Nearly three years ago, I took a leave as a tenured law professor at Nova Southeastern University to run for Congress and challenge an entrenched incumbent, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then the chair of the Democratic National Committee. To me, she was the epitome of why the party was failing: a corporate funded incumbent supporting a trickle-down Wall Street agenda of corporate trade deals, payday lending, private prisons, and endless wars.
My agenda is full employment, a renewable energy New Deal, a national infrastructure bank, ending the drug war and mass incarceration, universal single-payer healthcare, and protecting and conserving the environment. These issues are too pressing, and that’s why I decided to run again, to build on the momentum of the last campaign and continue waking voters on these issues.
But voters often first want to know why I left the Democratic Party and decided to run this time with No Party Affiliation (NPA). My “DemExit” was an unexpected fallout from the aftermath of my 2016 primary. After falling short by a few thousand votes, I started receiving phone calls from election experts across the country questioning the accuracy of the results. Some suspected hacking or software rigging. Our own internal field numbers, based on more than 10,000 door knocks a week, also showed a far different outcome. To try to put the matter to rest, I decided to verify the vote by simply inspecting the paper ballots in some key precincts, as permitted under Florida’s public-records law and at my own expense. If the ballots matched up, the issue would be resolved.
Brenda Snipes, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, stonewalled my ballot request for months. I filed a lawsuit in June 2017, and while the lawsuit was pending, Snipes destroyed all the ballots, violating numerous state and federal criminal statutes. She concealed the ballot destruction from the court for more than two months and admitted to all this in sworn videotaped deposition.
Snipes claimed there was no harm to the public because she says she maintained digital scanned images of the purported ballots. But no one is permitted to inspect the software that creates these digital ballot images. Instead, the software is “proprietary,” the private property of the same software vendors hired by Snipes. Under such circumstances, her illegal destruction of the ballots has undermined public faith and confidence in Broward elections.
In May, the Florida Circuit Court granted me summary judgment, finding that Snipes broke the law. We recently settled for $150,000 in lawyers’ fees and court costs.
I had been a Democrat most of my life, served as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill to a Democratic U.S. senator, volunteered my time and energy to several campaigns and was inspired in my academic work by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in banking and public finance.
But when Democratic Party officials in Florida refused to join my call for an investigation into Broward’s ballot destruction, that was finally enough. I am running as an independent to speak to a much wider part of the electorate. Although Republicans make up only 23 percent of registered voters in my district, independent voters are quickly approaching the number of registered Democrats. If there’s any district in the country where an independent can win, Florida’s Congressional District 23 is it, right here, right now.
Democratic Party politics appear petty when compared to the growing economic and environmental crises we face in Florida. For many people, this feels like year 10 of a Great Depression in jobs, incomes and savings. It’s why so many people voted for Bernie Sanders and so many others for Donald Trump. They know the system is broken, and that incremental change will change nothing.
Although Wasserman Schultz says climate change and sea-level rise are real, she then votes for billions of dollars in federal subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry and big agribusinesses, the industries contributing most to climate change. And she votes for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies for the Big Sugar industry, which along with those factory farms, are most responsible for polluting our waterways with toxic algae, endangering public health, harming tourism and threatening our oceans and aquifers.
I didn’t leave the Democratic Party as much as it left me. It’s much the same with the Republican Party. Both went so establishment and corporate that they abandoned the American people. That’s why although I’m running as an independent, I’m still the real New Deal Democrat in the race, and the candidate most in line with Teddy Roosevelt’s Republican progressive vision of trust-busting to protect workers and consumers, and to conserve our natural environment. Like during the Roosevelts’ era, our generation needs to tame capitalism without destroying it in order to liberate people while providing them with meaningful work in a dynamic economy.
Tim Canova is a professor of law and public finance at Nova Southeastern University in Davie/Fort Lauderdale. He is an independent candidate for Florida’s 23rd Congressional district.