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Stateside With Rosalea: Voices From Florida

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Voices From Florida

Following on from the voter interviews I did in New Hampshire in August, which are here: >>LINK << , in October, on the first evening of the Florida state Democratic Party convention, I took the opportunity to interview some voters there as well.

I gravitated towards older convention delegates, figuring they would have some history with the party. They come from different counties of Florida—one was a retired computer consultant who was born and lived most of his life in the Florida panhandle; another was an 82-year-old autoworker who retired to central Florida in the Seventies from Ohio; the third is a baby-boom New Yorker who moved to Palm Beach County to sell real estate.

Topics they discussed with me include how some counties had laws banning people from registering as Republicans which resulted in a Democratic Party that’s more rightwing than most in the nation; electronic voting; negotiating retirement benefits for the United Auto Workers in Ohio in the Sixties; the lack of young voters and interest in elections in general; the Palestinian-Israeli two state solution; Iran; presidential candidates; the rise of Russia; and Laura Bush’s hairdo.

::Charles::

You were saying that you were the world’s first computer programmer, that Holmes County, Florida, isn’t even in Florida, it’s so far left…

No. It’s so far right! I’m so far left. Holmes County is totally out of the mainstream of American culture. They have isolated themselves, built a fence around themselves, a Cold War fence, so to speak. They culturally are probably 100 years behind the rest of the country right now.

I’m gathering you’re not a delegate for Holmes County?

Yes I am.

Do you find that within a particular county there’ll be just one presidential candidate supported or do people pretty much broadly support a whole range pretty much everywhere?

In my county? My county is different than all the other counties in Florida. They don’t even consider themselves to be part of the United States. I’ll have to give you a long history here in order to explain it to you, or it’ll sound so strange.

Starting out with the American Civil War, being Republican became against the law in my county. You had to be a Democrat because the southern confederates were all Democrats. The South was Democratic before the Civil War. So Holmes County has always been a one-party county: Democratic. However, the majority of the people—maybe two-thirds of them in the county—are in fact right-wing extremists, but because there’s only one party in the county, and it’s the Democratic Party, which they enforced very closely until recently, they had to join the Democratic Party to get to vote for county elections.

So a Democratic county became loaded up with right-wing extremists. So the Democratic Party in Holmes County is a right-wing party. Two years ago, the Republicans emerged and got a couple of people elected to office. So now we’ve got two right-wing extremist parties in the county and no left-wing party.

I want to go back to something you said when we were talking before and how we got talking was we were talking about 1959 and somebody said, “Nothing happened then,” and you said, “Something DID happen.” What was that?

The very first solid-state computer got delivered to a civilian installation. The very first one in the world was delivered to the Florida Controller’s Office in Tallahassee. And I had been hired there a year before to be a programmer on that particular computer. So we started the whole computer revolution in the world from right there.

What does the Florida Controller’s Office do? Is that a financial controller?

We pay all the bills in Florida. We wrote all the checks. I used to write all the payroll checks. We had 50,000 employees. I wrote all the expense checks. We spent millions of dollars a day. I wrote checks for the retirement system, for welfare, for farmers and fisherman’s refunds, stuff like that. We also tallied up the sales tax take for the whole state of Florida. And I did that for a while.

So had you done programming in the military beforehand or was this something new to you and you learned it?

No. I quit college to take this job. After three years I quit college. I actually started preparing for the job when I was ten years old. I didn’t know what I was preparing for, but when the time come up, I was told, “Okay, this is it. Get out of college and go get that job.” And I did. I was a programmer for 41 years until I retired in 2000.

So, do you have an opinion—you mentioned electronic voting machines before, do you have any opinion about those?

There is no way you can make any kind of electronic stored-program machine honest. There’s no way you can guarantee the honesty of any of them. They are no more honest than the person who wrote the program that controls them. So if you put a stored program in a vote tallying machine, there’s no way to ever know if it’s honest unless you go behind it and count the votes manually. So electronic voting should be banned.

You mentioned that it’s only recently that they were going to get electronic voter machines. How was the vote counting done before electronic machines?

Manually, before that. Set down with two or three people counting them. Calling out the numbers and writing them down.

Can I ask, do you support a particular presidential candidate?

Hillary Clinton.

And why is that?

She’s got the best resume of all of them. I love them all. I would love to have a Hispanic president. I would love to have a black president. I would love to have a female president. I would love to have… all the others. They’re all good people. They all would make good presidents. But I lived in an industry that depended on resumes. The computer system consulting industry was all about resumes, who knew the most about what they were doing. And Hillary has the best resume of all of them because she’s been there and done that, and we know what she will do. We don’t really know what any of the rest of them will do, but we know what she’ll do.

Because she’s been there and done that. None of the rest of them can say that. For that reason, I put her at the top of the heap. Because she’ll bring Bill back in with her. We know about Bill, too. Everybody loved Bill. He was the most popular man in the world in 2000.

::Marie::

I am supporting Hillary right now. I think she is really the best qualified woman candidate we’ve ever had, and we have had a few. But I think she’s really highly qualified. But also Bill Richardson is very well qualified too. So, I don’t really know who I’m going to vote for January 29. A lot can happen between now and then.

I always worked in politics. I’m from Lake County in Florida. I’ve lived there since ’76. For a long time I was president of the Women’s county Democrat Club. Then I belonged to the County Democrat, and also [unclear] Women’s club and the Leesburg Area, I joined that. Because all I do now is work in politics. That’s my extra-curricular activity.

I’m originally from Ohio. I moved to Florida in 1977, when I retired. No, I guess, ’76. I came down in Fall ’76. I started checking to find out where the Democrats were and I found them in ’78. (laughs) It took till ’78 to find some Democrats.

Did you find that the Democrats in Florida were different from the Democrats in Ohio on some of the issues?

Well, to me, they don’t work as hard in Florida as we did in Ohio. When we were for a candidate, there was a group of us would take a little town and go door to door. We started that in 1958 when Ohio got the right to work issue on the ballot. We defeated that by 58 percent, we won by 58 percent. We defeated that.

What it means? Well, it says it gives you the right to work, but it gives you the right not to work. What it does, it gives the company the right to do almost anything, the corporations. It’s not a very good deal. Well, back in 1958, I had a lot of things in because I was campaigning on that. They have never, the corporations or the Chamber of Commerce, they have never got it on the ballot in Ohio since we defeated it.

I ran for Congress one time, in 1968. In Ohio. But it was a highly Republican district and the guy I was running against, name of Jackson Betts—he’s dead now—he was owned by the Marathon Oil Company and even though I didn’t get elected, I got 15,000 more votes than any man that had ever run against him. It was a lot of fun. I got a good education from that.

The party decided at the last minute and they didn’t have a candidate. Most of the time, this guy never had opposition. So the party called me, like, on Saturday night, and the deadline for filing was 4 o’clock on Monday. I said, “There’s no way I can get to nine counties and get 25 signatures”—and I wasn’t going to pay any money because I didn’t have any. So the party, they sent petitions, they got all the petitions signed. At 2 o’clock we filed. I had a lot of publicity over that because they didn’t think Jackson Betts was going to have any opposition. But anyway, it was fun and I got educated. I’ve been working in politics ever since.

[tape interruption] I got some Bill Richardson stuff to send to them. I like Bill. He’s very well qualified.

Have you seen him speak at all?

I watch… that’s all I watch is politics, at home. Whenever I know that he’s gonna speak, I always listen. Yeah, I’ve heard him speak a couple of times on TV.

He has a bit of international experience as well, it seems to me, that people don’t really realize.

Oh, he sure does. Well, he was a member of the United Nations and he was Clinton’s Ambassador. He’s very well qualified. Of course, so is Joe Biden.

I was a retired member of the UAW, Auto Workers. I worked in politics for the UAW. See, that’s where you get your education about how to watch… I watch Congress in session and I watch the candidates how they vote on bills, and how they affect you. There’s so many people who don’t pay any attention. I think that if somehow, some way, we could get more people to pay attention to the laws that are passed that affect them and how they got there, we’d have a different… we’d have a lot of different constitutional things all over the United States.

Do you mind if I ask how old you are?

Eighty-two. I’ve been retired for thirty years. I left Ohio thirty years ago.

And you worked in the auto industry there.

Yeah, I made Autolite spark plugs. They’re owned by Honeywell now. They’re owned by Honeywell. I helped negotiate the retirement benefits I’m receiving now, because I was working… In fact, in ’46, I helped organize the union, I helped get it going, so I was on the committee. I spent about 20 years out of those 30 negotiating, on the bargaining committee.

So how do you feel about the recent events where the union seems to be giving that away?

I’m not very happy about it. No. The thing is, the people that are in the auto plants now were not in when I retired. They don’t realize how we got what we got. They don’t know. They really don’t know what we went through to get them.

[…]I’m doing my best to get the younger people. That’s what we’ve got… we’ve got to work to get younger people to come into the Democratic Party.

::Harvey::

I started coming and getting into this group, and I told them, I said, “I don’t want to deal with local politics, I’m only dealing with national politics,” and I said, “My whole goal is to elect Democrats and a Democratic Congress—you know, Senate and House and everything like that.”

But I can’t figure out how to get people to vote. That’s what’s really galling. I’ve been asking and tried to do some research to see the percentage of people who voted, like 40 years ago. I can’t imagine it was this low. I mean, I remember being a kid and it was a big day. The schools were closed. They had all the voting booths in the schools, a major, major thing. A different time.

So you were saying that you didn’t like any of the candidates?

I’m not… no one really jumps out at me. Hillary—I think she’s extremely competent. I think it’s absolutely overdue for a woman. I mean, God, they had a woman president in Pakistan! Please! We can’t have a woman president in the United States? I think and I hope that her campaign persona is going to change after she gets elected. I mean, I really, really hope that. Some sort of healthcare reform… if General Motors is crying, you know we have to do something about healthcare. I mean, it’s really naïve. And the Republicans are just so stupid.

Giuliani is going to give a $15,000… it’s not a tax rebate, they deduct it from your gross taxable income. But he doesn’t get it that the people who are paying health insurance, they don’t have gross taxable incomes! And the top two percent, they don’t care about healthcare. They’ve got the best healthcare. This is a great country for healthcare—if you’ve got money. If you’ve got money, this is the best country in the whole world. If you don’t have… you’re actually better off poor or rich than middle-class.

But I’m an unusual person, I’ve lived over in Europe. I saw two people when I was taking the bus here—cos I’m over at the other place—and they said, “Oh, we ate in all these different countries.” I guess they were in Epcot. I said, “Well, have you ever been to those other countries?” “Oh, no, no! We haven’t been,” she said, “I wouldn’t even know where to start, no one speaks the language. How will I talk?” I said, “You really only have to be a nice person. This is not a big thing. You should be able to get along.”

Obama. I’m sure he’s very bright. They’re all very bright. When Giuliani ran New York, he did a great job in New York. I think he did a great job in New York. You sort of have to turn your other cheek; that’s what he did. New York had been so run down by the previous administration, which happened to be, sadly, a Democratic administration. Dinkins was mayor before Giuliani. You couldn’t walk on the street. You were accosted by everybody begging and washing your windows. You offered them shelters—this, my friend Nick the cop, told me. You offered them shelters; they didn’t want to go to shelters. You rounded them up in buses and took them to Brooklyn. End of story.

Nine-eleven, as big a tragedy as it was, what he’s saying and what the firemen are saying are two different things, so we’ll have to see how that comes out. Quite frankly, I can’t believe the Republican base is gonna go for this guy: thrice married, okay with gays, pro-abortion/pro-choice, and dressed in drag on numerous occasions—I mean for shows and everything like that. It’s quite hilarious. I cannot imagine the Republican base going for this guy.

Can I ask you a question that’s related to your background, because you said to me that you’re a Jewish person from New York, and one of the events I covered last week was a Republican Jewish Coalition convention and some of the Republican candidates came and spoke to them. Do you have any feelings about the Democratic candidates which one fills the need that you think should be filled in the Middle East?

Sadly—and when I met him I asked Bill Clinton why he wasn’t running again. He looked at me and he got really upset and he said, “It’s against the law.” Recently on David Letterman, David Letterman asked him… oh, no, when Hillary was on David Letterman he asked her, he said, “Has Bill given some thought to becoming Vice President?” And she said, “Well, he checked it out.” So it was exactly like that.

The Middle East, that Palestinian-Israeli question is really… I think that—and of course it’s coming from a [unclear]—I think the world needs an Israel. What has recently happened in Syria, when they took out whatever they took out and everybody believes that it was a nuclear plant… I just read in today’s paper that the Syrians totally cleaned up the site, totally wiped up the site so it doesn’t exist anymore. But, just like they did in the 1980s when they took out that nuclear plant in Iraq. Are they policemen in the Middle East? I would say yes. Is it in everybody’s vested interest to have an Israel. Absolutely I would say yes.

We lived in Israel. My brother played basketball. He was there for a year, and I lived there for many, many months. The Palestinians are probably the most intelligent of that whole group over there. They’re the most forward-thinking. They’ve probably been hijacked by Hamas. You know what I would do, if I was a Palestinian? I would take three very, very large men, I’d go to Paris, I’d find Arafat’s widow and I would hold her up offa the ground and I’d have her give me back the money. He stole billions. He stole billions and billions and billions.

Oh, I don’t know if it was billions; I’m not an accountant. He stole all this money and she’s living over there in Paris. I would never put up with that. Now. Maybe the rest of them stole, too, so they’re not pushing the subject. Arafat had a chance at Camp David under Bill Clinton to make a deal and he didn’t make the deal. It’s not in their vested interest. Everybody needs a bogeyman.

We need Osama bin Laden. Even if we killed him, we wouldn’t say we killed him. That’s what I think, you know? This is not a world view coming from here. But that Palestinian problem? They can live in peace. They’ll do everything except give them back the lands. They may even give them part of Jerusalem, I’m not quite sure. You can’t give people back lands they’ve left. People fight wars. You fight wars, you lose. You lose, you lose. I mean, you can’t come back and say, “I’ve lost but, you know, you really have to give me back the land.” No one’s giving back the Indians the land.

[…]

In 1968 my doctor, my family doctor, asked me to go to Chicago to the Democratic National Convention, and I said yes. I was born in 46, I was about 22 at the time, and I said, “Yeah, sure. Great.” But now that I know what the system is… now you really have to be sort of an insider to go to these conventions. But that was a wild one. Sixty-eight was a wild one. Mayor Daley. They had all the riots. They had the police riot out in the park and everything like that.

And you were saying in those days people signed up as independents?

Most of us thought we were fighting the system, we were going up against the system by being independent. We didn’t realize the way it works that you can’t vote in the primaries unless you’re a registered Democrat or Republican. And I don’t understand how come we only have two parties. I know everybody’s gonna say we have a lot more parties…

That’s my other thing, if you had 85 percent of the people voting here, just like you have in France—if we had 85 percent—there would be no special interests. There would be no lobbyists. How could you lobby? It would be next to impossible. There’d be an extra 30 million people. There’d be dozens of little parties. There’d be little gays, and little greens, and little purples, and all this stuff. It would be incredible. This guy would have three votes and that… everybody goes, “Well, that’s a parliamentary system.” I said, “Yeah, they never said in the Constitution—not what I’ve read—that you had to have only two parties.” They never said that.

I just read about Sean Penn directing a movie about…

The guy who went off to Alaska. He was on David Letterman. That’s a little extreme, though, that guy. The guy was a little extreme.

I didn’t see it on David Letterman, but what I gathered was that what Sean Penn was trying to push was the fact that people that age don’t put themselves in any situation that they’re not comfortable with, and so long as everybody is always in a situation they’re comfortable with they’re never going to try and change anything. And that goes out into the bigger picture of politics and that’s maybe why you don’t have people…

Well, as a father of a 23-year-old, I don’t want him to go too far out. And also, I think the world changed. I went to him, when I saw those buildings… From my apartment in New York City, when I came out, if I looked south I saw those buildings every single day. Every single day. And I came to him to the house and he didn’t understand the ramifications of what had happened. It was him and his girlfriend—he was still in high school—I said, “The world has changed and I can’t protect you anymore.” It was really like that.

I travelled. When I finished my draft obligation I took off. I travelled all through Africa by myself, hitchhiking for over two years. Madagascar. And I was just looking for a beach. No noble cause! Just looking for a beach. I spent two years, really, going through five countries or something. I don’t think my son can do that. Not at this point. And I don’t think I would want him to do that. The world’s changed. You know that, too.

When I travelled in Europe in the late Sixties, Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day was really $5 a day. I remember going to beer halls in Munich—for a buck you got half a chicken, French fries, and two liters—not one; two liters—of beer for four marks. Four marks was a dollar. Those days are gone. They’re over.

Do you think Iran’s really on the books?

Why would you say what you’re saying? This is not a guy who believes in talking about something. He doesn’t understand the subtlety of “I can threaten these people and hope they will change their behavior.” People keep laughing at him. But I can’t imagine… what would you bomb? What would you bomb?

That’s what everybody said when they went to Afghanistan, what was there to bomb in Afghanistan? The country had been bombed back into the Stone Age anyway.

That’s true. But if I was president, what I would have done, marshaled the forces, everybody was outraged. We knew who did it. We’re not going after Saudi Arabia. We should have gone after Saudi Arabia. At least put them on notice. But obviously we can’t because we’re buying oil and we haven’t gotten off of oil and that whole nonsense. No. You go into Afghanistan, you go after Osama bin Laden, you find him. What’s so hard to find? Please! I mean, even if you have to stand on some toes in Pakistan.

You find Osama bin Laden, then you go around, you say, “Okay, look. This is what I can do. And I will do this to your country and your country and your country. Don’t bother me. Don’t come to me… don’t bother me. You want to have your beliefs? Go have your beliefs. Go believe whatever you want, that’s all. It is what it is, that’s all. What can I tell you? Go educate your own people. Go feed them. Go give them housing, whatever you have to do, but don’t come to me.”

I would never have gone into Iraq. Why would you go into Iraq, of all the places? Except it was an easy target. And then you didn’t think what was going to happen? I read a book, there was a book called [unclear] written about what went down there. This guy Rumsfeld kept saying—when they all said, “It’s going to take 380,000 troops.”—“No way! No way, we can do this with half.” What were they thinking?

You would think these people are morons. These are very bright people. And they’re picking on a secular society! If you want to pick on somebody… Where’s our energy policy? I follow Thomas Friedman. Globalization is a big problem. This is a major… it’s here. It’s not going anywhere. We never did that… we never started a war unprovoked, an unprovoked war. It was an unprovoked war.

You know what? I’m happy the Russians are coming back up. I love Putin. I think this guy’s great. This guy is great. He knows where all the bodies are buried, he’s tough as nails, and he’s armed to the teeth! This guy’s armed to the teeth. You ain’t gonna push this guy around. Forget it! And now they’ve got money. Now they’ve got petrodollars. Now they’ve got natural resources. They’ve got diamonds equal to South Africa. Diamonds and gold. Maybe not the same quality, but they have diamonds and gold. Natural gas. They turned off the pipeline to Europe one time. This guy’s great! This guy’s the best!

There may not be all the freedoms there in Russia, don’t get me wrong. But they’re definitely on the right track, and I think we need another force. I think we need another counterbalancing force. I would have never thought it, but we have this, this… this rich kid had never been to Europe! Never ever went to Europe. His father was in the CIA. I mean his father knows where all the bodies are buried. The guy went to Asia some time. He went on one of his father’s trips.

He’d never been to Europe. He never backpacked. I mean, he’s my age. He’s in good shape. But what’s with her hair? God. And I never heard her say anything in eight years. She’s never said a word. What’s her story? Very disappointing. Maybe the Democrats will do better. I don’t know.

Gore came and he didn’t use Clinton really to help him. He won the popular vote. How much more did he have to win? He won the popular vote. He was so dry. Then Kerry was terrible. We’ve had terrible candidates. Look at these candidates. These are terrible candidates. And everybody I’ve met who’ve been staunch Republicans say, this guy in private, Bush, greatest guy in the world. Yeah, if you want to have a drink with the guy.

Is there anyone you’d draft to run? Anyone who’s not in there but should be?

You know, if I had my druthers and if things were different, I could see Al Gore as a really good… now. This new Al Gore. As a good president. Above the fray. Because I think presidents really should be. And he really knows the system, obviously. That kind of thing. But, you know what, I’m excited by Hillary in a little bit of a way. In a weird perverted way. Sure, go ahead. You wanna be President, lady? Go ahead. Be president. If Bhutto can be president, if Gandhi’s niece or daughter can be president. Germany’s got a woman. We had Margaret Thatcher.

And we’ll have Bill again. How good is that?!

Why was he so popular?

Great speaker. Even my Republican friends, even this cop. He’s the type of guy he would talk to you and you’d go, “Where do you want me to follow?” Where do you want me to follow? I mean, he was really… I’ve seen him a couple of times live and he was… John Kennedy. Look at John Kennedy. I don’t know if John Kennedy was the brightest, but Clinton also is bright, on top of everything else. He’s really, really bright. Rhodes Scholar. Came from a broken home in Arkansas. Of all the places to have a President! Arkansas, a little tiny state. But he’s a real… very seductive. She’s more professorial. I saw her and she’ll give you the facts, she’ll tell you, she’ll try to smile.

We had one time—when Nelson Rockefeller ran for governor in New York—supposedly the story… Louis Lefkowitz brought him down to Ratner’s. Ratner’s was a dairy restaurant on the Lower East Side and he told Nelson, he said, “Nelson, you’re never gonna be governor unless you become a mensch. You’ve gotta become a man of the people. You’ve gotta loosen up, and you’ve gotta have some sort of soul.”

I’m looking for someone with a soul. You know, they keep telling me Obama and everything like that, but I haven’t heard him, I haven’t listened to him.

--END OF INTERVIEWS--

Resources about where these voters are from:

::Holmes County::

Holmes County Supervisor of Elections official website:
http://www.holmeselections.com/

US Census Bureau Quickfacts about Holmes County, Florida:

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12/12059.html

::Lake County::

Lake County Election Supervisor website:
http://elections.lakecountyfl.gov/

US Census Bureau Quickfacts about Lake County, Florida:
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12/12069.html

::Palm Beach County::

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections website:
http://www.pbcelections.org/

US Census Bureau Quickfacts about Palm Beach County, Florida:
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/12/12099.html

ENDS

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