An open letter to Lesley Blackner

November 1, 2010

An open letter to Lesley Blackner:

I recently launched a website – – dedicated to fostering honorable democratic discourse. I’ve decided to dedicate it to you and to the voting citizens of Florida. That website is my response to the Hometown Democracy initiative you spearheaded.

Several months ago, when I first heard of Amendment 4, I was intrigued by the idea of voter oversight as a remedy to the epidemic of corruption in Florida politics. I also had some reservations. I doubted that most Florida citizens are as informed and attentive as they would need to be for this level of democracy to succeed. Moreover, government officials and the news media do a woefully poor job of providing the information and access that citizens require.  My initial reaction was that Amendment 4 would only replace one broken system with another, and that a more sensible approach would be to revitalize representative democracy.

Nevertheless, it seemed to me that if Amendment 4 passed, the aftermath would spark urgent demand for better reporting and debate tools at the local level. That motivated the project that I have dedicated to you.


I was  particularly fascinated by the Hometown Democracy campaign because I’ve devoted quite a bit of time to the challenge of “Building better tools for better democracies.” I’m a computer programmer by trade, but I also have a deep grounding in political theory, including a Ph.D. in International Studies from the University of Miami.

Nearly four years ago, I decided to apply myself to creating a truly fair and useful online townhall system. A big part of the challenge is simply to show what interactive consensus-building tools might look like. My first project was an online ranked choice/instant runoff straw poll system (here). I was recently preparing to undertake a smart-phone based, interactive crowdsourcing project, but I put it aside in favor of preparing for the aftermath of an Amendment 4 victory.

The initial plan – named Hometown Logic – was to create an online venue in which citizens could find and debate information relevant to comprehensive plan changes.  My enthusiasm for that idea fed an optimistic confidence that I could create an even broader kind of debate site.

The re-conceptualized, re-branded idea wasn’t completed in time to become a factor in the 2010 election, but I’m certain that will always be a need for these kinds of tools. For the long run, my hope is that there will also be a growing, explicit demand for them.

The result – – is “hosted” by a mascot named Homie the Debater Gator. The site is essentially a prototype for a Twitter-based discourse and debate tool. It displays side-by-side “Homestreams” for contenders in a political race. Its key innovation is Gator Grammar… an extension of familiar Twitter tagging conventions. Those extensions are designed to foster productive discussions among supporters of competing propositions or candidates, as well as productive discussions between opponents.

Gator Debater falls far short of its intended purpose, which is not surprising. My resources are limited. Plus, though Twitter is fashionable, its spectrum is narrow and over-constrained. An engaged modern citizenry needs a far richer and more robust venue for democratic discourse. This is simply a sincere step toward that end.

Along the way, you’ll probably be happy to learn, I changed my mind about Amendment 4 and decided to vote for it. After witnessing the shameless lies and the blatant fear mongering of the anti-4 campaign, I concluded that a vote to perpetuate the status quo would be a vote to perpetuate the current culture of boom-and-bust corruption.


During one the debates before this election you said, “In the face of Amendment 4, our opponents offer nothing.” I deeply respect and admire the efforts of you and others to light candles rather than curse the darkness. It’s become all too clear that there are many people who will race to put out those candles because darkness allows them a free hand to do all they wish.

However, please keep in mind that I was once an opponent. began as my attempt to offer a useful response rather than a partisan protest. If it had been up to me, the time and money spent fighting over this amendment would have been put to better use if both sides had pooled their resources and collaborated in an honest effort to fix the current process.

As it turns out, the biggest challenge of building a successful venue for democratic discourse is not the challenge of building gizmos and gadgets. The ultimate challenge is getting people to truly appreciate the extent to which we’re all in this together. Once they get that, I believe, respect for honest collaboration will logically follow.

That, finally, is why I decided to dedicate GatorDebater first of all to you, Lesley Blackner. You clearly had faith that everyday people could rise to the responsibilities of democracy. That is a faith worth honoring.


Amendment 4 covered by St. Petersburg Times

October 29, 2010

Detailed coverage of Amendment 4 by St. Petersburg Times here.

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Florida Amendment 4 Debated on WPBT

October 20, 2010

This panel debate featured Lesley Blackner, Alan Farago arguing in favor of Amendment4, with Cliff Schulman and Jack McCabe arguing against.


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Downtown Bay Forum Debate on Florida Amendment 4

October 19, 2010

The video and sound quality leave a lot to be desired, but the questions and answers were substantive.

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Full Text and Background on Florida Amendment 4

October 19, 2010

Ballotpedia provides a comprehensive overview of Florida Amendment 4 here.

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Dan Lobeck and Karl Nurse debate Florida Amendment 4

October 19, 2010

Yes on 4 supporter Dan Lobeck debates St. Pete City Council member Karl Nurse on Bay News 9.

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Lesley Blackner and Toby Overdorf debate Amendment 4

October 18, 2010

Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers Editorial Board meeting on Amendment 4, with advocate Lesley Blackner, president of Hometown Democracy; and opponent Toby Overdorf, representing No on 4. Moderator: Rich Campbell.

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Blackner and Houck Debate on YouTube

October 18, 2010

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FL Amendment 4 debated on WLRN

August 24, 2010

Joseph Cooper hosted a full hour debate between Lesley Blackner and Carter McDowell on the WLRN show called Tropical Currents. Cooper’s page gets you to an archive link that runs a Flash sound player which seems to auto-load the most recent program.  So you’ll need to hunt around for the August 24, 2010 program as time goes on.

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