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Cornell sends letter to Senator Perry, opposing single-member districts

Rep Hinson and Senator Perry at the September 27 Legislative Delegation meeting

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Following a unanimous vote today by the Alachua County Commission to oppose a proposal for single-member districts that will be discussed at tomorrow’s Special Legislative Delegation meeting, County Commissioner Ken Cornell sent an official letter to Senator Keith Perry, suggesting that State Representative Chuck Clemons is only proposing the ballot initiative because he wants to be a county commissioner.

Cornell’s letter calls the local bill a “political assault on the Alachua County Home-Rule Charter and our citizens.” He also claims that single-member districts would “reduce each citizen’s representation and voice.” Alachua Chronicle published Len Cabrera’s opinion piece discussing that argument today; it can be found here.

Cornell states that at-large commissioners “focus on the good of the County as a whole and are not constantly fighting for scraps to bring home to their districts.” Cornell goes on to write, “The motivation is clear, Rep. Clemons’ local bill is a thinly veiled attempt to create a single-member gerrymandered County Commission district in 2024, so that he or another candidate from the small but vocal portion of his base can win a commission seat in Alachua County.” Cornell neglects to mention that the county commission will draw the districts, not Clemons and not the legislature, and he states, “Single-member districts are nothing more than an attempt to gerrymander a district that would ensure a far-right conservative is elected.”

Cornell then directly accuses Clemons of supporting the local bill so he can run for county commission: “Many Representatives choose to run for County Commission seats after their terms expire in the state legislature… Rep. Clemons’ term expires in 2024.”

Cornell calls the local bill a “political assault” a second time and says it “is a dangerous attempt to interfere in the governance of one of Florida’s 20 Home-Rule Charter Counties.” He says it is “patently false” that people in the small cities have no representation and that the reason there are no conservatives on the Gainesville City Commission or Alachua County Commission is “they don’t want to do the work to get their candidates elected… When this group says ‘can’t,’ they mean ‘won’t,’ as in they won’t do the hard work to get their candidates elected.”

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The local bill simply puts the initiative on the ballot for voters to approve or not, and Cornell says, “we feel sure voters will reject this political power grab,” but “it will require a long and time-consuming education campaign to counter the misinformation that will surely follow if this bill passes. This bill will be an energy-sucking distraction from the important projects the County Commission has underway.”

Cornell then lists a number of recent projects undertaken by the county commission. (The full letter can be read here.)

Cornell’s letter concludes, “We suggest that, instead of this blatant attempt to play politics with the Alachua County Home-Rule Charter, to the benefit of him or another candidate, that Rep. Clemons instead focus on the many challenges in State Government that need his attention.”

In response, Clemons sent us the following statement: “It is presumptuous for Commissioner Cornell to think that he has insight on the intent for the filing of this local bill. His statements border on the absurd. First, I am just voicing what Alachua County residents have expressed repeatedly. Citizens feel they are not being represented. If this is to be passed it will be up to the voters to decide. What is Commissioner Cornell afraid of? Second, although intrigued by his fictional scenario, I have no interest in running for County Commissioner when my term is completed.”

Cornell’s letter says Clemons won his District 21 seat “thanks to the partisan gerrymandering,” but District 21 had 5,849 more registered Democrats than Republicans in 2020 (51,148 Democrats, 45,299 Republicans, 26,542 with No Party Affiliation, and 1,666 from other parties). Clemons’ “slim” margin of victory was 2,066 votes.

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