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Shadow Candidates Deceive Voters In Florida Elections

Shadow Candidates Deceive Voters In Florida Elections
Date Posted: Saturday, April 10th, 2021

Alex Rodriguez ran for Florida Senate on his good name. Well . . . not his good name. Rather, this Rodriguez exploited the name recognition of a more notable version.

Sleazy? Sure. But effective. Alex’s name on the Nov. 3 ballot bamboozled just enough voters in Senate District 37 to afford Republican challenger Ileana Garcia a 32-vote margin over the other Rodríguez — incumbent Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez.

The lesser Rodriguez, listed on the ballot as an independent, diverted 6,382 votes likely meant for the senator. Not bad for a 55-year-old mechanic with an arrest record and no previous political experience, who didn’t bother with usual electioneering. No candidate forums. No interviews. No campaign website.

Not bad for a candidate who — as WPLG Channel 10 News discovered — resides in Boca Raton, 80 miles north of District 37.

What campaign expenses the shadow candidate incurred seemed to have been paid by a dark money PAC funded by secret donors. The mystery PAC (with no more of an address than a UPS mailbox in Kendall) financed the printing and distribution of political mailers that touted Alex as a climate change activist. Not coincidently, climate change just happened to be a key issue in José Javier Rodríguez’s campaign.

The deception worked out well for the Republican challenger, the now Sen. Ileana Garcia. Maybe not so well for the pseudo candidate, whose dodgy sworn campaign documents have piqued the interest of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

Also, Coral Gables elections lawyer J.C. Planas told the Miami Herald that he intends to file an ethics complaint against the interloper. Political name games are a sore subject for Planas, whose own campaign for re-election to the state legislature in 2006 was muddled by a car salesman cousin. Cuz filed to run as “J.P. Planas.” A state appeals court knocked J.P. off the ballot, ruling that the pretender’s “stratagem clearly intended to deceive and confuse voters.”

Another come-out-of-nowhere independent on the Nov. 3 ballot, Celso Alfonso, added his name to the District 39 senate race in south Miami-Dade, adjacent to the Rodríguez-Garcia-Rodriquez imbroglio. The same dark money PAC that distorted the District 37 campaign also financed the Alfonso deception, paying for a pricy mailer, a twofer promoting both him and Alex Rodriguez as champions of progressive causes, as if the two erstwhile Republicans had experienced a simultaneous liberal epiphany. (Turned out, the Republican candidate in District 39, with 55 percent of the votes, didn’t need Alonso’s subterfuge to win.)

The Orlando Sentinel reported that another faux independent with a progressive, Democrat-sounding platform but with strong ties to Republican Party operatives (and with the same dark money source financing his campaign) had inserted himself into a state rep election in Central Florida. “Independent” Leroy Sanchez, the brother of a major Republican donor, attracted 7,500 votes in an election that the Democratic candidate lost by 1,200. The Sentinel found another Senate race south of Orlando with similar fakery.

Such sneakiness is old stuff in Florida. In 2012, the campaign manager for former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican, went to jail for secretly financing the campaign of a faux candidate to run in the primary against Rivera’s probable Democratic opponent. The straw man, a hotel clerk, got 30 days in jail and three months’ probation. (Rivera, who lost in the general election, managed to avoid criminal charges.)

No one has played the name game as cannily as a Black school bus driver named John Plummer, who happened to have the same surname as two of Miami’s powerful white-guy Democrats: City Commissioner J.L. Plummer and his brother State Rep. Larry Plummer. A Republican Party operative convinced the unknown Plummer to file as a Republican candidate in a 1980 legislative race.

John Plummer’s strategy was to remain invisible. No debates. No interviews. No speeches. And absolutely no photographs of Plummer, lest voters notice he didn’t much resemble Miami’s other political Plummers.

Best of all, was his slogan. “The family name Plummer speaks for itself.’'

The ruse won him a two-year term in the Florida House and inspired the 1992 movie “The Distinguished Gentleman,” starring Eddie Murphy as Jeff Johnson, a Florida street hustler who conned his way through a congressional election by usurping the name of a recently deceased congressman.

The so-so movie may have slipped from memory, but unscrupulous Florida politicians still run variations of Jeff Johnson’s ruse. Alex Rodriguez could have appropriated ol’ Jeff’s motto: “The name that you can trust. The name that you know.”

Source: Fred GrImm/Sun-sentinel.com

Date Posted: Saturday, April 10th, 2021 , Total Page Views: 681

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