When two Republican county commissioners from adjacent counties faced off over proposed state constitutional Amendment 4 — aka “Hometown Democracy” — in front of the Lakewood Ranch Democrat Club March 9, the audience knew to expect an unusual exchange.
That it came from commissioners known for their anti-growth stands made it all the more interesting.
Amendment 4, which would require voters to approve all comprehensive plan amendments, will be on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, who recently announced his support for the amendment, took on Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who not only opposes it, but is his county’s coordinator for Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, Inc., the leading statewide opposition group.
Thaxton, a self-described “life-long environmentalist and a tree-hugger,” called the amendment “ill conceived, fundamentally flawed” and “an additional layer of costly bureaucracy.”
Later, Thaxton argued that the amendment “will cause economic prosperity to suffer.” A recent economic study shows that more than 250,000 more Florida workers would lose jobs because of it, raising the unemployment rate to roughly 15%.
But McClash, who has been a commissioner for more than 19 years, says it’s about “one simple thing: checks and balances.”
“It’s about giving citizens the right to decide what’s best for their community,” he says.
The current Manatee County Commission — and, by extension, Manatee residents — has marginalized McClash by rejecting his longstanding anti-growth rhetoric.
Thaxton, saying “you cannot force-feed democracy,” dominated the debate quoting the Federalist Papers and James Madison. He even reminded the audience of a phrase in the pledge of allegiance — “and to the republic for which it stands” — while pointing out that the founders feared democracy for being little more than mob rule.
Thaxton also took supporting organizations to task for using a republic form of decision-making to support a pure democracy proposition. He explained that all the groups supporting Amendment 4 did not ask their members to vote on the issue, but did the voting for them as is done in a republic form of government.
State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, and a political science professor at New College, was also quoted by Thaxton: “It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
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