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Guest Comment: Women For a Better Lee looks for change

By Charlotte Newton - | Mar 31, 2021

Questions we frequently get: “What does it mean when Women For a Better Lee says it is ‘fiercely nonpartisan’?”, closely followed by: “Don’t you have to be a part of an organized political party to succeed at electing women?”

First, what does “nonpartisan” mean for us? WFBL was organized with the idea that the issues we face in our county do not match up with either Republican or Democrat views. We strongly believe that we are not dealing with “partisan” talking points, but instead with problems that are fundamental to our quality of life and are critical to assuring a prosperous and healthy community for all.

For example, we are committed to environmental stewardship, meaning that while we support what the county is doing in preserving lands under the Conservation 2020 program, we also look with dismay at how the county is re-zoning critical wetlands and at its failure to implement the taxpayer-funded sustainability plan painstakingly developed long ago but never carried out. We are skeptical of the current Commission’s attitude on land use and re-zonings and will watch closely as development impinges on the land that protects our future drinking water. Tell us, is this a Republican or Democrat issue?

We push for accountability and transparency, yet are constantly thwarted by the broken promises of our county leaders. Recently, it was reported by the News-Press that repair costs for emergency work on JetBlue stadium were hidden from the public (“Catastrophic if not fatal collapse feared at JetBlue Park led to emergency skywalk repairs.) Almost a year ago, we were promised transparency regarding the spending of CARES Act funds with financial reports submitted for review to a public advisory committee of citizens representing the community. So who are these chosen “public representatives?” Fifteen individuals all tied to the development industry and appointed by our county commissioners. Furthermore, advisory committees that ostensibly are established to provide public input into policy decision-making either do not meet, or are stacked with donors and development industry insiders to whom our commissioners are beholden. Tell us: Is accountability/transparency a Republican or Democrat issue?

Finally, WFBL supports improving our quality of life through responsible development that respects environmental sensitivities, ensures optimal management of traffic, and provides amenities that benefit our whole community. We recognize that construction contributes to our local economy and offers jobs and support for our residents and small businesses. But developers tend to build and flee, leaving us taxpayers to fund the new roads, schools and other amenities required by new transplants. Our county commissioners have continually overridden and adapted our comprehensive plan to appease the wishes of their special interest campaign donors. Recently, commissioners made significant changes to the plan to allow mining throughout the county and increased density on land atop our future source of drinking water. This land area, once known as the “Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource,” has now been renamed by the county as “Environmental Enhancement and Preservation Overlay.” Try remembering that public relations gobbledy-gook. We believe these actions are reckless and will threaten the future well-being of our county. Tell us, how do you categorize these concerns? Republican or Democrat?

Second, being nonpartisan does not mean that we are not political. In fact, we are just the opposite. We want to use the political process to change the direction of our county and elect women who will offer a vision and give more attention to family-oriented issues such as early childhood learning, rather than today’s primary focus on road-building. We are putting our energy into finding candidates who will challenge the conventional wisdom and the small thinking that are hallmarks of our all-male Board of County Commissioners. Our county received a $134.5 million windfall from the federal government to prevent our economy from crashing during the pandemic. More money went to pay county government expenses than to families, individuals and small businesses as intended. We welcome the county’s newfound concern with our homeless problem, but why did it take a year for our leaders to finally understand the depth of the problem and take action? We pointed out the approaching crisis to our commissioners in May, 2020, yet heard nothing back from them.

Let’s look at the makeup of the Lee County electorate and you will understand why we strongly believe we can be successful.

Since mid-January, total Lee County voter registrations have increased by 4500+ voters, more than two-thirds registering as “No Party Affiliation (NPA) and others.” In fact, “No Party Affiliation and others” is the second largest voting bloc registered in the county, after Republicans — and ahead of Democrats.

Who are these NPAs? They are us; people who vote on issues rather than party affiliation. We believe that we can mobilize these voters to elect women county commissioners who will bring fresh thinking, a long-term strategy, and accountability and transparency to our Board. And for this, we appeal to you to help spread our message of nonpartisanship — and our focus on issues impacting our daily lives. You can start right now by sharing on this column.

So do we want to appeal to Democrats and Republicans? Of course. For many people, it is easy to just vote for whomever your party has nominated. But actually, that is exactly what has gotten us here. Our commissioners are all from one party and their thinking is straight out of their party’s playbook. Our local issues are just that — local — and state and national platforms cannot and do not address where we need to take our local jurisdiction. Even worse, our state is aggressively preempting our local choices and we need our local elected officials to join with others to forcefully oppose the many preemptive actions coming from the legislature in Tallahassee.

The difference between us and them: we will always tell you the truth without spin, exaggeration or falsification — and support issues that improve everyone’s quality of life.

If we see ourselves fitting into any category, it is that of centrists — organizers of a political movement that believes the political process is our best means to ending the narrow-minded and kick-the-can-down-the-road attitudes of our current county commissioners. As Sen. Marco Rubio has said, “We must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them.” We aim to appeal to the many voters in Lee County who understand that our quality of life and prosperity depend on clarity of purpose, transparency and accountability, and ensuring fairness for all Lee County residents, not just campaign donors and special interests.

Is running against the Establishment difficult? For sure. Is this a heavy lift? Absolutely. Do we believe that with your help we can do it? You betcha’.

Charlotte Newton for Women For a Better Lee — Reach this writer at WFBL2022@gmail.com