicism and apathy about politics in general than I have seen since the Vietnam days,” former Democratic Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin says. “It’s very discouraging and yet very understandable.”

The fear is that with all of the big state-office primary races virtually decided – Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist is a shoo-in for his primary; incumbent Republican Rick Scott surely can’t lose – voters won’t make the extra effort to get to the polls to vote for candidates they don’t really know or have much interest in. Of course, to some, that apathy and disinterest is by design.

“That’s the challenge you always find with local races, especially nonpartisan races in August, when people aren’t paying attention to politics; they’re busy getting their kids ready for school and not really paying attention. Which is unfortunately what Republicans in Orange County have always counted on. They’ve counted on low-participation, low-information, nonpartisan ballots so that they can continue to win elections,” Orange County Democratic Executive Committee chairman Carlos Smith says. “It doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be paying attention to; there’s plenty.”

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