South Carolina Primary: Florida lawsuit questions Sanders’ Democratic bona fides

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — In a state where elections and litigation are intertwined, add this to Florida’s ballot box saga: A pair of Floridians are asking a court to remove Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic front-runner for president, from the state’s March 17 primary ballot.

Although Sanders is registered as a Democrat with the Federal Election Commission, a lawsuit filed in Leon County asserts he is a political interloper and not a bona fide Democrat.

Sanders, who has spent three decades in the U.S. Capitol, first as a congressman and now as a senator representing Vermont, has steadfastly refused to formally identify as a Democrat, even if he caucuses with the party.

As he has solidified himself as the party front-runner, the Democratic establishment and some of the party faithful, including the two octogenarians behind the Florida lawsuit filed this week, have expressed doubt about whether Sanders will be loyal to the party, even if he does not end up being its standard bearer.

“Defendant Sanders is clearly an Independent, and is clearly not a Democrat, by his own definitions. His current ‘day job’ is as a United States Senator and he has consistently, proudly asserted his service in that role as Independent,” contends the suit filed on behalf of the two registered Democrats who want Sanders off the ballot.

They say Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, should run as an Independent.

“We’re aware of the spurious complaint and it will not affect us. Bernie will be on the ballot in Florida,”′ said Sanders spokesperson Kolby Lee.

Florida’s ballot box has been the source of continuing legal strife, with cases currently being litigated over the right of felons to vote, early voting on college campuses and even the order in which names appear on ballots.

With Sanders now the clear front-runner to become the Democratic nominee for the White House, his rivals are looking to slow his momentum.

Fellow presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg took aim at Sanders’ party bona fides.

“We have to wake up as a party,” Buttigieg said at last week’s debate in Nevada. “Lets put forward somebody who is actually a Democrat.”

Sanders has said he is functionally a Democrat in Congress, even if he hasn’t officially joined the party.

“I am a member of the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate,” he said at a CNN town early last year.

Last spring, Sanders and other Democratic hopefuls at the time signed a pledge that they would “run and serve as a member of the Democratic Party.”

That hardly satisfies George Brown, an 80-year-old former member of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, who was one of those who is suing to get Sanders off the Florida ballot.

“In our political climate today, Democrats need to have a voice,” Brown said.

“He’s eliminating my vote as a Democrat,” added the other plaintiff, Frank Bach, 82, a Korean War veteran who retired from the U.S. Air Force as an airman first class. “I’m very upset with the president we have right now.”

Last year, the state Democratic Party voted unanimously to place Sanders on the March 17 ballot.

Because Florida has a closed primary, the lawsuit contends, Sanders has no place on the Democratic ballot.

“The lawsuit is ridiculous,” said Juan Peñalosa, the executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, which was named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with Sanders, the national Democratic Party and Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee.

“Votes cast for the Senator are valid and must be counted,” he said.

Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.