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Single-member districts encourage debate

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

In the October 11th Alachua County Commission meeting, Commissioner Ken Cornell once again got to demonstrate that we don’t live under hypocrisy, but hierarchy. He campaigned against the single-member district ballot initiative from the dais, in the middle of County business. That action would be illegal for any County employee according to Florida Statute 104.31, which essentially prohibits campaigning while on duty. Cornell, however, can do this because the statute conveniently excludes elected officials from section (1)(a):

“(1) No officer or employee of the state, or of any county or municipality thereof… shall: (a) Use his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election or… influencing another person’s vote or affecting the result thereof.”

While Cornell has the freedom as an elected official to speak his mind, his judgment in doing it in a County Commission meeting is questionable because it leads to a public impression that the County is taking sides on the referendum. Worse, Cornell’s comments were untrue. I’d say they were a blatant lie, but he’d have to know the statements were not true, and he may actually believe the falsehoods coming out of his mouth. Cornell said, “Right now you have five of us that you can call. If this is passed, if you vote yes, then only one of us will represent you.” (Search the transcript for “campaign trail” to get to the start of Cornell’s comments.)

Cornell implied that Alachua County residents will not be able to talk to commissioners from other districts if the referendum passes.

Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn immediately corrected Cornell’s statement: “I don’t see anything written anywhere regarding this ballot initiative that if I’m representing District 1, that somebody in District 5 can’t call me or set up a meeting to talk to me at the County Commission office.”

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This is true for all elected officials who represent single-member districts, including state representatives, state senators, U.S. representatives, U.S. senators, etc. You can always contact senators and representatives from other districts, either to show support and encouragement when they agree with you or to argue against them when they disagree. In Alachua County, for example, it’s common for Democrats to ask Rep. Yvonne Hinson to champion desired legislation, while Republicans usually turn to Rep. Chuck Clemons, regardless of where they live. Similarly, if the referendum passes, residents of Alachua County will be able to go to any County Commissioner they believe would be sympathetic to their requests, just as they do now.

In December of last year, I wrote a thorough column discussing the concept of single-member districts. I reviewed the Florida statutes and State Constitution, the history of the County’s bogus Charter Review Commission, and the views of James Madison, the author of the U.S. Constitution.

From that column: “The point of representative government is to have multiple voices representing multiple views and interests.” Clearly, all the talk from Progressives about equity and diversity only applies when it helps those in power to retain or enhance their power. They have no desire to increase the diversity of opinion on the commission.

Also from that column: “Having all five commissioners elected at-large places the veneer of representative government on the iron-fisted rule of the majority.” This is not a partisan issue. Dan Richman’s letter to the editor made the same case last week from a Progressive viewpoint.

Although he may not know this, Commissioner Cornell would never have been elected to represent District 4 in 2014 if Alachua County had single-member districts at the time–or maybe he does know this, and that’s why he is actively campaigning against the referendum. He won his 2014 Democratic primary against Kevin Thorpe by 638 votes, 52% to 48%. However, if only votes from District 4 were counted, Cornell would have lost, 38% to 62% (1,091 votes). (If you want to reproduce these numbers, you have to use the 2012 district map and 2014 primary election results. I used all precincts included in District 4, even those that split with other districts. Using only precincts that are exclusively in District 4 changes the result slightly: 35% to 65% (991 votes), but Cornell would still have lost decisively. The way the election results are posted, there is no way to break out votes by county districts.)

That’s some sweet irony because last year Cornell got Commissioner Chuck Chestnut to make a racial case for at-large voting. According to the 2014 election results, the current system of at-large voting resulted in Cornell’s defeat of a black candidate who was heavily favored in his district.

As I wrote last year: “Cornell, Chestnut, and the rest of the ruling majority of Alachua County recognize that single-member districts will take power away from them, so they must fight it at all costs.”

Note that none of my arguments for single-member districts, in the original column or in this one, are partisan in any way. I’m not talking about political party representation. I’m not even arguing that single-member districts will change any of the actions of the County Commission. The point is to have commissioners represent their actual districts, not the county as a whole. It will change the way they campaign and the way they vote on the commission. We need five commissioners elected by five different electorates, not five commissioners elected by the same electorate. Single-member districts should also apply to school board members, but the 2022 ballot initiative only applies to the county commission.

Note also that my arguments are not against Ken Cornell personally but against what he has publicly stated as a County Commissioner. I’m not saying that he should not be allowed to voice his opinion on single-member districts (although he shouldn’t in his official capacity during a Commission meeting). I’m not saying that he should be canceled or not allowed to run for office.

Cornell is advertising his campaign on Alachua Chronicle. That is a paid advertisement, not an endorsement, and despite what some people write in the comment section, our advertisers do not buy our opinions or tell us what news to report. In fact, people who oppose Cornell criticized us for accepting the ad. We created Alachua Chronicle to “keep the public informed and provide the transparency that keeps governments accountable” because “governments do not control themselves without well-informed, active citizens.”

People can coexist even when they disagree, as long as there is reasonable debate. Single-member districts will increase the likelihood of electing commissioners with different viewpoints and will force those commissioners to engage in debate rather than echo each other’s thoughts before taking unanimous votes.

  • Well put. Very concise, well articulated, informative and as you described, unbiased reasoning in support for single-member districts.

    It’s unfortunate the Gainesville Sun would never print a piece such as this. Even more unfortunate is that people will vote against single-member districts for no other reason than it is what their masters have instructed them to do. Rodney Long pretty much made that admission when he admitted he favored them before but now he does not.

    You would think Cornell would use his soapbox to convey a more truthful and beneficial message to the residents rather than just using it to make himself appear taller.

  • This was a great article. I just hope people listen and vote FOR single member districts!!!

  • I voted NO on single member districts because if it passes then republicans will get elected to the commission and I don’t want that to happen because Republicans are fascists. Alachua County belongs to the Democrats and its going to stay that way. Democrats have a supermajority here in Alachua County and there’s no way the single member districts measure is going to pass.

    • Alachua County is 49% Dem, 25% GOP, 26% Independent.

      Dems should have a majority. But all 5 seats?

      You’re either REALLY dumb, or you’re a troll. Maybe both?

    • You’re one of THOSE people.

      You probably don’t mind the high taxes and GRU rates since your mommy and daddy probably pay them for you.

    • Fascism was credited with being first instituted in Italy by Mussolini. The idea was for him to control all the businesses through fear, intimidation, and force. It also intertwined an over the top superiority of others often described and deployed through racism and nationalism. How are you equating this to Republicans exactly? Seems a bit of a stretch…

      • Great point Tim.
        And great article Len.
        Wake up people, you’re being controlled.

    • This is a great article and Zeke, you’re an idiot. Fascists, huh? Cornell was the fascist with the wearing of the mask and extending the C19 BS…

    • Yours is the comment of cancel culture and you cannot be taken seriously! Anyone who disagrees with your perspective is a racist, homophobic, Trumper, MAGA Extremist! Americans simply are not that way, there are left and right extremists and if you do some reading (not just Google or Yahoo) you will learn that!

      Hands across the aisle (bipartisanship) will only take place when everyone feels represented and valued. The current AC BOCC (at least 4 of the 5) is only interested in telling us what we want to here in order to maintain power and then it will be back to business as usual after 8 Nov 22. I guess if you already drive a bicycle, you really don’t care about road conditions, nor do you worry about the closest fire station or police precinct if you don’t pay property tax or have a family who depends on you (and you on fire and rescue, EMS, and police) for safety!

    • Hypocrite alert. You sound like a fascist. I hope that one day yourself and those like you can learn to accept those intellectually different from yourself and oust your intolerance. It truly is a disgusting site to behold. 🤮

  • We need fresh faces and voices, not the same withering old cronies who can’t even be honest about where they live. Having actual representation on the commission will make it harder to ignore dissenting voices from the community and lead to more compromise instead of dictatorial behavior like we have now.

  • Mini Kenny is useless meaningful accomplishments and allowed Mary McFraud Alford to be paid while not living on the correct district. Isn’t that stealing from the taxpayers?

    • Good golly Wally. Cornell has NO control over Alford being paid or elected. Don’t be stupid.

  • Who ever organized the campaign in favor of single districts is inept. Chuck Clemons should be embarrassed by this racist campaign of dirty tricks.

    • I agree 100%, this is just plain dirty politics from a group determined to maintain power no matter what depths they must stoop to! This was a Democratic effort just as easily as a Republican effort! Happens all the time! Smear your opponent, the political plan of the 20s!

    • Another knucklehead comes out.

      Not everyone enjoys being told what they can and can’t do with the property they own. Not everyone enjoys having some college kids who don’t want to be responsible for their debt determining if a crosswalk needs should be painted the colors of a rainbow. Not everyone is afraid of having an input into the decisions affecting the neighborhoods they live. Not everyone wants to be dependent on government subsidies.

      You may want to recognize the truth and join those of us who have.

    • Truth? Please explain to us the racism in placing this before the voting public?

  • Cornell is a realtor who sells houses in the westside traffic clogged county, but lives way east in Melrose, where he prohibits development near his tranquil lakefront. Career politician wannabe.

  • I am not sure there has been a more terribly managed campaign in Alachua’s history. In a red wave year this should pass easily, but it will fail miserably.

    • I fear you may be correct. That tends to give credence that the liberal media controls 98% of the dialogue that makes it to the public.

      We know in liberal majority Alachua County, leadership and it’s ability to spread false propaganda to maintain their control, will not stop until all residents are brought under their control.

    • Who organized the pro campaign? Terrible, just terrible. ‘Owning the libs’ just might have been the dumbest.

  • I attended a commission meeting early in the summer where their own lobbyist in Tallahassee explicitly told the commissioners that they may NOT campaign against this issue as sitting commissioners. I don’t know the statute he was referring to, but it was made clear to the commission at that time.

  • There is a rotating ad on this site saying vote For the single member districts. It is listed as being paid for by someone out of Tallahassee called “Leading for Our Future”. A Google search shows no PAC registered in this name. It would be a public service for the Chronicle to investigate and inform the public who is funding this ad.

    • Sounds like disinformation a.k.a. Democrat lies. We don’t need Lil Kenny to be our plantation master or whatever he thinks he is. Same for the ugly witches.

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