One-party stranglehold

The day after Election Day, our county commissioners voted 4-0 (Commissioner Mann being absent) to re-zone a parcel off Corkscrew Road to permit construction of another strip mall shopping center, a commercial use that is guaranteed to attract even further building to an area once designated for low density development.  This piece of land was formerly a golf course, originally zoned in accordance with an agreement to retain this area as open space.  Commissioner Ray Sandelli – having won his primary the previous day – decided it was business as usual and voted to do away with the open space promised years before.

Do people in Lee County care?  Or are they just ignoring the obvious as we build out Lee County to its maximum capacity?  These are the questions we are asking ourselves after absorbing the latest primary election results.  Nick Batos, running on a platform of smart growth, improved water quality, and responsive government, lost to machine candidate Sandelli for the District 3 commission seat by just about the same voting percentage we see the machine produce for every election – 62% to 38%.

First, let’s look at the voter numbers.  Only 36% of Republicans cast ballots in the primary, of which 62% (or 45,651) voted for Commissioner Sandelli.  However, this was only 22% of ALL registered Republicans in the county.  And since our county tilts so heavily Republican, victory in the primary is tantamount to winning in November.  This means that Commissioner Sandelli will have been elected by 45,000+ voters, nowhere near a mandate in a county with 475,000 registered voters.

It is said that the world is run by those who show up, but it’s more than just that; it’s also run by a party establishment that anoints candidates and solicits the money needed to send out mailers, run ads, conduct polling, and otherwise make the anointed candidate a household name.

Much of this campaign was dictated by restrictions brought on by the pandemic.  The chosen candidate, having been appointed by the establishment to the commission, was able to leverage his incumbency to reach out to voters at no cost, to use platforms unavailable to his challenger, and to harvest donations from special interests and deliver – the day after Election Day, no less – a decision favoring developers.  It made for a powerful statement.  It is indeed interesting that more than 70% of donations to Commissioner Sandelli came from developers and those with pro-growth interests. A coincidence?  Perhaps.

How do we break this stranglehold on our county politics?  Two ways:  first, dilute the herd by registering as a Republican and casting your vote for those courageous candidates who run seeking change; second, become actively involved in the movement to elect women who will bring new ideas, fresh voices, and integrity to the county commission.

We believe people care but are put off by a sense of futility and the daily slog of everyday life.  We get that.  By supporting WFBL, citizens are doing something.  But we need more; honestly, we need active engagement.

In her new book, Caste, Isabel Wilkerson writes, “Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction.”  A few years down the road when we find our county paved over and looking like Miami-Dade, we cannot claim we did not act because we did not know.  If we don’t stand up and demand change, we will never achieve the quality of life we seek.  Voting for the same people – Commissioner Sandelli comes to mind – is guaranteeing business as usual.  A new mine or waste transfer station in Estero might seem unimportant today, but tomorrow it might be flooding in Fort Myers, or the ongoing threat of toxic algae in the canals of Cape Coral, or a new gas station smack in the middle of a Bonita Springs neighborhood.  If we do not come together and care – for our neighbors, for our entire community – if we do not act, we cannot claim ignorance as the reason for the consequences of our inaction.

How many times have we heard people say, “If I’d only known”?  We at WFBL are committed to educating citizens about why it is critical to our future – and that of our children – to work for and support women who will be asking for your vote to create the change we so desperately need.  We hope we can count on you – to write our county commissioners, send out postcards, speak with your friends and neighbors, forward this email to as many as possible, donate when asked, and vote to elect agents of change. 

Today, this may be our reality, but it need not be our destiny.  The 2022 campaign starts now.