WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A movement of unions, senior citizen and civil rights organizations is working hard to defeat George W. Bush in this battleground state even as Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican right resort to some of the same dirty tricks they used to steal the 2000 election.

“If this election were conducted honestly, I would predict that John Kerry would carry Florida by a 15 percent margin,” said Tony Fransetta, president of the 181,000-member Florida Alliance of Retired Americans. “But we are seeing all the old tricks — trying to remove people from the voting rolls, voter intimidation, touch-screen voting with no paper trail. Given all that, I conclude that this election is going to be very close. Victory will be determined by voter turnout.”

Florida law permits voters to cast their ballots early, starting Oct. 16. The anti-Bush coalition is seeking to build momentum for a massive early vote.

Helping spark that momentum, Floridians for All, a grassroots movement, collected nearly 1 million signatures to put on the November ballot a constitutional amendment establishing a $6.15 hourly minimum wage in Florida with annual increases tied to inflation. Kerry has endorsed the amendment. Gov. Jeb Bush opposes it and George W. Bush has been silent on it.

Fransetta said another burning issue is the prescription drug bill rammed through Congress by a razor-thin margin in the dead of night. “The Republicans have played quite well the politics of confusion and distortion, a polite way of saying, they lie. One of the best examples is the prescription drug bill that Bush is using as a centerpiece of his appeal to seniors. In fact, it is an attack upon Medicare,” Fransetta said. “If Bush had his way, Medicare would not exist in any form. If they succeed in privatizing Social Security, it will be a win for Wall Street and a loss for Main Street.”

Fransetta was a leader of the “Battle of Florida” in 2000, when the Republicans succeeded in purging more than 90,000 voters, mostly African American and Latino, falsely identifying them as ex-felons.

“They are trying to do it again this year, sending out another voter purge list,” he charged. “We raised such a storm, they withdrew it. But they’ve left to the discretion of the supervisors of each of the 67 counties whether to remove people from the rolls who are on that list.”

In St. Petersburg, Mary Saunders is a leader of the Florida Restoration of Civil Rights Coalition. An overriding goal is restoration of voting rights for thousands of Floridians who have completed prison terms and have become law-abiding citizens, she told the World.

“I’m convinced that barring these people from voting is a conscious effort to dilute the vote of minorities in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” she told the World. “They gave us another list of 47,000 names to purge from the voting lists. I went down and got that list. We found so many names that don’t belong on that list. Jeb withdrew that list under fire but I don’t trust them. The heading on that list is ‘potential felons.’ How many people are going to show up on Election Day and be told, ‘You can’t vote. Your name is not on the rolls?’”

To guard against theft of the election, Saunders’ group is conducting a get-out-the vote effort called ‘Power On,’ based on a consortium of 26 organizations. “We need to not only register people to vote, we must educate them on why it is important to vote,” she said. “It is the most important right we have.”

Gabriel Casares, former mayor of Clearwater and a revered Mexican American leader in Florida, told the World that Kerry can win the Latino vote in Florida. “I think the Bush campaign has the same programs to control the vote that they used the last time,” he said in an interview in his home. “But many people are turning against Bush not because he is a Republican but because of all he has done to harm the people.”

Casares was a member of the Florida Commission on Hispanic Affairs. “We were very concerned about the plight of farm workers in Florida,” he said. “We wanted to improve their living conditions. We wanted to raise the living standards of Latinos in Florida that are the worst in the nation, behind California, Arizona, even Texas.”

Then, he charged, Gov. Jeb Bush, with the backing of ultra-right Cuban Americans, slashed the commission’s budget by $117,000. “They killed the Florida Commission on Hispanic Affairs. Then they slashed the budget of the Commission on African American Affairs. They set back the advancement of Blacks and Latinos by 25 years. There is no question that the Bush administration did that. They really don’t care about the plight of the working class. I’ve been encouraging Blacks and Latinos to join together, to take a stand for equality.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.

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