February 25, 2015
3 mins read

Up until about a year ago, I was just another average voter. I’d never worked on a campaign or run for office, and I assumed, like many people do, that the endorsement process was in place to help educate voters like me on which candidates most closely aligned with my core values. Now that I am running for office, I’m learning more and more each day how that isn’t necessarily the case, and how money influences politics more than most people realize.

When I’m out meeting voters, people routinely talk to me about what they refer to as the “good ol’ boys network,” and how politics is just for people who are part of some mysterious group of people already in power who are helping each other stay in charge. They tell me how politics is off-putting and how it discourages people from voting because there is a sense that you have to “play ball” in order to get anywhere. The truth is, when people do step up to try to change that perception and offer a different choice for how things should be done, they’re shot down without ever being considered by many people, specifically for not fitting in with the typical mold of how a politician should look.

I came out strongly against how money influences our local politics, and early on swore off taking money for my campaign because I believe that things need to change. People told me I needed money to win, but what I’m finding out now is that candidates really need money to even be taken seriously at all.

Most organizations offering endorsements for our local elections have created their own ways of determining if a candidate is a viable choice, and more often than not, that threshold for viability revolves around how much money a candidate has raised. I had always just assumed that if an organization I trusted and respected endorsed a candidate, then that candidate shared the views of the organization. What I’ve found out is that often, that isn’t the case. A lot of otherwise great organizations simply endorse the candidate who has the most money or who raised enough money to satisfy some financial metric they’ve created, so people can essentially be tricked into voting for someone with values they don’t support.

There are many groups, unions and organizations whose endorsements have been announced recently who never even interviewed or contacted me or candidates like me who have little or no money in their campaign accounts.

The newly formed Young Voters Coalition, a group focused on getting young voters more engaged in politics, in part by “endorsing like-minded City Council candidates,“ has a minimum threshold of dollars that a candidate needs to raise in order to be considered viable. Even the Sierra Club, which has endorsed candidates who support dredging the St. Johns River, cited a candidate’s “chances of winning” as a major factor in whom they endorse.

I bring up these specific organizations not to defame them, but because I think it is important to let the voters know the real reasons organizations endorse candidates. For example, if I saw a candidate at Equality Florida events, marching in the pride parade, coming out as a straight ally, and celebrating wedding ceremonies in Hemming Plaza, but then saw that Equality Florida had endorsed his opponent (an opponent who actually voted against a fully inclusive human rights ordinance when he had the chance), then I’d be confused. I’d wonder what’s going on. Equality Florida’s main goal is to pass an inclusive HRO, and they didn’t even endorse James Eddy, the only openly gay candidate running, because they didn’t consider him “financially viable.” It all seems very counterintuitive, if you ask me.

I think these groups are great organizations, with great missions and great people. I just think it’s sad that the system essentially forces them to endorse someone who may not completely represent their mission simply because money is the only way to determine if a candidate is “viable.”

I didn’t raise funds for my campaign because I saw it as extremely wasteful and because I don’t want to owe anyone any favors when I get elected, but the system we have in place makes it unnecessarily difficult for regular citizens to run for office, even on a local level. You run because you want to make a difference and then find out that you really do have to buy your way in. Then we all wonder why things are the way they are.

I still think people should donate money to these causes instead of to my campaign. Your money will do a lot more good there than buying me 10,000 “Vote for Tetlak” buttons, or an advertisement for a book I wrote, or whatever else candidates waste their money on these days. I just think it’s important for people to know that an endorsement, even from these great organizations, may not mean exactly what you think it does. It truly is up to voters to know for whom they are voting — otherwise we’ll just end up getting stuck with even more of the same.

The author is a candidate for Jacksonville City Council, District 14.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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