Local elections offer hope and heartache

by James Thompson

With heavy focus on Trump’s defeat and control of the Senate in the balance as of this writing, let’s not forget that all politics are local. And local politics can be just as joyous and gut-wrenching as anything the nation has to offer. 

Hope for a better Alachua County and Gainesville metro area springs higher from the successful passing of all eleven progressive local ballot items by public referendum. And we have excellent new County Commissioners in Anna Prizzia and Mary Alford. The bad news is Dr. Kayser Enneking bravely, but unsuccessfully ran against the incumbent Republican Chuck Clemons for Florida House District 21.

Ballot referendums are the most direct form of democracy and our community did well passing all of them. The two most impactful are the County’s anti-sprawl Growth Management Area (GMA) charter amendment, and the City of Gainesville’s charter amendment changing the Hogtown Greenway into a more usable recreation and conservation area. 

The Greenway item is basically a “right to pave” issue, and it’s hard to explain the difference between wise use bike-ped paving and building sprawling streets. Thankfully the voters were smart and Gainesville will have a real greenway like other great cities. 

The GMA is a little more complicated. It barely passed, and it sealed a local alliance between property rights libertarians, corporate developers, and proponents of segregated suburban sprawl. This item leaves land use governance in the hands of the County for regional environmental and tax-structure planning, even after a municipality has annexed the land. Say this out loud seven times to put a voter to sleep. And yet, this is without doubt the most important amendment we passed regarding taxing and public school building equity, as well as environmental controls. 

The GMA won with support from the City of Gainesville in a 6-0 vote, and a low-budget earned media campaign highlighted by a Gainesville Sun endorsement. The money side of the YES campaign on this issue was bundled in with the other ten local items on a winning budget of less than $5000 from citizen donors. Meanwhile, more than a dozen developer, real estate, site engineering, and property management corporations shoveled a whopping $33,000 into the NO campaign. The vote went to recount, and we won. 

People power still reigns over money power in Alachua County. 

With hope there comes heartache. We failed to put Dr. Kayser Enneking into the seat occupied by corporate-sponsored Republican Chuck Clemons in Florida House District 21. This will have great repercussions across Florida as Clemons will continue to push through anti-worker and anti-environment bills in the House that were written across the street by State Senator Keith Perry (R-District 8). 

So why did Enneking lose? Local electioneers mumbled about the Enneking campaign’s failure to do walking literature drops and set up physical events, but the UF anesthesiologist was hemmed in by the ethics of her profession here. 

It was also hard to distinguish why voters in a conservatively gerrymandered district should abandon Clemons, when his handlers led one of the slickest campaigns in local Republican history. Clemons positioned himself as a country boy working-class advocate and friend of immigrants and the environment in a House District that includes Dixie, Gilchrist, and West Alachua County. Meanwhile, his corporate donors outspent Enneking by the tens of thousands just like they did against Marihelen Wheeler in 2016 and Jason Haessler in 2018. 

Despite a well-run campaign for Dr. Enneking, it worked. Clemons’ numbers by county vs. Enneking were statistically identical to those against both Wheeler and Haessler. House D21 is a tough nut to crack. 

The passing of local charter amendments and the renewal of the One Mill for Schools (a referendum property tax) can easily lure us into the comfort of living on a political “Blue Florida island,” but Dr. Kayser Enneking’s loss to Rep. Clemons reminds us that right-wing gerrymandering, west county suburban conservatism, and corporate campaign donors put us in the company of all other Floridians. 

We need to keep fighting. In the streets, on campaigns, and in the halls of government.

To finish on an upbeat note, Prizzia and Alford easily won their final County Commission races against Newberry Republican Joy Glanzer, and the pro-Trump guns-and-God right winger Raemi Eagle-Glenn, respectively. Glanzer and Eagle-Glenn were defeated by wide double digit margins. This keeps our progressive County Commission on a good track. 

We hope the newly elected officers lean into the retiring wisdom of Commissioners Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson and five-term veteran Mike Byerly. 

Hutch and Byerly. They possess combined expertise on issues ranging from mental health infrastructure, reining in the Sheriff’s budget, and of course the all-important land use and development policies that determine our children’s future. 

Our County government elections show us the kind of unity – at the movement and issue level locally – that we really need to make the crooked places straight.

James Thompson has worked on numerous local candidate and issue campaigns. His views are his own and not those of the County Charter Review Commission on which he serves.

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