On paper, state Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Chuck Clemons represent Gainesville. But for all practical purposes their job is to contain the city, not see to the best interests of its residents.
Perry and Clemons are classic suburban Republicans. Gainesville is an island of blue in an otherwise north Florida sea of red and is treated accordingly in Tallahassee.
It was a slap to the face of our “representatives” when city voters decisively rejected their scheme to remove Gainesville Regional Utilities from city commission control. So now they’re back with still more anti-city devilment: Subjecting Gainesville to a legislative “audit” just to make sure it isn’t being run by a bunch of crooks.
You might think this is being done out of political spite. But perhaps there is a method to this continuing legislative maliciousness against all things Gainesville.
Maybe its just another cog in the GOP’s suburban strategy machine.
Don’t look now but the Republicans are losing the suburbs. Have been ever since Trump took office. Practically every election since then has reflected an erosion of GOP strength outside cities. It is why Republicans lost control of the House in 2018. And the erosion continues in the run-up to the 2020 elections.
“Republican support in the suburbs has basically collapsed under Trump,” Republican strategist Alex Conant told the Associated Press in the wake of Democratic victories in Kentucky and Virginia. “Somehow, we need to find a way to regain our suburban support over the next year.”
The war of spite Perry and Clemons are waging against Gainesville may not help Trump. But it could benefit Clemons, who is facing a tough challenge from Gainesville Democrat Keiser Enneking.
Enneking almost beat Perry in the last election, and would have if not for some GOP-dark money chicanery. If Trump enters Florida as a wounded incumbent, down-ballot Republicans like Clemons stand to suffer from the fallout.
And make no mistake, Clemons is vulnerable. He just managed to squeak by his last challenger, Jason Haeseler. If Trump bombs in the suburbs, he could very well suck Clemons and other Republicans down with him.
And the stakes are huge for the party in 2020. After the census comes reapportionment. If Florida Republicans get too badly cut up in Trump’s shredded coattails, their ability to front-load elections in the GOP’s favor over the next decade could be jeopardized.
How better to aid Clemons’ survival than to whip up some good old-fashioned “We-Hate-Gainesville” froth among the suburbanites?
Is your commute into the city too long? Blame Gainesville liberals who would rather spend money on buses and bike paths than traffic lanes. Hey suburbanites, why should your utility dollars fund city parks, police and all the services that benefit from having a municipal-owned utility? (Answer: Because if Gainesville didn’t exist neither would its bedroom communities. Those daily commuters are driving here to work.)
This is all just part and parcel of the GOP’s larger suburban strategy. You can see it being played out every session, when dozens of bills are introduced to eat away at the home rule authority of cities. My favorite so far this year is legislation to keep GRU and other municipal owned utilities from using their revenues to fund city services.
Perry told WCJB that the bill, by West Palm Beach Republican Mike Caruso, has merit because utility-generated revenues give some cities “an unfair taxing advantage.”
Listen, Gainesville isn’t being represented. It is being scapegoated.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at https://floridavelocipede.com.