Hutchinson: Conservatives must protect Single Member Districts
Updated: Feb 27, 2022
Herald Tribune Guest Editorial 2.2.22
By Mike Hutchinson
As a devoted conservative Republican, I urge Republicans and conservatives to vote "No" on the March 8 ballot issue that seeks to eliminate single-member districts in Sarasota County.
The Sarasota County commissioners have led the effort to return to ineffective countywide voting instead of the current process, which allows voters in specific districts to elect individual representatives on the commission. The commissioners started this effort because they contend that voters didn't know what they were doing when they voted for single-member districts in November 2018.
But I believe the voters were – and are – smart enough to understand the need for single-member districts. They want county commissioners who are accountable to residents.
Unfortunately, our commissioners are not responsive to residents. They repeatedly approve new development, but without planning for the roads that impact existing neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the residents who are current water and sewer users are paying the costs to expand the system to accommodate new development.
Sarasota County has had five distinct county commission districts since it was created 100 years ago. This provides all areas of the county with representation, and it's similar to our current distinct districts for the Florida House of Representatives.
When our population was merely a few thousand people or so, it may have made sense to have county commissioners elected countywide. But we now have more than 415,000 residents, and it is more important than ever to have commissioners who live in specific districts – and who are responsive to the needs of their specific districts.
It does not make sense to have voters in other districts determine who will represent you. Should voters in North Port or Englewood vote for those who represent Siesta Key? Or vice versa?
The truth is the push to repeal single-member districts is due to concerns among commissioners and big developers that grassroots candidates could defeat well-financed candidates in primaries.
Here's an example of the difference between countywide voting and single-member districts:
In 2018, before single-member districts were in effect, a friend of mine ran for the commission in a countywide race. She raised about $55,000, but her opponent raised five times that amount. My friend simply did not have enough funds to run a campaign capable of reaching more than 349,000 voters across Sarasota County, and she lost her race.
In 2020 I ran for the commission seat in District 1, which has approximately 70,000 voters, while the single-member district model was in effect. My opponent – and the political action committee of one of his supporters – spent around $225,000, which was far more than the $53,000 or so that I spent.
But since so many voters in District 1 knew me from my activities on issues that concerned them, the $53,000 I spent was enough to get my message out to the district's residents. In the end I came within 190 votes of winning the District 1 race!
Countywide elections usually pave the way for heavily financed candidates – who often receive major funding from developers – to get elected. But single-member districts often give grassroots candidates better opportunities to win elections, and they ensure that commissioners remain accountable to the residents in their districts.
I will vote "No" on any return to ineffective countywide voting. And I will vote "No" to the Sarasota County Commission-led effort to repeal single-member districts.
Mike Hutchinson is a member of the Miakka Community Club and president of Bern Creek HOA. He is the treasurer of the Sarasota Technology Users Group and the leader of a project that supplies computers to the local community. He is a 45-year resident of Sarasota.