Representative Matt Caldwell's recent commentary advocating a petition drive to change the County Commission at-large election process to a hybrid single-member district system would undermine our representative form of government and is fraught with deception.
Representative Caldwell's political action committee, Families for Freedom and Fairness, recommends a seven member commission composed of five single-member districts and two at-large commission seats.
Representative Caldwell's proposal to expand the size of county government would be ill advised during these difficult economic times that necessitate downsizing county government due to tight budget constraints. Our current at-large election process allows registered voters to vote for all five county commissioners. Voters would relinquish their individual voting rights under Representative Caldwell's proposal and would be limited to voting for three commissioners - two at-large and one from their district.
Furthermore, the at-large election process ensures that voters are able to hold all five county commissioners accountable with the power to vote for each board member on the county commission. Commissioners elected at-large must focus on community-wide public interest in contrast to the parochialism and divisiveness that would develop under a hybrid single-member district system.
A review of the first quarter 2012 campaign treasurer's report for Families for Freedom and Fairness indicates that Representative Caldwell's Political Action Committee raised $20,800 in contributions to support the petition effort. Instead of Lee County families and residents contributing to the PAC as the name would imply, $15,000 was provided by Conservative Principles for Florida from Coral Gables and $5,000 provided by the Economic Freedom Foundation out of Tallahassee.
The major contributors to Conservative Principles for Florida and Economic Freedom Foundation were casino gaming, sugar and tobacco corporations. It is certainly questionable that the casino gaming, sugar and tobacco corporations are even interested in whether Lee County changes from an at-large to single-member district form of government, but they will certainly have expectations for Representative Caldwell's support of their bills during legislative session after having provided financial support to Representative Caldwell's Families for Freedom and Fairness Political Action Committee.
This insidious relationship between special interest groups and state legislators is undermining public confidence in government and is at the core of public policy being driven by special interest influence to the detriment of the public interest.
Representative Caldwell would have you believe that he is concerned with voter representation and government accountability, but his own voting record and actions tell an altogether different story.
During the 2011 legislative session, in a direct assault to suppress voter's rights, Representative Caldwell supported House Bill 1355 which strikes at the heart of our American democracy by disenfranchising voters from exercising their privilege to participate in the election process. HB 1355 shortens early voting from 14 to eight days and imposes new restrictions on groups that register voters including punishments and fines on a per-signature basis. The League of Women Voters, long noted for their fair and impartial involvement in the election process, has announced that the League will suspend all voter registration efforts in Florida for fear of being punished by state government.
After falsely stating that the League of Women Voters endorsed the hybrid single-member district system, Families for Freedom and Fairness recently removed reference to the group from their literature after being informed by the League that no such endorsement was ever granted. Families for Freedom and Fairness is certainly not about families, freedom or fairness and this Trojan horse should be looked upon with grave concern and skepticism.
Ray Judah is the District 3 commissioner for the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.