Voters support universal health care, elimination of private insurance
November/December 2000

Nearly 2 out of 3 voters, 64.5%, said yes to the referendum on universal health care which appeared on the ballot in Alachua County Nov. 7. The nonbinding referendum was placed on the ballot to determine what Alachua County voters would like to see happen to their health insurance system. Overwhelmingly, voters supported the idea of eliminating private insurance companies and providing care to everyone through a unified system.

This result is consistent with polling results which have consistently shown, since 1989, that between 60 and 70% of Americans favor a universal health insurance system which covers everyone and eliminates private and employment-based health insurance.

The Alachua County referendum survived a court challenge which asked that it be removed from the ballot. At the last minute (4:30 p.m. on November 6, the day before the election) Circuit Court Judge Stan Morris sent down a court order allowing the measure to remain on the ballot..

The referendum had been challenged in court by Gainesville contractor Howard Scharps represented by UF law professor Joe Little. Scharps sued to have the referendum removed, saying that universal health care was not of enough concern locally and that the County did not have the authority to place such a referendum on the ballot. They also raised the argument that if one referendum is allowed the County Commission would have to say yes to any other referenda which are suggested by community groups.

The Alachua County Commission defended their actions, citing a statute which gives them authority to place on the ballot matters "of substantial concern within the county" on which they "wish to determine elector sentiment." They also argued that health care insurance is of vital concern to the county in that the county pays for ambulance services and provides health care to those who cannot afford it.

Additionally, the Alachua County Labor Party intervened in the case, represented by attorney Terry Kann, arguing that voters in Alachua County should have the right to express themselves on this issue since the Board of County Commissioners had placed such a referendum on the ballot. The Labor Party also argued that the proper place for commissioners to get ideas is citizen input. Scharps had argued that because the referendum was initially suggested by the Labor Party, and did not originate with the Commissioners themselves, it was illegitimate.

While Judge Morris allowed the referendum to stay on the ballot, he did not rule on the issues of the case. It is possible he will ask for additional oral arguments before he comes to a decision. If this happens, the public can attend the hearing and learn about the arguments in the case, as court proceedings are open to the public. This case will effect the ability of county commissions all over Florida to place nonbinding referenda on their county ballots, about health care or anything else they may wish to ask the voters about.

This decision will be particularly important to citizen activists who wish to break through to politicians on issues of vital concern. The non-binding referendum process allows citizens to have increased input in policy decisions and policy directions for counties all over Florida.

A favorable decision would allow county governments to use this tool, while a negative decision may well scare them off, as they contemplate becoming ensnared in litigation.

In Alachua County, despite the non-binding nature of the referendum, most voters took the opportunity to vote on this issue. More people voted on the Universal Health Care referendum than voted on any other local ballot initiative, despite its location at the very end of the ballot. And while more voters weighed in on the statewide high-speed rail initiative, more voters favored universal health care. Additionally, more people voted in favor of the universal health care referendum than voted for any of the candidates with the exception of Congresswoman Karen Thurman (D), who won by a very big margin against Republican Pete Enwall.

For more information on the upcoming court case, please call the Alachua County Labor Party at (352) 373-4841.

Also on November 7, three similar Universal Health Care initiatives passed in 3 communities in Massachusetts, garnering between 61 and 71 percent of the vote. A binding referendum in Massachusetts on universal health care, Question 5, failed after HMOs poured $5 million into opposing it. The governor even spent state money to advertise against it, according to Physicians for a National Health Program. Some of the groups who organized to put the measure on the ballot had cut a deal with the legislature to study the matter but then were unable to take the measure off the ballot, so with the supporters divided, and with a huge campaign against it in the last weeks, it failed 45-55%. Until HMO money was expended on what Physicians for a National Health Program characterized as "wall to wall" TV ads, 60% of voters polled favored the measure.

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