The Case for Reform

Vote for Single Member Districts, Against the Big Money Machine

It’s time to give voice to the voters.

Today, all five Sarasota County commissioners are elected countywide. It takes big money to run countywide, for expensive mailers and more.

As a result, local development interests heavily bankroll their Commission candidates, using dark money political action committees and subsidiaries to avoid limits, packing our mailboxes daily with glossy fliers. Once elected, their commissioners frequently return the favor, giving the developers a major return on investment. They spend thousands to gain millions. They would not keep doing it if it didn’t work.

Grassroots candidates often run, as they are doing this year — Republicans as well as Democrats — but they face an uphill battle against the big money machine.

Is it any wonder that our traffic, neighborhoods, taxpayers and environment suffer from growth out of control, rather than balanced and sensible policies to protect us all? Examples abound: the Whole Foods wetland paving, reduction of hotel intensity limits on Siesta Key, advancing of density increases at congested Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, gutting of the Comprehensive Plan’s limits on developers, inadequate impact fees and unbalanced budgets and even two commissioners voting for concrete crushing next to the Celery Fields. It’s just not sustainable for our economy and quality of life.

So we have a solution.

This November you may see on your ballot a referendum to change County Commission elections to single-member districts. Thousands of citizens, from different parties and none, have signed petitions to get it there.

By this important reform, each commissioner will be elected only by the voters in his or her district. It will cut most campaign costs by 80 percent, quintuple the influence of neighborhoods and increase by five times the importance of door-to-door campaigning and other personal contacts. For a change, the politicians must get to know the voters in their district and pay attention to them.

Commissioners, more than today, will be beholden to their constituents rather than their contributors.

Each district will have a dedicated advocate, in the south, north, east and west, as the commissioners work together for the common good. No longer will we have a situation, as has often occurred, where people in part of the county have no viable voice. And in the overwhelming majority of decisions that are of countywide impact, the popular will is much more likely to prevail.

Single member districts are nothing new: All the larger counties in Florida use single member districts in whole or in part. Sarasota County is one of the larger counties and deserves to be upgraded and modernized to join the rest. We elect our state legislators in single member districts. Sarasota County has become so populous that County Commission districts are almost as large as legislative districts. It’s time for a change.

Development interests believe their dominance to be threatened by this reform. As such, they will be fighting back hard, calling in their allies and spending big bucks to defeat it. Already, the president and executive director of the Argus Foundation, a pro-developer lobby, are working against it, trotting out specious arguments but avoiding the key point: Their control of County Commission elections is at risk. They warn of ward politics but it’s big money boss politics that they seek to protect.

They label this effort as partisan, although people of all political parties support it. The referendum sponsor, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, is a nonpartisan organization with a bipartisan board. We want everyone eligible to vote and everyone’s vote to count as cast.

As Jack Cox, Argus president and building contractor, observed in a recent Herald-Tribune column, Sarasota County had single-member districts for two years in the early 1990s until it was repealed. What he doesn’t tell you is that it was put on the ballot (as today) by citizen petitions. A commissioner independent of the developers was elected by support on Siesta Key and the development interests reacted by getting the County Commission to put repeal on the ballot, which they then spent heavily to support. The reform worked then and it will work again if the voters put it back in our charter.

Cox warns of “inferior candidates” being elected under single member districts. What he fears are candidates less subject to the bosses’ control.

Our Founding Fathers wanted to establish a government that was close to the people. This is a good way to do it.

It will be a long ballot in November. But one of the most important votes, crucial to your quality of life and that of generations to come, may be near the end.

Please look for it, disregard the well-funded attacks of the big money machine, and vote “yes” for integrity in local elections, “yes” to change County Commission elections to single-member districts.

The voters deserve their voice.

As published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune
June 3, 2018

Who is supporting the amendment?

Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike are voting YES for single member districts.

Our supporters include:

Control Growth Now

Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections

Sierra Club

On November 6th, help take big money out of politics and return power to the neighborhood level by voting YES on the Sarasota County charter amendment on single member districts.