Single-member districts threaten status quo



A few months ago, Alachua County residents who pay attention got to witness two of the many faces of then-County Commission Chair Ken Cornell. On September 27, Cornell was humble and polite while presenting funding requests to the county’s legislative delegation at Santa Fe College. During the county commission meeting the next day, Cornell was arrogant and dismissive of Senator Keith Perry’s suggestion of considering single-member districts for the county commission and of Representative Chuck Clemons’ idea of consolidating the City of Gainesville and Alachua County governments (3:17:14 in this video). The seemingly split personality shows the difference between his attitude when facing no opposition from the dais versus being a subject of those who control the purse strings. It also exposes the source of power of the increasingly authoritarian, intolerant utopians racing to fundamentally transform our community before the next election.

Perry’s introduction of the possibility of a local bill for single-member districts (now scheduled for discussion at the Alachua County Special Legislative Delegation Meeting on Tuesday) and Clemons’ suggestion of five single-member seats with two at-large seats were not entirely out of left field. Florida law is ambiguous on the election of county commissioners. The Florida Constitution (Art VIII, 1(e)) says there will be five or seven county commissioners, each “residing in each district… elected as provided by law.” The law (Statute 124.01) then specifies five county commission districts “as nearly equal in proportion to population as possible” with commissioners “elected by the qualified electors of the county, as provided by s. 1(e), Art. VIII of the State Constitution.” Useless, circular-referencing laws like these are why courts end up legislating.

Since “qualified electors” could be interpreted to mean single-member districts, Statute 124.011 was added to specifically address single-member representation. This is where the 5 + 2 idea comes from, although it is again ambiguous because (1)(b) says “The board of county commissioners shall be increased from five commissioners to seven commissioners,” but the statute later gives ballot language for both five- and seven-member commissions. It would be nice if state legislators could clean up the garbled mess that forms our state laws. Fortunately, they work slower and don’t have as much power over our daily lives as county commissioners do, as we sadly learned last year. That’s why the method of electing those commissioners is a big deal.

As soon as Cornell brought up Perry’s single-member suggestion, he laughed at the idea and then lied by saying “the Charter Commission has had extensive discussions about this idea.” There were no “extensive discussions.” When the Charter Review Commission met in January 2020, nearly 1 in 4 suggestions from county residents were on the topic of single-member districts (although there were many other topics), and a large number of people showed up for public comment when the proposed amendment for single-member districts was scheduled to be discussed. However, the Charter Review Commission did not even discuss the topic. Commission Member Joe Little made a motion to move the proposal forward, but Kristen Young immediately substituted a motion to remove the proposal from consideration. Ironically, multiple Commission Members claimed single-member districts are a form of voter suppression while prohibiting Alachua County residents from voting on the issue.

There is no shame from Cornell, a politician with the hypocrisy to complain about others not paying enough property taxes while taking full advantage of tax rules to cut his own taxes. It’s just like former School Board Chair Leanetta McNealy forcing kids and parents to wear masks while she goes maskless in a crowded O’Connell Center event.

Cornell tried to convince Alachua County citizens who feel unrepresented by current commissioners that the status quo is for their own good because they can vote for all five county commissioners instead of just one. He conveniently ignores the fact that having even one commissioner share their views and values would be an improvement over the current echo chamber that simply mirrors the Gainesville City Commission. Having all five commissioners elected at-large places the veneer of representative government on the iron-fisted rule of the majority. It allows the residents of the City of Gainesville (51% of the county’s population) to determine county policy while ignoring outlying areas that do not have a voice in county government.

During the 2020 Charter Review, proponents of the status quo argued that everyone in the entire county should vote for all the commissioners because the commissioners’ decisions impact the entire county. By that argument, the entire county should also vote for the City of Gainesville Commissioners, as well as county commissioners from surrounding counties, state representatives and senators from other districts, and U.S. representatives from other districts and other states.

The point of representative government is to have multiple voices representing multiple views and interests. Having all five commissioners elected by the same electorate does not ensure diversity of voices.

Speaking of diversity, Cornell couldn’t bring himself to play the race card, so he passed the buck to Commissioner Chuck Chestnut, who pushed stereotypes and contradicted the argument that single-member districts are a form of voter suppression.

Chestnut argued that single-member districts require “a large concentration of African-Americans or Hispanics or what have you, or Asians in an area to make single-member districts work. But you can’t do that in Alachua County.” He is likely misinterpreting the vote dilution provision of the 1973 Voting Rights Act, but he’s assuming people vote solely based on their skin color or ethnicity. Even if Chestnut’s stereotyping is correct, blacks are less than 21% of Alachua County, so how are their views represented by commissioners elected at-large? Arguably, if any single district has more than 21% black voters, then single-member districts will give them a stronger voice in county government.

In Federalist 10, James Madison specifically says the purpose of representative government is “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.” He specifically warned against forms of popular government that allow the “overbearing majority” to sacrifice “both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” He also wrote that “by enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representative too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests.” He said “a greater variety of parties” provides security “against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest.”

Madison could have been writing in favor of single-member districts in Alachua County. 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, even if it means mocking the state legislators that provide the grant money that funds their utopian fantasies (but only when they’re not in the room).

  • The only shocking thing in the gas lighting and venom from the D cadre is that they haven’t called advocates of the idea racist… yet.

  • So you think going to single member districts will allow gerrymandering such that one district will have a rural/conservative/Republican majority so they can elect “one of their own” to the County Commision to represent their Trumpian worship delusions?
    Draw a map of this district and post it, or STFU.
    You. Cannot. Do. It.

    A legal gerrymandered Republican majority district cannot be drawn.
    Alachua County has 193,342 voters. 51,164 are Republican. That is 26.5%. People who believe the failed Republican agenda are a MINORITY and do not get to elect a commissioner because “majority rules”. Federal Civil Rights law calls blacks and hispanics “protected minorities” but “Republicans” are not a protected minority. (They are just low information voters who cling to a failed agenda that the educated 3/4 of Alachua County voters will not buy.)

    Question 1: If the state law is ambiguous, why are you not insisting that Clemons/Perry fix the law FIRST before using a flawed law to screw up the Alachua BOCC?

    Question 2 If seven member districts are better, why is Clemons NOT proposing trying to impose the same on the other two counties in his district, Gilchrist and Dixie? If it is good for Alachua, it is good for them, too. Otherwise, this is just a mean spirited Trumpian vindictive slam against the liburl Democrats in Alachua County.. Would Chuckie do such a thing?????

    Question 3. Chestnut was just reelected with NO Republican opponent running against him. You Republicans whine whine whine “we can’t get a Republican elected” but of course you cannot get elected IF YOU DO NOT EVEN FIELD A CANDIDATE. Whose faut is that? Hint: not the Democrats.

    Regarding the false claim that there was huge “demand” for single member districts at the 2020 CRC, at least three of the proposals came from one Republican activist. There was no swell of huge numbers of folks wanting single member districts, just a handful of disgruntled friends of yours submitting multiple proposals. Deceive, lie, and repeat the lie to try to fool the people, it is what you Trumpians do. Hint: one reason Democrats will not vote for your candidates.

    • Maybe Clemons’ idea of consolidation of the GNV &
      The county commission isn’t such a bad idea…as it sits now,
      The city of GNV has too much say for the rest of the county and rural voters don’t have a voice in county government…that’s why single member districts are
      Needed, so the rest of the county isn’t controlled by
      The 51% of the population in GNV. Maybe carve up
      Parts of GNV and put it in Springs County might work.
      How about everything east of Main Street in GNV is in Alachua
      County and everything west of Main Street in GNV is
      In springs county…

    • R.Own.Dumb@rse is trolling again…

      What are you afraid of? Afraid of being annexed? Afraid of not being able to blow Poe? Afraid of Cornell playing cornhole with someone else?

      As far as activists’ influences go, that’s the only thing making policy in Gainesville and Alachua county. Sit down, shut up and go back to doing whatever it is that you actually do.

      You do that quite well… believing.

    • The gerrymandering started when Black districts were drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Over the decades that caused the flip side to happen, too: suburban districts (typically GOP, except in federal employee lalalands around DC).

    • Yo Len, just a reminder, we are still waiting for you to post your “rural” majority district map. How is it coming? Any estimate of when you will complete it? We can’t wait to see it.

    • Reminder for Len. We are still waiting for you to post that map of your proposed rural Republican Bircher fringe district. When can we expect to see your finest work?

      • Perhaps you should read the article, which doesn’t advocate for drawing any different districts at all, and the word “Republican” does not appear in the piece. If you want to have a discussion, it works better if you address the arguments in the piece instead of pretending it says something it doesn’t.

        • The folks screaming for single member districts are the same west Alachua County fringies claiming “our wants and needs are not being represented” boo hoo hoo. “Single member district” is buzz words for “we want a gerrymandered Republican conservative redneck district.” You know it, I know it, only you are in denial. Sad.

          All the current districts have a heavy Democrat majority. If existing districts are converted to single member voted districts, then why do it? Nothing will change. No Republican will be elected. The same commissioners as the present ones will be elected.

          Why are Clemons and co. pushing this if it is going to accomplish nothing? The only answer is that this is a Trumpian harassment and vindictive attack against Democrats. A ploy to force the Democrats to waste lots of time and effort to educate the voters that this is a Republican hate and spite move, which is all the Republicans are about any more. Sad.

  • Chuck let the truth out talking to TV-20. Clemons says “there is some disgruntled county residents who think that a single member district would be in the county’s best interest and certainly make them feel more in-tune with their elected leaders and they think that it would hold their elected leaders more accountable.”

    Nothing but a few disgruntled residents. Little Timmy and his fascist Band of Birchers. Plus a few fringies. Since when is five out of 193,342 voters a majority?

    • Well, one conservative telling the truth is better than the 12 progressive rapists and liars. That is unless you happen to enjoy whatever they shove up you know where.

      They rape the taxpayers and lie about why they keep doing it. Unfortunately there are many people as naive as yourself who continue to believe what they peddle.

      It must give you that warm fuzzy feeling to keep on believing.

  • The fundamental problem is incompatible world views. The liberals distrust human nature and believe everyone is better off under authoritarian control, while the libertarian/conservatives just want to be left alone to live their lives peacefully and be responsible for their own decisions.

  • We have been working and pushing for Single Member Districts in Alachua County for well over 10 years. I have chaired multiple PACs regarding getting the required amount of petitions collected so that we as citizens of Alachua County could bypass the BoCC and get the issue on the ballot. You would think it should be easy to obtain the required amount of petitions even if from just the registered Republicans in the county. Turns out people are hung up on the idea that they can vote for 5 instead of actually voting for a single person that could be more aligned with their beliefs. This approach will always assure that any conservative voice is relegated to “complainer” status. We have worked diligently to educate people on the topic and are slowly making progress. Then along comes Chuck Clemons and offers something that will cost the citizens even more money by expanding the BoCC by 2 more seats. Not sure if that additional cost for possibly 2 seats is worth thise 2 seats being outvoted 100% of the time. At least in a 5 seat scenerio the 2 seats that conservatives might win have a better chance of turning one of the remaining 3 in our favor

    • The cost is worth it if we get better government & representation…Clemons was an Alachua county commissioner…he knows what he’s talking about from

      • having been an Alachua County Commissioner does not qualify him as knowing what he is talking about. That would be equivalent to stating Cynthia Chestnut knows what she is talking about, or that Ken Cornell knows what he is talking about.

    • I find it surprising that you find it surprising that people like to vote for their own representatives. Choice one vote for all five of your reps. Choice two vote for three out of seven of your reps, meaning a majority of your reps, 4 out of 7, will always be elected by . Creating a “rural/conservative/Republican” gerrymandered district is a feel good exercise that does nothing except guarantee that every commission vote is 4 to 1 on every vote. The 4 vote Democrat majority still runs the county. And thank you for the three single member district proposals you submitted to the 2020 Charter Review Commission. The CRC considered them and decided they were bad for Alachua County and did not put them on the ballot.

      • I find it suprising that you are not advocating for the complete abolishment of representative districts… I mean why stop at voting for all 5 county commissioners? Why not be able to vote for the county commission of Marion County? How about we all get to vote for each of the state house reps regardless that they are “outside” of our district…. I would have loved to vote in all Florida district elections even though I am in District 21 and represented by Chuck Clemons… BTW if we had single member districts and used the current 5 districts, there would be no gerrymandering….. unless you believe that the current districts are gerrymandered? I mean what is more gerrymandered that not allowing the minority political voice a seat at the table?

        • If the current 5 districts are kept and converted to single member districts, then the same people will get elected. All current districts are Democrat majority, so no Republicans will get elected. Please tell us how you plan to guarantee that the BOCC will gerrymander a rural district to satisfy the whining country folks?

      • and it is at minimum disingenuous to claim that the CRC considered any of the submitted SMD proposals when the first thing they did was deny discussion.

  • Dem leaders’ biggest fear is more and more Black voters waking up, realizing their better interests align with the Republican voter-neighbors, too. More jobs, upward mobility, freedom, traditional families, etc etc etc. Escape from the Dem Plantation, if you’re allowed.

  • There is a fundamental error in the first paragraph – Alachua County didn’t make any funding requests at the September meeting. Setting up an inaccurate premise is not a good way to start an opinion piece.

    • Herr “Goebbels” Sexton is back.

      You are like most political cronies, somewhat correct but conveniently withhold the information you deem to be in your political personal self-preservation. He was polite, somewhat humble, (if one would ever consider Cornell humble to anything). Although he started by not specifically asking for funding for Alachua County, he did ask for support for a “couple smaller cities and our flagship universities.” However, it did not take long for him to devolve into requesting funding for broadband and NW 23 & NW 39th.

      Speaking of accuracy, one fundamental incident you continue to omit is what really happened with the Alachua County vehicle and how you managed to have an accident in it while on a trip to South Florida. Inquiring minds would love to know.

      • Ah, the irony. Someone using a fake name complaining about withholding information. Well done Mr. Truth.

        • Ah the redundancy of avoidance…

          To set the matter straight, I actually did not complain about withholding information. I just find it – what would you call it? Ironic…that a person who decides to express his displeasure about someone not providing all the information when the accuser himself, that would be you, so conveniently choose to exercise the same caution regarding the release of perhaps incriminating information.

          Whether it be suppression or denial, it is quite apparent something isn’t wanting to be let “into the sunshine.”

        • Mr. Sexton, what’s this about taking a county car out of its jurisdiction and getting into an accident in South Florida? Is this public information and can you post the police report in this comments’ section? This is public information and you are a
          Public information officer…can you tell us the truth? Was anyone injured? Can someone provide
          A link to the story?

        • Ok mark, let’s hear your story about what happened with the car…and be truthful.

  • Perhaps Mr. Cornell should have availed himself of the opportunity to have Mr. Sexton proofread his letter before submitting it, given its numerous grammatical errors.

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