Did One STOP! Steal Another's Branding

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY SEP 27, 2018

A new movement against single-member Sarasota County Commission districts has a long-standing civic organization in Sarasota concerned its message and branding have been wrongly co-opted.

The STOP Coalition in Sarasota, better known as STOP!, says the new political committee STOP! Stealing Out Votes just stole their name. After STOP! Stealing Our Votes posted a new Facebook page and messaging alleging big developers want single-member districts, STOP Coalition steering board member Kate Lowman said the new group intentionally muddled conversation. 

“Anyone looking at the “Stop! Stealing Our Votes” Facebook site would readily assume it is a STOP! website,” Lowman said, “but they would be wrong.” 

Lowman said the use of “stop” in all caps with an exclamation point, along with the use of red colors in the messaging, appeared a clear impersonation. Already, the STOP Coalition received one email from someone asking if the new website was the work of the older group.

Officials with the new group say the hope would be the older group felt kinship, not animosity, toward a new organization in town. “We would hope that the Stop Coalition would join with Stop Stealing Our Votes to protect the rights of voters,” said Russ Bobbitt, chairman of STOP! Stealing Our Votes.

And other groups opposed to single-member districts said the notion anyone owned the word ’stop’ should not be taken seriously, much less the color red. 

“I would hope that's a universally recognized color for stopping,” said Jack Brill, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota. “This is happening because that group (the STOP Coalition) is for single-member districts and they will do anything they can to drum up publicity. This is a desperate move on their part.”

A switch to single-member districts would mean voters could only vote for their own district representative on the county commission. Right now, all five county commissioners, while required to live in their district, get elected countywide. Supporters of single-member district say the change with allow more diverse representation, a focus on their geographic constituency and cheaper political campaigns. Supporters of the existing system say such a switch would suppress voter participation and reduce ever voter’s electoral power to elect all five members of the commission.

Dan Lobeck, a supporter of single-member districts, says more than the use of STOP! branding, he’s upset that the new group would conflate a switch with pro-development interests. The STOP Coalition is Sarasota supports stronger controls on growth, like replacing administrative approvals at the city with public hearings. Lobeck says single-member districts would actually reduce the influence of big donors like developers. 

“Because a county-wide campaign for County Commission is so very expensive, for many years the candidates bankrolled by the big development interests have always won,” he said. “Candidates who do not receive their massive funding just can’t compete effectively in reaching voters from the Airport to North Port.”

Bobbitt declined to discuss the group’s message in detail. STOP! Stealing Our Votes’ Facebook page states: “Big developers are pushing the Single-Member District Amendment to divide and conquer our County Commission. We must stop this uncontrolled growth.”

Brill acknowledged the term “stealing our votes” may overstate things and said the party would do its own campaigning against the proposal. But he says suggesting the little guy gets helped by single-member districts simply isn’t true. “This will change the cohesiveness of county commissioners to instead only taking care of the constituents and needs of one district in the county,” he said. “It’s a terribly thing that is being brought in front of the voters.”

Regardless Lowman says she knows there' no likely legal remedy, especially before the general election, but the STOP Coalition has asked Facebook to look if the ads qualify as false identity use, and she's stressed her group does not oppose single-member districts or agree with the STOP! Stealing Our Votes' message.

Sarasota County voters will vote on single-member districts in the Nov. 6 general election.

Graphic: STOP Coalition messaging (left); STOP! Stealing Our Votes messaging (right).

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