Most of us have been in a store at one time or another when a young child has thrown himself down on the floor, kicking and crying because his mother would not give him what he wants.
Certainly, the Sarasota County commissioners have exhibited their own form of such behavior since November 2018, when the Single-Member Districts Charter amendment won approval of nearly 60% of the county’s voters.
The members of the County Commission have made it extraordinarily clear that they detest the fact that voters now cast ballots for candidates for commission seats to serve their individual districts. Commissioners have framed that view in a wide variety of despicable, demeaning ways.
Perhaps the most insulting was Commissioner Alan Maio’s insistence that voters did not understand the ballot question in 2018. He implied that voters are very stupid. What he really meant was that he was appalled that voters would have the nerve — the nerve! — to take action that possibly could lead to the wresting of control of the county’s future from developers and other wealthy interests who care only about their literal political profit.
Lest anyone doubt the power that developers assert through campaign contributions, they should review the donations that Commissioners Michael Moran and Ron Cutsinger accepted during the November 2020 election cycle — and then review the two men’s voting records on developers’ applications since then.
Because the separately elected members of the Sarasota County Charter Review Board refused to take up the County Commission plea last year to put a repeal of Single-Member Districts on the ballot, the commissioners themselves took that action, setting a hasty March 8 referendum on the issue.
Voters must take this opportunity to declare, definitively, that they are not stupid, that they will not be bullied, and that they meant it when they cast ballots in November 2018 for the Single-Member Districts voting system. They must vote “No” on the question that the County Commission has placed on that March 8 ballot to repeal Single-Member Districts.
Kindra Muntz, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE) — the nonprofit organization that worked incredibly hard to get the Single-Member Districts Charter amendment before voters in 2018 — has been eloquent and firm in stating that countywide elections are prohibitively expensive. Enabling a candidate to seek support in just one district makes the trials of campaigning more financially feasible.
Even then, candidates who do not have the support of developers have to contend with a proliferation of propaganda paid for by the “dark money” of political action committees. As past candidates have pointed out, inflammatory mailings that use doctored images or distorted information to deceive voters still can wreak plenty of damage. These dark money PACs have made a reprehensible practice of damaging individuals’ reputations for the sake of getting their anointed candidates elected.
In 2020, in spite of the continuing challenge of running against developer donations, the implementation of the Single-Member Districts system brought out a new group of credible, qualified candidates for each of the three district seats on the ballot.
Single-Member Districts voting makes it possible for candidates who espouse different views than those held by many of the current commissioners, on a variety of issues, to actually have a chance to win board seats. Not everyone supports runaway residential growth in the rapidly disappearing “Old Florida” parts of the county, or thinks it is fine to let monied applicants who want to maximize returns on Airbnb rentals to build extra-large houses on the beach, or finds it a grand idea to allow an eight-story, 170-room hotel to go up on less than an acre slam up against three- and four-story condominiums where full-time Siesta Key homeowners live.
The county commissioners have tried out a number of catch phrases and manipulative anecdotes to sway people to their view that the Single-Member Districts system is bad for local government. Commissioner Nancy Detert even took the recent tactic of telling people she has grown weary of trying to protect them from themselves, poor benighted souls that they are.
Do the commissioners truly believe that we are so gullible that we will gobble up their assertions that a board made up of five representatives elected just by the people in those five districts cannot function? Even as children, we learned that the real art of politics is being able to work with others to achieve goals. It does take three votes on the County Commission to approve most agenda items, after all.
And just this week, Commissioner Christian Ziegler, the vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, sent out an email blast warning people about the “dishonest Democrats” in the county who are trying to trick voters into opposing the commissioners’ effort to overturn Single-Member Districts.
He urges supporters to help inform the many folks “looking for information about this election.” He means, of course, the county commissioners’ “information” about Single-Member Districts.
On March 8, we must vote again to prove to the county commissioners that the vast majority of citizens in Sarasota County are intelligent and informed by the truth about Single-Member Districts, not lapdogs ever eager to keep them happy.
Vote a resounding “NO” on the county’s proposed repeal and preserve Single-Member Districts.
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