From Susan Chapman, published in SRQ
Having followed the “Change the Date” referendum since I was first approached by paid signature collectors, I have observed that the supporters of this ballot measure characterize it as increasing turnout in the November election. The flyers, the robo-calls, the speeches, the letters and the columns NEVER mention the August election, which has notoriously poor turnout, and which is notoriously partisan due to the closed primary.
As a supporter of nonpartisan local elections, I am offended and repelled by these deceptive tactics. In fact, I wonder if this is not really about voter turn-out but, rather, about special interest control of the election process.
Much has been written about the funding for this initiative, which comes from groups that support fewer regulations on developers. Indeed, the real divide in this City is not political party. It is between groups that favor few regulations on developers and groups that favor regulation that enhances livability and predictability of development. Often, it is said to be developers versus the neighborhoods, or the pejorative, NIMBY.
In the past, City elections have favored grassroots candidates who develop community support through civic activism and service on voluntary city advisory boards. Those are candidates who walk neighborhoods and participate in numerous candidate forums to meet voters and to win their support. Often, candidates have served as neighborhood leaders before seeking election to the City Commission. As City elections become more partisan, the focus becomes party loyalty and campaign contributions.
Sarasota County has partisan elections. It is common for the candidates, notably Republican candidates, to rely upon obscene amounts of bundled contributions from development interests. When development issues come before the County Commission, hundreds of citizens appear in hopes that their concerns are heard, only to be met with deaf ears. These developer candidates do not attend candidate forums. They do not need to do so. The payback is with their votes on development issues. The same groups that support the non-responsive County candidates are funding the “Change the Date” initiative.
Despite my concern about the loss of nonpartisan elections, I am grateful to the Democratic Party. Without the opposition of the Democratic Party to this takeover of City elections, there would be no opposition at all.
Citizens are more and more concerned that our City is over-developed. Do not be fooled.
“Change the Date” is really a takeover attempt by developers. Vote “No” to stop it.
Susan Chapman served on the All-America City Team in 2006, as chair of the Sarasota County Civic League, the Coalition of City Neighborhoods, the Hudson Bayou Neighborhood Association, and the City Planning Board.