by Joyce Marcel
August 26, 2010
A BUSHEL FULL
BRADENTON, Fla., Aug. 22, 2010 - The woes of Florida are well known.
Unemployment has reached an incredible 11.5 percent; it was a little over 3 percent when we relocated our world headquarters to the South Florida Gulf Coast in June 2003. Our headquarters, purchased for $148,000 in cash in 2003, is valued optimistically at $70,000 today. The number of foreclosures is once again rising; here in Manatee County, about 125 families lose the homes they owned every week.
For Sale signs that were once ubiquitous are mostly gone; there is no market, and offers are too low to contemplate, anyway. Across the state it can be better or worse, but this area has lost more banks than virtually any of similar size in the country, all due to mortgage losses and mortgage fraud. The banks aren't lending, of course. Homes aren't getting built. Along the streets, more and more storefronts and shopping centers are becoming largely vacant. People are moving out; many towns and cities have far more seats and classrooms than they do students to fill them.
For those Florida cities that had to endure to the BP Big Leak, the desperation is even more palpable. Restaurants that thrived for decades are going dark; jobs that sustained communities for the entire lifetime of those towns are gone. Property tax collections are paltry; ours went from $1,400 a year to $800 a year, reflecting our reduced assessment. But the homeowner and condominium associations still charge the same dues for maintenance they did before the bust; now people can't afford to pay the same assessments for properties that are worth half what they were in 2007.
Well, we all know the long list of ills, because they are the same, with some variations, all across the country, and pretty much all across the world. While one single change could fix everything, believe it or not, that change is coming too slowly. And it is technological, not political, so it's mostly irrelevant this morning as we offer our endorsements for local, state and federal primary races for the Aug. 24 elections here. To the degree it is relevant, it is because we need fresh blood in public office, men and women open to and bearing new ideas that can replace the old, worn-out ones that have ceased to work either for Florida or America.
Our local school board is chaired by an extremely able and personable professor of biology at the State College of Florida in Bradenton. Her name is Jane Pfeilsticker, and she's up against a real estate agent named Julie Aranibar, who has been raking in cash from developers that want new schools built even if we don't need them, and demand lower taxes at a time when the schools are starving for kids, money and important electives; some schools are even asking kids to bring in their own paper towels and toilet paper.
Jane Pfeilsticker has navigated one of the worst budget-making sessions ever; everyone's ox gets gored in times like these, yet she has managed to bring the board through the crucible without losing teachers and while raising taxes about $1 a month - which, God knows, is all we can afford. And as someone who is always confronted with new paradigms in the progress of science, she is one of those rare leaders who truly are open to fundamental technological change. We are not endorsing in other school board races except to urge that Barbara Harvey and Bob Gausse, who are distinguished by their personal probity, truthfulness and character, are recommended for re-election.
At the county level, we warmly endorse the candidacy of newcomers Sundae Knight and Michael Gallen, an engineer and attorney, respectively, who are taking on entrenched politicians whose leadership has not seemed to make a substantial difference for the better in all their years in office. They were responsible for some very serious errors during the housing boom, and called the wrong shots on the controversial and critical selection of a concessionaire for the famed Cafe On The Beach. They disappointed thousands of residents who opposed the new corporate operator of this down-home, old-fashioned, Old Florida beachside restaurant that is very much the heartbeat of our community. We urge the election of Knight and Gallen to the Board of County Commissioners, and would welcome their new ideas.
The great challenge in 2010 is to select the right primary candidates for Governor and U.S. Senator. The Democrat, Alex Sink, has no meaningful opposition in the gubernatorial primary. Her one great contribution to the race was her selection of Rod Smith as her running mate. Smith is an outstanding, well-qualified and courageous individual who would make an excellent governor in Sink's absence.
But in the Republican primary race for Governor, our choices are also limited to Bill McCollum and Rick Scott. McCollum is the very epitome of the same ol', same ol' politician we've endured her for decades; he has not been convicted yet of believing anything. He faces Rick Scott, the former chairman of the board of Hospital Corporation of America. That company started having legal troubles all the way back in 1982, and Scott didn't manage the problems very well.
Although he was never indicted, HCA was fined a whopping $1.7 billion for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid, and to his credit, Scott has taken responsibility for it. But handing him the Republican nomination is not without risk. We can't know from his past what kind of government he would run. McCollum, even though he cost taxpayers an awful lot as he flew around the state, has never had a personal scandal of serious dimension. But is it enough to be fairly honest, if disingenuous and without the forthright character we'd like to have? It's really not.
When things were better, we could have borne the pedestrian McCollum, but now we need the higher-risk Scott for his proven ability to build a business, create employment and innovate. Those qualities are an imperative, so we recommend Scott, with caution, in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Scott or McCollum will face either Lawton "Bud" Chiles, a talented and generous son of the beloved former governor of the same name, or Alex Sink in November.
Finally, in the U.S. Senate race for the seat abandoned by Sen. George LeMieux and by Sen. Mel Martinez before him, a veteran black Congressman from the Miami area, Rep. Kendrick Meek, is the current favorite to beat Jeff Greene in what has been a very bitter Democratic primary race. Meek is the son of former Rep. Carrie Meek, who became a $90,000-a-year consultant to a firm the younger Meek helped with budget earmarks in Congress; she also got a nice Cadillac Escalade, and an aide to Kendrick Meek was paid $13,000 for his services. So Meek, who is a very nice, soft-spoken guy who nonetheless has yet to author a piece of legislation that became federal law, doesn't impress us as the brightest or best fellow in the race.
Meek's opponent, Jeff Greene, is a bird of another feather, a brighter plumage and sharper beak. What remains to be seen is how he would exercise those metaphorical avian qualities. Would the billion dollars he has made in the housing bond market start working for Floridians, giving us a brighter future? Would that sharp beak peck relentlessly away at corruption, as he promises?
Would Greene bring the same cunning and savage deal-making skills to the floor of the U.S. Senate, acting on behalf of Florida? Once again, starved for real political talent, we desperately hope so. We endorse Greene with sadness because Meek is such a nice guy, and because Greene was so recently a Republican and so opaque about his plans. Yet America cannot make it with the Meeks and McCollums; we really need to bring out the big guns and pray they work for us, not themselves.
In the Republican race, former Florida House of Representatives speaker Marco Rubio of Miami is a shoo-in who ran Republican Gov. Charlie Crist out of the race. Crist chose to become an independent, a strategically brilliant move that has left him ahead in the polls. Like most Floridians, we still hold Crist in relatively high esteem, but our ultimate choice for the U.S. Senate seat is still to be made. Yet if ideas, and not money, are the true currency of politics, the campaigns offered by Scott, Greene, Sink, Chiles and Crist this fall may help all Floridians begin to envision a little better future that has more jobs and money in it.