Monday, 10 November 2014 00:00

At 81, She's Walking 330 Miles to Tallahassee

Written by  Billy Cox | Herald Tribune
Rhana Bazzini, 81, will march from Sarasota to Tallahassee in October to raise awareness of a national movement to address campaign finance reform via a constitutional amendment. Bazzini says she was inspired to walk after reading Doris Haddock's book, "Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year." Rhana Bazzini, 81, will march from Sarasota to Tallahassee in October to raise awareness of a national movement to address campaign finance reform via a constitutional amendment. Bazzini says she was inspired to walk after reading Doris Haddock's book, "Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year." STAFF PHOTO / DAN WAGNER
SARASOTA - Rhana Bazzini describes herself as a “flaming liberal” who, at 81, wants to amend the United States Constitution. But with a pair of sneakers and the support of a handful of local veterans, the spunky widow and cancer survivor is confident her march to Tallahassee will find a bipartisan wind at her back.

“Yes, I worry about the environment, and I worry about our veterans. I worry about education and the environment,” says the diminutive Long Island native. “But our government is dysfunctional, and we can't address any of these things realistically without fixing how we elect people.”

Therefore, sometime in October, and borrowing a page from the late campaign-finance reform activist Doris Haddock, Bazzini will hike 330 miles from her home in Sarasota to Florida's Capitol. The long-range goal is to get lawmakers to ratify a couple of simple points: 1) corporations are not people, and 2) money is not free speech.

Which is easier said than done. Because that would mean attempting to legislatively reverse two controversial U.S. Supreme Court decisions — Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission in April — which have opened the floodgates on election spending.

In an ABC/Washington Post opinion poll following the Citizens United verdict, 76 percent of Republican voters, 81 percent of independents and 85 percent of Democrats opposed unlimited campaign spending by corporations. The more recent McCutcheon decision, which erased aggregate contribution limits by individuals, triggered an analysis by consumer watchdog Public Citizen, which recently reported to Congress:

“A wealthy donor may contribute up to $3.6 million in an election cycle to the candidates and committees of a single party, and up to $5.9 million of officerholder leadership PACs are included in the calculation.”

Amending the Constitution, however, is a daunting process that requires the approval of 38 states, whose legislatures must approve the amendment with supermajorities.

Against these long odds comes Bazzini, Florida Studio Theater usher, retired massage therapist, retired Retail Jewelers Association of Connecticut lobbyist, hospital oncology department volunteer, and unofficial den mother to the “Florida Veterans for Common Sense.”

Claiming “I'm not a joiner — I didn't even like being in Girl Scouts,” Bazzini has nevertheless hopped off the fence and onto the political street “because I'm afraid we're losing our democracy.”

Aiming to complete a largely rural five-week journey to Tallahassee along highways 19 and 41 in the fall, Bazzini hopes to drum up grass-roots support for a 28th Amendment by meeting with small-town residents and persuading them to pressure their state representatives.

If she doesn't make it all the way?

“It would be the greatest promotion in the world,” she says, volunteering an imaginary headline. “Elderly Lady Collapses for a Cause.”

Condo manager Patti Wasil doubts a catastrophe is in the cards.

“Rhana's in the pool almost every day for an hour swimming laps,” Wasil says. “She's in great shape and I'm very excited about what she's doing. I want to put it in our newsletter.”

Mike Burns calls Bazzini “80 going on 25” and says, “She's absolutely doing the right thing. There's way too much money in politics and I think she's got this one by the teeth.”

A former POW in Vietnam, Burns is vice president of Florida Veterans for Common Sense and says he would like to see members help escort her to Tallahassee.

“Most of us just complain and go along with things,” he says. “Rhana's an inspiration.”

Bazzini questioned her motivation recently when her son Mike wondered if maybe her campaign was a way of postponing the grieving process from losing her husband, who died last July following a long illness. She conceded the possibility, but also credits Doris “Granny D” Haddock for planting the seeds.

In 1999-2000, from the ages of 88 and 90, Haddock walked 3,200 cross-country miles in support of previously failed efforts by Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold to eliminate “soft money” from elections.

Their bill eventually passed in 2002, but a key provision was nullified in the Citizens United case when the Supreme Court greenlighted unions and corporations to make independent expenditures and “electioneering communications.”

Haddock died two months after that decision at age 100.

Nevertheless, “she brought a lot of attention to the issue and I admired what she did,” Bazzini says.

For more contemporary perseverance, she cites Kindra Muntz of Venice, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, as “my guru.”

Against spirited opposition, Muntz's successful lobbying to replace Sarasota County's touchscreen voting machines with paper ballots and optical scanners looked prophetic during the vote-counting debacle for the Thirteenth Congressional District in 2006. The Florida legislature mandated paper ballots in 2008.

Today, Muntz heads the Sarasota chapter of “Move To Amend,” a national coalition campaigning for an Amendment “providing that the rights extended by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only.” She praises Bazzini's imminent contributions to that end.

“ 'We the people' has become 'we the corporation,' and Rhana has a great idea for putting this issue in front of people,” Muntz says. “If enough voters become aware of the facts, we can accomplish great things, and I'll support her any way I can.”

More than 500 municipalities and 16 states have passed non-binding resolutions calling for the Constitutional repudiation of personhood rights for corporations and unions, according to Move To Amend trackers.

“Young people are struggling and they don't have the time for this,” Bazzini says. “I've got the time, I've got the interest, and I've got the health. And it's up to my generation to leave this a better place.”

Link to the original article from Herald Tribune.

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