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  1. Opinion

Column: Florida needs informed, engaged voters

November's election is right around the corner, but performing your civic duty and being a good, engaged citizen requires more than marking a ballot. While I encourage citizens to participate on Nov. 4, and to make an informed decision at the polls, for our government to operate effectively citizens must care beyond the outcome of an election.

To hold government accountable, citizens must be involved in its processes. However, far too few Floridians are taking a genuine and meaningful interest in government. In our most recent election, statewide voter turnout was only 17.5 percent, the lowest it's been since 1998.

Why are Floridians choosing not to participate? One reason is likely because they lack good information about candidates, issues and government processes. Quality information about government is critical to meaningful participation in the public sphere, which ultimately holds government responsible for its actions.

When citizens aren't informed, they become disengaged. Disengagement eliminates adequate oversight of government by its people, and without that oversight, the door is open for poor decisionmaking by government officials.

This dangerous cycle must end. Floridians must have access to factual information that will foster their participation and involve them in the decisionmaking process that affects the quality of life for themselves and their families.

Florida TaxWatch announced the formation of the Center for Florida Citizenship this year on Sept. 17, which was Citizenship Day. The center will help prepare Floridians to better understand their government and encourage them to take an active role in policymaking. As the chair of the TaxWatch Center for Florida Citizenship, I am committed to working with vice chairman Mike Sole, former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, other members of the center's advisory board, and the TaxWatch staff to foster engagement among Florida citizens.

As former governor of Florida, I value the important role that the citizenry has in effective government. I know the TaxWatch Center for Florida Citizenship will enable hardworking Floridians to take back their critical role in government, by sparking interest and helping citizens to provide input and put oversight back in the political and policy development processes.

The mission of the TaxWatch Center for Florida Citizenship is to enable Florida voters to fulfill their responsibility as citizens by educating them on the activities, functions and processes of their government. The center will work to inform Floridians on key issues using fact-based, nonpartisan research, and will prepare citizens to participate.

A quote from Thomas Jefferson illustrates the importance of an engaged electorate and an involved public: "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories."

The TaxWatch Center for Florida Citizenship is an important first step to ensuring the people of Florida are a well-informed and capable check and balance on government.

Before and after this year's election, Floridians can visit the center's website (floridataxwatch.org/Research/centers/cfc.aspx) and discover educational briefs that will help them be more effective advocates for themselves, their families and businesses.

Bob Martinez was governor of Florida from 1987 to 1991.

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