Hometown Democracy: Pols fear power of the people

So the question at the root of Hometown Democracy is: Whom do you trust more with major growth decisions?

The good people of Christmas?

Or Hal Kantor? (Or any of the many other high-powered development attorneys who cut campaign checks and hobnob with the elected officials who so often vote the way their clients want?)

Hometown Democracy — known as Amendment 4 on your ballot next year — essentially asks whether you want the chance to vote on major projects in your community.

It's clear that Orlando officials find that prospect scary.

During Monday's council meeting, everyone from Commissioner Patty Sheehan to the planning director warned that voters might cast votes in ignorance, with selfish motives or based upon campaign sound bites.

Apparently, when you vote for these politicians, you demonstrate the wisdom of Solomon. When you vote against something they like, you're uninformed dolts who must be stopped.

The development interests opposing Hometown Democracy have taken a different tack, arguing that the measure would "stop growth."

They lie.

Even Buddy's staff admitted as much this week, saying that Orlando could grow and develop "for years" without ever needing to ask voters for approval.

That's because there is already a glut of overdevelopment — and, more important, because plenty of land is already zoned for new projects.

It makes sense to develop that land first — which Hometown Democracy would encourage.

A better argument opponents make is that if Hometown Democracy passes precisely as written, it would be too cumbersome, complicated and extreme.

On that point, they're probably right.

But I don't believe for one minute that Hometown Democracy would take effect precisely as written.

Florida politicians, after all, have a track record of changing the rules of the game when they start losing.

Remember the "education" lottery?

How about the class-size amendment?

Twice, voters tried to get state officials to pump more money into schools.

And twice, state politicians tried to wiggle out of it — turning the lottery into a shell game and searching for loopholes and ways to cram more kids into classrooms.

They will do the same thing with Hometown Democracy: water it down and exploit every loophole to placate their buddies in the development industry.

If it's amending a city's "comprehensive land-use plan" that triggers a vote, politicians may just change the definition of "comprehensive land-use plan." You get the idea.

Even if Hometown Democracy passes, growth in Florida still won't be as responsible as some people want.

But it will be a lot more responsive to the people than it is now.

And you can bet it will send a message — one that might surprise all those politicians who thought you weren't paying attention.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.