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Sunday, September 19, 2021
<p>Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, a County Commission candidate, plans to change Alachua county‘s focus on drug laws and put an emphasis on protecting the county’s wilderness.</p>

Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, a County Commission candidate, plans to change Alachua county‘s focus on drug laws and put an emphasis on protecting the county’s wilderness.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series that profiles candidates running for state and local offices.

It’s a long drive to Hutch’s office.

The two-lane county road near Micanopy is lined with ancient oaks that droop with Spanish moss. A narrow dirt road leads to his office at the Alachua Conservation Trust, which has purchased more than 8,000 acres of Alachua County’s forests, farms and wilderness.

Many of these efforts were spearheaded by the trust’s executive director, Robert Hutchinson, who is known almost exclusively as “Hutch.”

But the Gainesville native hopes to influence more than land-preserving deals this year by running for the District 3 seat in the Alachua County Commission.

He said he thinks students should vote for him due to his progressive stance on drugs, involvement with Innovation Gainesville and commitment to protect the natural areas of Alachua County.

Hutch is familiar with the position, because he was elected to the Alachua County Commission in 1998. During his time in office, the county merged its dispatch center with other agencies to respond to emergencies faster, built a new sheriff’s headquarters, paid for a new courthouse through a voter-approved sales tax and worked to cut back jail overcrowding.

Part of the prison overcrowding problem, as Hutch sees it, is locking up minor drug offenders.

“We’re locking up way too many people,” Hutch said. “Thirty percent of Florida prisoners are incarcerated due to substance use or mental health issues. That’s just not right.”

While he acknowledges there is little the county can do to decriminalize minor drug use, it can take away the incentive for officers to make busts.

Under current county laws, Hutch said, deputies can use the money raised from drug busts to buy new weapons and technology.

Hutch said if he is elected, he would like to see a portion of these forfeiture funds go to drug rehabilitation and education. He said he would try to change the laws so the money made from the forfeiture laws would tie in with funding to the Sheriff’s Office.

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On one hand, the department would get less county funding based on how many seizures it makes. On the other hand, forfeitures could fill in budget holes during lean years.

“They will get the same amount of money no matter what,” Hutch said, “so they won’t have that extra incentive.”

However, Hutch fully endorses incentives to businesses and said he was proud to serve on the board of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce when Innovation Gainesville began to materialize.

“The philosophy is to stay out of the way of entrepreneurs,” he said.

While he’s eager to attract more companies and startups to the area, Hutch said he wants growth to be managed in an environmentally responsible way.

If elected, he said, he would try to keep development centers, like Florida Innovation Hub at UF and Innovation Square, within Gainesville city limits to make sure the more rural and scenic areas are not developed.

After all, he said, he loves to be surrounded by nature.

Contact Shelby Webb at swebb@alligator.org.

Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, a County Commission candidate, plans to change Alachua county‘s focus on drug laws and put an emphasis on protecting the county’s wilderness.

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