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Former Gov. Bob Martinez leads initiative to improve voter turnout; TaxWatch releases election guide

Bob Martinez, who was a civics teacher long before he became the state's 40th governor, wants to get at the heart of voter apathy in Florida.

Florida's recent primary turnout of 17.5 percent, the lowest in the past 16 years, dramatizes the need for a new initiative, said Martinez, who is heading the new TaxWatch Center for Florida Citizenship. 

"There is a lot of work to be done," said Martinez, who spoke at the press conference Wednesday sponsored by TaxWatch, which also announced the release of its 2014 election guide.

 "I don't know that we'll come up with a silver bullet but that's not the point," Martinez said. "The point is identifying why voter participation has declined."

Martinez acknowledged that negativity in campaigns is one deterrent, especially for the casual voter, but there are plenty of others, including a need for more engagement and the expectation that regular Joes can have an influence on government.

"We want to find out exactly why voter turnout has been going down," Martinez said at the conference in the Florida Historic Capitol Museum. "There has to be a reason that some areas have more participation than others."

This new citizens initiative, which begins meeting Oct. 1, will focus on gathering research and then finding the best way to disseminate it, Martinez said, calling the group a nonpartisan effort.

Martinez, now a senior policy advisor with Holland and Knight, will be joined by more than a dozen other influential Floridians, including vice-chair, Mike Sole, vice president of state government affairs at Florida Power & Light; Secretary of State Ken Detzner; state Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach; former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth; Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections for Leon County; Carol Weissert of the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University; West Palm Beach City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell and AARP's state director, Jeff Johnson.

"The health of the body politic demands that we have our citizens aware and understanding of what their role is," said Sanchez, who also spoke at the press conference.

Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, said that turnout wasn't the only issue -- it's informing citizens about how to best influence local school boards, commissions and other political entities and know the best timing for having the biggest impact.

TaxWatch's voter guide, an election-year publication, offers the public descriptions and analysis on the three proposed constitutional amendments to appear on the November ballot.

The nonprofit tax research group, supported by many of the state's largest businesses, doesn't offer a yes or no vote for each proposed amendment but it does include a conclusion.

In the conclusion for Amendment 2 for medical marijuana, for instance, the group states: "Regardless of the merits of either argument on this issue, this is a policy decision that does not belong embedded in "constitutional concrete" in the Florida constitution.

TaxWatch "historically has recommended when in doubt to keep the proposal out unless you have a compelling basis and rational" for the amendment, Calabro said. This year, the group "tried to be more neutral," he said, but the philosphy stands.  Amendment 1 and 2 are policy issues, Calabro said,  that "may be good policy choices but they don't need to be in constitutional concrete ... When all is said and done, it's a policy choice."

Amendment 1 addresses dedicating funds to aquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.

Amendment 2 would allow the use of medical marjiuana when recommended by a physician for certain ailments.

Amendment 3 would require the governor to prospectively fill vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court or district courts of appeal, which would in effect, allow the outgoing governor instead of the incoming governor the power to appoint new justices. The resolution for Amendment 3 passed along party lines in the legislature, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats opposed, the guide states.

The 2014 Florida TaxWatch Voter Guide is available at