The Southwest Florida Leadership Initiative or SWFLI began its work recently by interviewing and grading all of the 18 candidates running for Cape Coral City Council.
During the process, candidates were asked to fill out a five-page questionnaire and participate in a round-table interview with SWFLI members. Based on their responses, SWFLI graded candidates in four different areas; accessibility, electability, government philosophy and campaign consistency.
SWFLI says the intention of the report card is not to endorse any candidate, but to educate the general public on the candidates running for office, “We do this purely to educate people, so they do not make the wrong choice. Often times people vote for the lesser of the evils, with no background information to base their decision. They just see something or hear a sound bite,” says SWFLI’s Chairman Randy Mercer.
SWFLI also says that grading the candidates is just one part of their comprehensive plan of action. Candidate development is also one of the organization’s principal initiatives. In order to meet that goal, SWFLI says it plans to launch a Campaign School. The school will teach viable candidates using experienced instructors on such things as; how to run for office, raising campaign funds, things a candidate should say or should not say and more, “SWFLI created not just to educate voters, but to educate those running for office,” said Mercer.
The Cape Coral Council race is the first elections that SWFLI has participated in as an organization. The need for such action comes from the recent plans of redistricting the state of Florida, “Redistricting is going to change things. Local officials will be moving up. People coming in to take their place need to be informed and educated on government,” says SWFLI’s Executive Director Joe Mazurkiewicz.
Made of up local business people, the group includes members of area Chamber of Commerces, Building Industry Associations and independent business people. SWFLI says the group has far reaching capabilities with the ability to influence thousands of people.
While SWFLI is a business organization that addresses government in a business manner and looks at candidates from a business friendly perspective, Mercer says the overall process impacts everyone who lives in the area, “Participants in the organization are typically business oriented. Most of the questions we ask are philosophical and impact residents, not just businesses.”
Encouraged by the positive response to the inaugural report card, SWFLI will now begin focusing on the general election in November. SWFLI will again grade those who make it to the next round of the Cape Coral City Council race, as well as the Fort Myers City Council race. They will then provide the public with their findings.
The organization will also begin grading elected officials with a quarterly report card. The report card will rank their votes on recent issues in Tallahassee and across Lee County.
The group says through their work they intend to make a significant impact on future elections by providing Southwest Florida with a better quality candidate, as well as a more educated voter that goes to the polls.