Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Elections Are About Trust

Yesterday's Florida primary was a referendum on trust.

Trust in keeping your word. Trust in continuing a record of service. Trust in doing what's right for constituents.

The incumbents fared well. Voters liked the past records of Collier County Commissioners Andy Solis (District 2) and Penny Taylor (District 4) and trusted they would continue doing what they had been doing.

At the state level, voters rejected the environment mismanagement of former Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, a pal of big sugar, mischievously nick-named "Mr. Blue-green Algae." With both coasts reeling from algal blooms and red tide, few wanted to entrust the governorship to him. Ron DeSantis's GOP nomination was less a result of President Trump's endorsement than a condemnation of Putnam.

Crystal Kinzel's resounding victory for Collier Clerk of Courts was evidence of the trust she had earned through years of diligent service as Dwight Brock's assistant. Her experience and even keel carried the day.

Then there was the school board election. Status quo candidates Roy Terry and Jen Mitchell were entrusted by voters to continue policies of the past. Change was shunned, a leaning to the right rejected.

But the biggest demonstration of trust -- or lack of it -- was directed to the North Collier Fire District referendum, a plan to raise more money by a new tax scheme. The plan had two premises. (1) The district needed more money. (2) The way to get it was to shift the tax burden from residents to businesses and other high-square-footage payers.

Without getting into the weeds, the new scheme was meant to align fees with service -- those who got the most fire service would pay the highest fees. But ambulance service, 90% of emergency calls, was downplayed, and the fire commissioners retained the right to raise ad valorem assessments to their  statutory caps without voter approval.

People were appalled. Voters rejected the plan with a resounding 79% "no" vote. Why? Few believed the fire district, with its record of profligate spending, needed more money. And few understood the complicated shell game of combining a flat non-ad-valorem fee with a square-footage-based tax.

But neither of those is the real reason the referendum lost. The real reason was lack of trust. Few trusted the fire commissioners to keep their word. In fact, few trusted anything they said.

This was, after all, the same group that promised, as underlayment for the 2014 North Naples and Big Corkscrew merger, that North Naples would never have to subsidize Big Corkscrew. That promise lasted about a year. The North Naples voters were lied to, and people have long memories.

If you couldn't trust what they said in 2014, why should you trust what they say in 2018? The referendum never had a chance.

But that was yesterday. We now move on to the general election, and it should be a humdinger -- a morass of controversy, politics entwined with another tax proposal and a slew of constitutional amendments.

You can trust it will be interesting.

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