“Nobody puts young voters in the corner.”
That’s one of the catchphrases used by the Jax Young Voters Coalition, its mission to “increase turnout of voters age 18 to 40 by at least five percent in the 2015 City Elections through collaborative events, through engaging and informative marketing and social media campaigns, recommendations of like-minded City Council candidates and outreach efforts.”
To that end, the group has constructed a candidate questionnaire that addresses pretty much anything that a new public servant in Jacksonville would encounter. From St. Johns River dredging and transportation issues to legislative quandaries and a non-discrimination ordinance, this questionnaire facilitates the group providing “side-by-side candidate comparisons,” according to JYVC founder Meredith O’Malley Johnson.
The questionnaire is exhaustive, a consensus, nonpartisan document like everything else the group has done so far. Response from candidates has been somewhat less exhaustive, Johnson said.
“We reached out to every candidate,” she told me, “and we got about half back with a lot of prodding. I was disappointed that some candidates did not provide more robust answers.”
The group has an about $10,000 budget to promote the questionnaire, and it’s finding support throughout the community, as befits its nonpartisan structure. The group is not endorsing in the mayoral race, Johnson said, because there are “supporters of every mayoral candidate on the board, so we’re staying out.”
The group has bipartisan support among some of the heavy hitters in Duval County, including Steve Williams, a Democrat who is one of the group’s largest donors, and Peter Rummell, the One Spark impresario who famously switched his support from Alvin Brown to Lenny Curry last year.
Some have voiced the criticism that the group is a Republican front, because Rummell, with whom Johnson is formally associated via One Spark, is a strong Curry backer. Johnson discounts that claim.
“Peter Rummell definitely contributed to the campaign. He thought it was a really good idea and he wanted to invest,” she said, adding that there were “no conditions” attached to his support.
“He has Jacksonville’s best interests at heart. He’s very invested in Jacksonville, wants to get young voters to the table, and said [the Jax Young Voters Coalition] was a great idea to get them involved.”
One of the initiatives driving the group past the current election cycle will be a drive toward the removal of party identification from ballots for local elections.
“We strongly believe that city elections should not be partisan,” said Johnson, who thinks that issues related to “quality of life” and infrastructure transcend party identification.
Johnson acknowledged the mechanics of the website coming together in its current form, with some of the city’s premier IT talent volunteering their services.
“Our web developer is Dennis Eusebio and our web designer is Sean Collins and our brand designers are Karen Kurycki and Sean Tucker — all volunteers! Our designers and developers worked on a volunteer basis,” Johnson said.