By Tom Tillison
Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell is using his platform to target common sense measures to ensure transparency and fairness in the Orange County citizen initiative process, painting this effort as a sinister attempt to “attack your democracy.”
The changes are part of the charter-review process, which takes place every four years, and will be decided by voters in November if approved by the Orange County Charter Review Commission — a detail Maxwell conveniently skims over in his exhaustive rant.
But he was quick to label the changes as “anti-citizen proposals” in an attempt to stir up emotions.
Looking past our representative form of government, Maxwell makes a push for “direct pipelines to democracy.” He tells readers it is “very hard” for “citizens … to place an idea on the ballot,” noting that only two times in 30 years have enough signatures been collected to accomplish this.
Considering these are changes to the charter — the county’s version of a constitution — the process is not intended to be haphazard. Furthermore, the proposed changes bring our charter more in line with the other 19 charter counties in the state.
The two efforts Maxwell points to occurred in the last two election cycles, the first was paid sick leave and the other an effort to make charter office elections partisan and have countywide charter office elections — county mayor — placed on the same cycle as presidential elections. The second initiative did not pass, but would have been a boon to the local Democratic Party, which has a huge lead in the number of registered voters in the county.
Maxwell speaks of these efforts as “citizen-led,” but it’s critical to understand a simple fact: a Washington based liberal lobbying firm, Leadership Center for the Common Good, contributed nearly $150,000 to the two citizen initiatives. Thousands more poured in from liberal groups in New York and California.
And the Orange County Democratic Party was a key player in both efforts.
This is important because many Orange County residents convinced to support these initiatives were clueless about who was really behind them.
Maxwell condemns the “vested special interests” who back the proposed changes to our charter — changes that will better protect it from being bought by deep-pocketed outside sources. But in his effort to mislead, he ignores the special interests who propped up the recent ballot initiatives.
He even belittles the efforts of the charter review work group, which held 14 public meetings over a period of nine months to come up with the well thought out proposals — a painstaking process that drew from other charter counties in the state.
Labeling them as “cronies,” Maxwell characterized these unpaid volunteers as “a great white shark after a wounded seal.” And claims they want to “make it harder for citizens to pass new laws.”
Never mind that duly elected representatives are tasked with passing laws. But Maxwell’s agenda is to push for direct democracy, which is always popular when voter registration numbers work in your favor.
“You see, they hate it when you try to take democracy into your own hands,” he wrote.
What Maxwell doesn’t tell you is that manipulating local charters is a now-standard tactic for liberal special interest groups. In fact, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center conducts annual seminars to teach professional activists to “strengthen democracy by building a national progressive strategy for ballot measures.”
And yes, local activists here in Orange County have attended these seminars, to include one who worked directly for an individual who was quoted this week in the Orlando Sentinel pushing the misleading narrative that it’s all local.
The truth is, unencumbered residents of Orange County support the need to shore up our county charter and have sat in on every meeting over a 9 month period to voice their concerns.
These citizens, part of the Coalition for Good Governance in Orange County, of which I am a member, believe our charter should not be for sale to the highest bidder and they have been engaged from day one.
The business community also supports these changes.
“Common-sense reforms that mirror the best practices at the state level and in other counties protect the integrity of the process and ensure transparency for voters,” Robert Agrusa, executive director of BusinessForce, said Monday in a press release.
“I applaud the hard work and due diligence of the Initiative Petitions Work Group and I look forward to the Charter Review Commission continuing to take the necessary steps to ensure transparency and accountability, so that Orange County voters can make an informed decisions in the future,” Agrusa added.
In the end, most members of the charter review board are not politicians and are likely to wilt in the face of strong political winds — and boy are they a’blowing.
Beginning with Scott Maxwell throwing out the canard that your democracy is under attack. He even plays up the notion of a vast conspiracy with the nonsense about the work group opting not to get input from the full charter commission. The very same charter commission they will report their findings to.
No, your democracy is NOT under attack — but your charter is.
…under attack by Washington-based liberal social justice forces. Orange County residents must understand the grave economic consequences of this assault and show the will and fortitude to take a stand in favor of strengthening the county charter.