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Amendment 4? What's That? Citizen Campaign Struggles to Get the Facts Out

Can they flip the debate?
Amendment 4 to the Florida Comprehensive Land Use Plans (Still reading? Congratulations!) is fairly simple: It would require that any changes to local land-use plans, such as those requested by developers, be put before voters before approval.

Unfortunately, that information is hard to come by. After moving into town four weeks ago, I learned about the initiative by seeing signs from the opposition campaign plastered over construction sites, parking garages, and empty lots (presumably owned by those developers the amendment seeks to restrain). The "No on 4" campaign has received around $6 million, operating as a PAC called "Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy." They've framed the debate as a vote on whether to increase taxes and destroy jobs.

The campaign supporting the amendment is facing an uphill battle against wealthy real estate developers, realtors, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. They have about a third of their opponents' funding. Their signs are less noticeable, and their name -- Florida Hometown Democracy -- isn't exactly crystal-clear. They're not running TV ads in Broward.

"We have two ads, but we're not running them in Broward and Miami-Dade," says Yes on 4 Communications Director Wayne Garcia. "Those are the most expensive markets by far." Garcia says the campaign office is sparsely staffed by a few volunteers.

In this tea-drunk election season, the Yes folks are framing the issue around taxes as well. "You deserve the right to vote on development issues before taxes are raised because of them," explains Garcia in a pitch for the campaign. The campaign's website simply links to the ballot text and doesn't spend a lot of time explaining the amendment.

With such a wonky amendment and well-funded opposition, is Garcia worried that people will vote based on a gut-level fear of taxes and bureaucracy?

"You always worry when you're up against a larger force with money and a misleading message," he says. "Condensing anything to 30 seconds doesn't do the democracy justice."

While information about the amendment is buried under politics, now even the polling is taking on the tone of the opposition campaign. From the Yes campaign, about a new Mason-Dixon poll showing a drop in support for the amendment:

It is unfortunate that Mason-Dixon admits to changing the wording of the poll question regarding Amendment 4 from previous pollings, making it impossible to compare this poll result to previous results and weighting the poll against Amendment 4. The pollster acknowledges adding language that mirrors language being used by opponents to Amendment 4, and we do not see how this can produce a fair result.

I often wonder why both sides of a fairly simple issue get caught up in buzzwords and rhetoric: and are nice domain names, but they don't hit on the real issue. It took a New York Times reporter to do that. Alternatively, you could just vote with your gut against anything so dear to developers and lobbyists, as Bob Norman suggests

"We don't need 6 or 7 million dollars like the bad guys have," says Garcia. We'll see if that's true.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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