#9. Steve Tonjes.JPG

Tonjes, of DeLand, is chairman of the DeLand Planning Board. He retired from the Florida Department of Transportation, where he worked in environmental compliance. You may have seen him riding his recumbent bicycle around DeLand, wearing his alligator-shaped helmet.

The sign, and the spiel, says “Stop legislature from changing amendment without voter approval.”

Paid petition circulators are hawking a petition for an amendment that they are claiming will prevent the Florida Legislature from obstructing the implementation of an amendment that has been passed.

Sounds good to those of us who are frustrated with the roadblocks the Legislature has put in the way of medical marijuana and restoring voting rights to former felons. But their story is completely false, and you only have to read the Ballot Summary right there on the petition: “Requires all proposed amendments or revisions to the state constitution to be approved by the voters in two elections, instead of one, in order to take effect.”

That’s it — two elections to pass an amendment. Nothing about an amendment that has already been approved. Nothing about the Legislature. It only makes it harder to pass any future amendments.

When I’ve pointed out this discrepancy, the circulators point to the word “revisions” as though it somehow prevents the Legislature from revising an amendment that has been passed, but the sentence clearly says “… or revisions to the state constitution.”

Every circulator I’ve encountered makes this false claim, and defends it in the same way, so they appear to have been specifically trained to misrepresent the petition.

The organization sponsoring the petition, Keep Our Constitution Clean PC, has hired a petition-gathering firm, one of whose organizers, Mark Jacoby, was the subject of a 2004 article in the St. Petersburg Times titled “Students complain of false party swap: Scores of college students say they were tricked into changing their registration to the Republican Party when signing petitions.”

He was also convicted of voter-registration fraud in California in 2009. Disingenuously, Keep Our Constitution Clean has submitted complaints to the Florida secretary of state against canvassers for other petitions, who it claims are using illicit methods to promote their petitions.

Keep Our Constitution Clean is one of several organizations spending millions of dollars from sources they refuse to disclose, to hire expensive paid signature gatherers in support of questionable petitions.

Several newspaper articles last year document how the citizens ballot-initiative process, which was supposed to be a means for ordinary citizens to change state law when the Legislature ignores the wishes of the people, has become “a multimillion-dollar business, one that is being exploited by special interests and flooded with mystery cash from secret donors” (South Florida Sun Sentinel, December 2019). The stories detail other deceptive petitions sponsored by big businesses and how our current legislators are helping their big-money donors price the public out of the process.

The Sun Sentinel article cautions “For the average voter, it could be nearly impossible to tell who you’re helping when you sign a petition outside the grocery store or at the beach.” (Or at MainStreet festivals or Friday Markets.)

But you can at least read the petition.

— Tonjes, of DeLand, is chairman of the DeLand Planning Board. He retired from the Florida Department of Transportation, where he worked in environmental compliance. You may have seen him riding his recumbent bicycle around DeLand, wearing his alligator-shaped helmet.