Change The Date Would Create Contrived Primary

Guest Correspondence


There are lots of implications to the City’s November referendum on the amendment that seeks to move City elections to August and November. Over $90,000 has been donated by the Argus Foundation, the Chamber of Commerce, Gulf Coast Builders Exchange (GCBX) and other business interests to affect this change. Christian Zeigler and Mary Anne Grgic (who works for Neal Communities) are the primary consultants for the PACs working for to change the date for City elections. The amendment creates elections logistics that serve big money candidates. Proponents say they want to increase minority voter turnout, but could they have another agenda?

The amendment would change City elections from a March election with a potential May run-off to a contrived August primary election with a mandatory November election. Right now, city elections are nonpartisan and don't require primaries. If a candidate wins a majority in the first election, the candidate wins. The second runoff election, while typical, is not required. This amendment eliminates the opportunity for a majority win in the August election, creating an unnecessary primary in a nonpartisan race.

A local example of a nonpartisan race in August is the School Board. Jane Goodwin just ran against three opponents and got more than 50 percent of the vote, so she won. If this Argus/Chamber/GCBX funded amendment passes, a City Commission candidate could get 80 percent or more of the vote in August and still have to run against a runner up in November. This phony primary ensures a November election when partisanship, dark money and special interest money is most potent. Such election logistics favor anointed candidates funded by developers like Randy Benderson, Pat Neal and Carlos Beruff. Lobbyist organizations funding this amendment (Argus, the Chamber, GCBX) are aligned with the same big developers.

The August/November timing for County Commission races have made it very difficult for grassroots candidates to win. In addition, the County Commission has been ruled by one party—the GOP—for the last 50 years.

Independents and third party voters are disadvantaged by holding nonpartisan races in August because many assume August elections are closed primaries for Democrats or Republicans. In Sarasota, August elections favor Republican turnout. Could that be the demographic proponents are truly looking to serve?

The ACLU of Florida has given $15,000 to support the election move, but City residents may find Florida ACLU President Michael Barfield’s actions at odds with their values. Barfield’s recent lawsuit against school board candidates Jane Goodwin and Shirley Brown was dismissed at the request of Transparency for Florida board members. Their sworn affidavit describes a series of actions by Mr. Barfield, which intimidated the board members, made them fearful and co-opted the organization for unknown reasons. Given Mr. Barfield’s recent legal actions against political candidates, voters may be wise to pause before putting their faith in his leadership of the ACLU of Florida.

Big money interests already work against grassroots candidates in City elections. Let’s not make it easier for them. Vote NO on moving City elections.

Cathy Antunes is host of The Detail on WSLR.

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