A bill that would allow voters to decide whether to vote by district for members of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) cleared its third and final legislative committee on Monday. It now heads to the full Florida House for consideration.
State Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-District 21, proposed HB 1493 in December, and it unanimously passed the Public Integrity & Elections Committee and the Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee earlier this month. On Monday, the Florida House State Affairs Committee approved the measure on a 15-7, party line vote during a much more contentious debate that lasted more than an hour.
“The purpose of House Bill 1493 is just to call a referendum by the voters of Alachua County to decide if they, and they alone, would like to change the Alachua County Commission from its current five-member at-large to a five-member, single-member districts,” Clemons told the committee before the Monday vote. “Many residents have voiced concern about either real or perceived underrepresentation in Alachua County and that they feel ostracized or that their particular vote doesn’t matter.”
State Rep. Yvonne Hinson, D-District 20, who sits on the State Affairs Committee and represents the eastern part of Alachua County, asked Clemons if he was pushing for the same change in Gilchrist and Dixie counties, the other two that he represents.
Clemons said no one in either of those two counties has brought concerns to him, while in Alachua County “up to 10,000 people have signed a petition to literally secede from Alachua County”—a reference to the Springs County effort.
Hinson asked Clemons “why we aren’t using the petition process, rather than the legislative process” to get the measure on the ballot. Clemons responded that it’s “immaterial” what valid method someone uses to get an issue on the ballot.
Clemons conceded that the BOCC itself is “vehemently opposed” to the bill and accused it of putting out “propaganda” against the effort.
Clemons and three others spoke in favor of the bill, including Newberry Commissioner Tim Marden. Close to 20 spoke or waved in opposition, including Alachua County School Board member Tina Certain and Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman.
BOCC Commissioner Ken Cornell also spoke against the bill, arguing that voters have already decided because they voted on the Alachua County Charter.
“It shouldn’t be easy to change a local constitution,” he said, joining those who said the bill should originate in the county, not in Tallahassee.
According to the Florida Division of Elections, Alachua County has 88,269 registered Democrats and 48,594 registered Republicans. There are 41,678 registered voters with no party affiliation and 2,984 with a minor party.
All five of the current Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) are Democrats. Four live in Gainesville, and Cornell lives in an unincorporated area near Melrose.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that Ken Cornell does not live in Gainesville.