A few highlights of the discussion of the state legislature's debacle and its impact upon local government, held by CONA on May 11, 2015. The speakers were Sarasota Commissioner Charles Hines and former Florida State Rep Keith Fitzgerald, and the discussion was moderated by Bill Zoller.
Amendment 1: Both Hines and Fitzgerald agreed that they doubted the special session called to resolve the budget gap would even address Amendment 1.
|l. to r.: Hines, Fitzgerald, Zoller|
The State government, now a one-party entity, does the bidding of developers, he continued. For example, the State removed regional review of large developments (DRIs), eviscerating the development review system. This lets large scale development off the hook. If governmental protection of quality of life is toothless, developers no longer need to be responsive to the aesthetics, environmental values, and infrastructure needs of the population.
Development deregulation: "DRI is gone - up to local government to manage the process," said Hines, adding that he was "not sure whether legislature will even deal with Amendment 1 in the special session."
Fitzgerald: "We know developments aren’t going to pay for themselves -- even if you don’t care about environment or aesthetics. The County Commission has no backstop -- it would help to have some regional support."
Significant issues that the State will probably not tackle in Special Session:
Hines - The Legislature will not get to address:
Fitzgerald agreed that Amendment 1 and Medical Marijuana would not be addressed. Also, he added
- High-speed rail
- "We need a statewide plan for sea level rise - we have none."
Both said there are significant healthcare issues that should be on the table in Tallahassee, but won't be.
Fitzgerald, who teaches Political Science at New College, then offered his take on how it is possible for a state legislature to act like a tinpot potentate on crack (he didn't exactly put it that way):
"We have one-party government in the state of Florida, because the vast majority of legislators are in districts that are not electorally competitive - they don’t answer to anybody," he said.
In addition, Fitzgerald sees "systematic corruption from gerrymandering" that skews votes so that elections are no longer elections, but safe bets.
"Neither party has politicians responsible to the electorate," he said, adding that "to begin to set things right would require serious campaign finance reform."
But how get even that, if the legislature is locked up by a cabal that has rigged the system?
Bill Zoller threw out an idea. How about a Charter Amendment in Sarasota County that would require Open Primaries? That is, every voter in Sarasota could vote for the candidate of their choice in primaries. Candidates would still have party labels, but all parties, including independents, would be able to vote in all primaries in Sarasota County.
There are plenty of places around the country where elections are structured as open primaries, said Fitzgerald. Such a move, he added, "would change politics fundamentally in Sarasota."