Norman Braman is not your typical billionaire car dealer. Nor is he your typical establishment Republican, who too often puts party above principle. Norman Braman is the type of person who strikes fear into the hearts of every professional politician who thinks he can say one thing to get elected and then do the opposite once in office.
In case you haven't been paying attention, Braman led a successful drive to recall Republican mayor Carlos Alvarez of Miami-Dade, Fla., and Commissioner Natacha Seijas. Their offenses? In a telephone conversation, Braman tells me there were many, including, he says, "sloppy bookkeeping, fraud, and the mayor's decision to use tax dollars to build a sports stadium for the local baseball team" when fiscal challenges for the city and high unemployment were harming the local economy.
Braman filed a lawsuit in hopes of stopping construction of the stadium. He lost. The final straw, he tells me, was when Alvarez and Seijas backed an increase in salaries for public employee union members and a property tax increase to help pay for it. Braman says he was enraged because seniors were not getting a cost of living increase and the jobless numbers were growing.
Braman launched a website (www.recallmayorAlvarez.org) and the campaign was on. That a prominent Miami businessman who had voted for Alvarez (Seijas represented another county) would be able to attract Hispanics and African-Americans, angry whites as well as Democrats, Republicans and independents of various hues is the ultimate in coalition politics. According to a recent story in the Miami Herald entitled "Will Voter Revolt Bring Real Change at Miami-Dade County Hall?" "Eighty-eight percent voted to oust Alvarez and Seijas in the biggest recall of a local politician in U.S. history."
Braman says people should take one message from his efforts: "this is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is a referendum for change."
The tough part comes next. While the symbolism of ousting two incumbent politicians with a recall vote may encourage people who think the system can't work for them, institutional change will require scaling a much higher wall.
As the Herald reported, the county charter must be changed if political business is not to remain as usual. "Commissioners," it found, "have often refused to bring proposals to change the charter before the public for a vote."
The momentum may be shifting. The commissioners are set to meet this week to plan a special election to replace Alvarez and Seijas. There is also a good chance, given the recall results, that they might consider reforming the charter and allow the public to vote on proposed changes.
Some pundits and Democratic politicians have predicted that the tea party movement to reform government is a flash in the pan and won't last through the 2012 election. Norman Braman begs to differ. He tells me a tea party group in Ft. Lauderdale "gave me a medal."
The flip side of an energized electorate demanding that government not spend more than it takes in and that it take in only what it absolutely needs, respecting the people who earn it, is that increasing numbers of us must be torn away from the public trough. "You can do it," rather than "government will do it for you," is the type of thinking that built America and sustained us through wars and economic downturns.
Four years ago, the Christian Science Monitor reported that, according to an analysis by Gary Shilling, an economist in Springfield, N.J., "Slightly over half of all Americans -- 52.6 percent -- now receive significant income from government programs." That figure is probably higher today. No wonder many have become addicted to the politicians who keep sending them checks instead of encouraging the able-bodied to care for themselves. The United States is seriously and dangerously speeding toward socialism, in function, if not in name.
Howard Jarvis led an anti-tax revolt over high property taxes in California. In 2011, Norman Braman of Miami could be his successor.