Letter: Establishment politicians are spreading misinformation about single-member districts
November 1, 2022
No single issue in the history of Alachua County has probably ever inspired more rancorous debate than that of single-member districts, with the exception of the previous debates about single-member districts. You see, we’ve been here before.
In the early 1990s, a widely diverse group of people, from across Gainesville, fought to add single-member districts to the Gainesville City Commission. Now, a diverse group of people, across Alachua County, are fighting for single-member districts and fair representation.
A lot of misinformation is being spread by current and former establishment politicians of the Alachua County Commission. Why? Because they are jealously guarding their own political power, instead of doing what is right.
Here is a fact-check, to help you cut through some of the misinformation.
Establishment Myth 1:
Single-member districts will water down voters’ voices.
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Implementing single-member districts will amplify voters’ voices because it will bring their commissioners closer to the people they serve and will more properly cement the idea that people should truly be occupants of the districts in which they live.
This concept has been so lost on the progressive leadership that two county commissioners have recently been fined for false homestead exemptions. One resigned her seat in shame.
Establishment Myth 2:
With single-member districts, you are only allowed to talk to the commissioner from your district.
That’s just plain dishonest. It doesn’t work that way. Where single-member districts are practiced, you can still go to any county commissioner. If yours isn’t responding, you have the option of not voting for them (and your voice is amplified in that process), but you can also go to any other commissioner that might be sympathetic to your issue. They are obligated to listen.
Establishment Myth 3:
Single-member districts would prevent people of color from getting elected to the County Commission.
Up until 12 years ago, it was common to have two people of color on the county commission at the same time. As the county has become more progressive, it is becoming more difficult for blacks to compete against white liberals, county-wide.
Even then, the system of at-large voting allows white liberals to pick the candidates. As a result, the only people of color to sit on the county commission in 20 years have been two Chestnuts and one Long. Single-member districts would open opportunities for those NOT named Chestnut and Long.
Establishment Myth 4:
Single-member districts will cause horse-trading, instead of working together for the common good.
Despite the fact that they are using a loaded term like “horse trading,” this is a feature, not a bug. Single-member districts will force the county commission members to see things from others’ perspectives and compromise for the good of the entire community.
Their argument is that “group think” is better because progressives know what is best for us all.
Establishment Myth 5:
The NAACP doesn’t support single-member districts.
The NAACP actually does support single-member districts. In a 2018 resolution, they declared that at-large voting was discriminatory and that with single-member districts, the districts can be drawn to include minority access districts.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund also states that at-large voting is discriminatory and supports the cause for single-member districts in court cases around the country, even winning a case in favor of single-member districts as recently as 2019 in Alabama.
The local progressive leaders claim that blacks in Alachua County are too spread out. No more so than anywhere else, and yet, we still see black Democrats lose in at-large primaries to white liberals but actually take more votes IN THEIR DISTRICTS.
The local progressive leaders claim that Republicans will draw the districts. HOW!? Even with single-member districts, the Democrats will assuredly maintain control, but will likely be more reasonable… more moderate… and more diverse, ethnically and ideologically.
Establishment Myth 6:
This is about home rule. Local leaders and citizens should be deciding this.
What the legislature did was to give citizens the choice that had been denied by the county commission.
Twice, citizens have tried to get single-member districts in front of the voters, once through the charter review process and once through a citizen initiative. Both times, county commissioners blocked it. For the citizen initiative, citizens came with language that had already been vetted by attorneys, but, following the lead of commissioner comments, the county attorney inexplicably disqualified the language. The message was clear… citizens could try as many times as they wanted and the county commission would not allow a vote on this. What Keith Perry and Chuck Clemons did was right that wrong.
Right now, one area of the county can pick the commissioners for everybody. We may never again get an opportunity to make sure that all communities in Alachua County are represented and paid attention to.
Only single-member districts can do that.
Stafford Jones, Gainesville
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