by Joi Rose
All over Florida, Democrats are scratching their heads and wondering what is happening to the state they have lived in for decades and what this means for their future here. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t cut and dried. Many factors played into the state’s devastating red takeover: low registered Democratic voter turnout, lack of Florida Democratic Party enthusiasm and structural organization, a deficiency in field coordination and Get Out the Vote volunteers, lackluster candidates, further gerrymandered districts, and massive amounts of Republican funding further bolstered by dark money Political Action Committees.
In Alachua County alone we saw close to half a million dollars poured into dark money PACs to fund the Alachua County Single-Member District Amendment campaign, a pet project by Clemons, Perry, and the REC intended to weaken our blue county.
The Republican strategy seems to be: if we can’t win fairly then we will redistrict a win by breaking urban Democratic strongholds into multiple little pieces that each includes just enough rural Republican voters to outnumber the Democrats.
In order to pass single-member districts so they can use this strategy in Alachua County, they manipulated and misled voters. They used quotes and likenesses from community leaders out of context and without their permission on mailers and digital ads. They specifically targeted minority communities with lies in order to gain the votes of people whose representation will ultimately be reduced by the passage of this amendment.
They did all of this with the help of the Florida Republican Party, Governor DeSantis, and a multitude of dark money Political Action Committees. This was not a small battle, this was an all-out war that they waged on Alachua County. They came well-prepared for this fight, and we were ultimately outmatched and grossly underfunded.
It’s a sad defeat that will lead to the further erosion of our tiny blue island in the sea of red. However, I still remain hopeful. We still live in a county where, even after being forced to resign her seat, Mary Alford was re-elected to the county commission with roughly 58 percent of the popular vote.
Alford will rejoin her newly re-elected colleagues Ken Cornell and Marihelen Wheeler in January. I know that they and the other members of the county commission will do all they can to fight for Alachua County and against the constant attacks from Tallahassee.
Harvey Ward was elected as the next mayor of Gainesville with roughly 58 percent of the popular vote. Ward campaigned on the renovation of the MLK Center and Citizens Field, and the development of a medical complex on Hawthorne Road. At Ward’s victory party he said of that initiative: “We are poised to start being able to do the renovation on that. I’m really excited about what that means for our whole community.”
Ward also stated in his victory speech: “We need to focus on rebuilding the public trust and making sure that everyone is aware that, at City Hall, we care about every neighborhood and every neighbor, and that we are doing the best we can to make a great community here.”
I look forward to seeing the great work that he and newly elected city commissioners Ed Book, Casey Willits, and Bryan Eastman will do. They will join their already seated colleagues in January.
So, what happens to Florida and Alachua County from here? Well, 2024 is right around the corner, and if we want a better future for our community and state we need to get to work training the next set of candidates and building our campaign infrastructure. I hope you will join our efforts!