MARCO ISLAND — GOOOH, an acronym for “Get Out of Our House,” refuses to toe the party line or be beholden to corporate dollars.
It also is looking for local and congressional candidates that feel the same way. The problem comes in indentifying non-partisan individuals GOOOH wishes to support for office.
On Thursday evening, Keith Flaugh, workshop facilitator, and members of GOOOH experimented with a new formula to engage citizens in selecting their own candidates. The process dismissed political parties and big business. Left standing was a grassroots plan to weed out less viable office seekers while allowing the cream to rise to the top.
“GOOOH is giving you the opportunity to give government back to the people,” Flaugh explained to the group. “This will be a grassroots process to lead you to pick your own candidates.”
During the mock session, 18 Marco Islanders pre-qualified their beliefs using questions prepared by GOOOH. Participants were asked to weigh in on local and national issues.
The first 17 questions of a 25-part questionnaire tackled Marco Island’s hot issues – debt, utilities, impact fee, density, on-island emergency services – that required simple “for” or “against” answers. The final eight questions titled, “National Questions of character and principle,” tallied opinions on issues such as immigration, healthcare, gun rights and fair taxation.
Participants formed 6-member groups to compare answers. Following the exchange, each person secretly selected the individual in the group most closely aligned to his or her beliefs, a choice never revealed to others.
Participants then engaged in one-on-one conversations to support or defend their points of view. By shuffling duos, each member had the opportunity to discuss topics with every other group member.
“Think about how powerful this process could be,” Flaugh said. “What we have here is called civil discourse.”
A second secret rating allowed members to confirm their original choices or change, based on how persuasive face-to-face arguments were. Participants, in essence, mined the population for the candidate that can best represent them, Flaugh said. In an actual session, each group would select a member to proceed to the next round, thereby narrowing the number of candidates until a few remain.
The final few would be asked to declare their desire to enter public elections. In return for signed contracts binding each to the issues espoused in the process, they would become candidates the organization could endorse.
Marco Island has four city council seats open for election in November 2012. If there is enough interest in participating in the process, GOOOH will consider backing candidates, Flaugh said. He suggested a minimum of 1,000-2,000 participants would be required to create the volume necessary for discernment.
GOOOH also plans to support a candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, District 14, vacated by Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla. Mack will be running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Interactive workshops will be held throughout the congressional district starting in March to narrow potential candidates for final selection.
“It’s a good way to get everyone involved and educated on the issues,” said participant Karen Flaugh.
“Pictures can’t show how much excitement there is in the room,” said Beverly Novark who shared in the process.