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Letter: Establishment politicians are spreading misinformation about single-member districts

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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Fact:

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.

Fact:

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.

Fact:

Four years ago, a black pastor beat Ken Cornell in his district by 24 points but lost the primary county-wide by 4 points. If we’d had single-member districts, there would be two people of color on the county commission now.

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.

Fact:

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.

Fact:

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.

https://naacp.org/resources/make-right-vote-fundamental-right

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.

https://www.naacpldf.org/wp-content/uploads/At-Large-Voting-Frequently-Asked-Questions-1.pdf

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.

Fact:

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

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters may be submitted to info@alachuachronicle.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.

  • Thanks for clarifying and pointing out the facts from the myths. It contradicts the local rag and the politically biased opinions they have printed of late. That’s what the “establishment” doesn’t want people to know.

    Hopefully people will read and actually comprehend what is clearly stated.

    Unfortunately, given past decisions of the voting public, it’s doubtful their comprehension is any clearer than the waters of either the Santa Fe or Suwannee Rivers.

    I might suggest a correction so you won’t be blamed of the same political bias. I do not believe Mary Alford resigned for shame, she resigned because it was the right thing to do.

    • Alford resigned because she had no choice. Had she not done so she could have been removed by the governor as happened with school board member Diyonne McGraw who also had residency issues i.e. did not live in the district from which elected. Unfortunately McGraw has already won reelection to her seat after her district was redrawn to include her residence and due to open voting.

      I don’t buy the “right thing to do” for Alford. She cheated on homestead and cheated on residency. Someone like that who lacks honesty and integrity doesn’t know the “right thing to do.”

  • You have done a fantastic job of telling the facts about why we all should vote for single districts now just hope the voters have enough sense to vote for it

  • Again, another great article. Just need to show up and vote FOR single member districts. When you have a truly diverse group, you must work TOGETHER to reach common ground. Common ground that’s good for ALL tax payers. And when people say, “You’ll not have a voice or you can’t speak to any other Commissioner’s” that’s just ridiculous. Anyone who’s ever been involved in the political process knows you speak to all Elected officials, no matter the party or district they represent.

  • Comments that simply state “These are lies” or imply that they must be lies because a PAC paid for the campaign will not be approved. If you disagree with the information in the letter, be specific and present your counter-argument.

  • Excellent information and time to share this boldly so we can get the best representation possible. Thanks, Stafford.

  • The statement that “If yours (i.e. the Commissioner from your district) isn’t responding, you have the option of not voting for them” is obvious,but misses the major point about how change to single member district would reduce representation and accountability by eliminating each citizen’s ability to hold all five Commissioners accountable at the polls as they can under current countywide,at large system: Under single member system you will be able to vote for only the commissioner from your district and just once every 4 years,and will no longer be able to hold the other 4 commissioners (80% of the Board) accountable at the polls.

    • That is not true. Single-member districts will increase the opportunity for people within the district to replace commissioners that aren’t responding to them or voting their values.

      Once that happens, you break apart the group-think mentality and commissioners from the various districts will be forced to see other’s perspectives and work together. Aside from a current governor appointee, there has been only one real perspective, for year, on the Alachua County Commission that doesn’t reflect the diversity of the county, as a whole.

  • I really enjoyed this article and have referred to it several times. Thank you Stafford for taking the time to write it!

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