A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Setting the Record Straight: "Facts" in a Funhouse Mirror

Even though my Republican opponent signed a pledge not to base messages on "lies or subtle deceptions or half truths", she apparently approved three negative attack ads (two mailers and a TV spot) that contained a total of five separate lies, deceptions and/or half truths about me. Had I responded during the campaign I would merely have been repeating the distortions, but now I can reveal how distorted or spun these accusations were.

Each accusation starts with a smidgen of "truthiness" and goes on an excursion that ventures into the "lies, deceptions and half truths" territory. 

MAJOR CONTRIBUTORS ARE FROM OUTSIDE SARASOTA COUNTY. This appeared three times in slightly different forms. I guess we need to define "major". My major contributor was a Sarasota environmentalist -- myself-- I poured close to $25,000 of my own money into the campaign account (as well as foregoing a half year's salary). All my other contributions came in amounts of $200 or less, which can't be said for the money that poured into the local Republican Party to defeat me. 

My sincere effort to reach out the the business/development community was distorted into the haunting spectre of "major contributors are big developers from outside our county". Yeah, I had two helpful contributors who live outside the county, but happen to control land in Sarasota county. By my count about 15% of my contributions came from development-related sources. I think the comparable figure for my Republican opponent was roughly twice that. So it might be more accurate to say the campaign with the greatest percentage of developer support was my opponents.  It seems both ironic and sad to me that developers are willing to fund campaigns based on labeling environmentalists as the developer's candidates.

BELIEVES FLORIDIANS DO NOT PAY ENOUGH IN INSURANCE PREMIUMS This charge also appeared three times in different forms. Although this was touted as being "on the record" it was surreptitiously recorded at a meeting with High School students that my Republican opponent chose not to attend. Instead the head of the local Republican party stood in the back of the room with a recording device. My well intentioned (and informal) effort to explain hurricane risk exposure to high school students became an "on the record" statement "that Floridians don't pay enough insurance premiums". The implication in that statement is that people should be paying more. I never said, or even implied, that.

The fact is there are plenty of articles documenting the fact that there has not been enough money paid into the system to cover the costs of a bad hurricane year. I'd recommend The Natural-Catastrophe Crisis by Michael Lewis that appeared in the August 26, 3007 New York Times Magazine Section. Here's a quote from that article:

The companies’ models disagreed here and there, but on one point they spoke with a single voice: four natural perils had outgrown the insurers’ ability to insure them — U.S. hurricane, California earthquake, European winter storm and Japanese earthquake. The insurance industry was prepared to lose $30 billion in a single event, once every 10 years. The models showed that a sole hurricane in Florida wouldn’t have to work too hard to create $100 billion in losses. There were concentrations of wealth in the world that defied the logic of insurance. And most of them were in America.

Here's another quote that deals specifically with the situation in Florida: The single biggest issue in Florida’s 2006 governor’s race, for instance, was the price of insurance. The Republican, Charlie Crist, got himself elected on the strength of his promise to reduce Floridians’ home-insurance rates by creating a state-subsidized pool of $28 billion in catastrophe insurance coverage. “Florida took this notion of spreading this risk and turned it on its head,” says one former state insurance commissioner. “They said, ‘We’re going to take all this risk ourselves.’ ” The state sold its citizens catastrophe insurance at roughly one-sixth the market rates, thus encouraging them to live in riskier places than they would if they had to pay what the market charged (and in the bargain, the state subsidized the well-to-do who live near the beach at the expense of the less-well-to-do who don’t). But if all the models are correct, $28 billion might not cover even one serious storm. The disaster waiting to happen in Florida grows bigger by the day, but for a man running for governor of Florida, ignoring it is a political no-brainer. If he’s lucky — if no big storms hit in his term — he looks like the genius who saved Floridians billions in catastrophic-risk premiums. If he’s unlucky, he bankrupts Florida and all hell breaks loose, but he can shake down the federal government to cover some of the losses.

So yeah, Floridians have not paid enough in insurance premiums to cover potential storm damage. That's what I was trying to explain the students. So much for telling the truth.

HAS A PLAN FOR PAID BEACH PARKING, BUT OPPOSES BEACH CONSERVATION/NOURISHMENT My conciliatory and speculative exploration of how free and paid beach parking might exist simultaneously became "has a plan for paid parking at the beach, but opposes beach conservation/nourishment." No mention of the fact that the concept was premised on maintaining free parking. If you want to know where they got this, see my blog on the subject of beach parking. Its pretty clear that I was trying to suggest a consensus position, not advocate all-paid parking at the beach. 

I'm not really sure where the "opposes beach conservation/nourishment" came from. Maybe my position that we can't afford to nourish all 35 miles of Gulf shoreline?

LEAD THE EFFORT TO INCREASE OVER $250,000,000 IN ADDITIONAL TAXES. Guilty as charged, I guess, except the figures are wrong and the accusation fails to mention that "the effort" was repeatedly approved by (Republican) commissioners and the voting public. So sixteen years spent on behalf of the public to conceive and implement a popular environmentally sensitive lands program repeatedly endorsed by the county commission and resoundingly by the electorate became "championed the effort that led to $250,000,000 taxpayer dollars being spent to purchase land at the peak of the market." As you might imagine the total isn't $250,000,000 and very little land was purchased at the peak of the market. 

More no good deed goes unpunished.

HAS NEVER CREATED A JOB OR MADE A PAYROLL and NO EXPERIENCE BRINGING JOBS TO OUR COMMUNITY This one has a definite kernel of truth, but it is implicitly based on the premise that people running for local office have to have had experience creating jobs. That's news to me. It is true that I have not held a position that had as a primary goal of job creation. [Had my opponent?] Instead I had a job instructing students about the local environment and many have stayed in the area after graduation and got or created local jobs. I believe 10% of all New College graduates live and work between Tampa and Naples. Surely my participation over a 30 year period has contributed to local employment.

But beyond preparing students to find work locally, the fact is I have created jobs here. Not a lot, but I have; both directly and indirectly. It started back in 1975 when my future wife and I created a small environmental consulting business. And yes, we did hire people on occasion to work for us.

But more importantly, I was a leader in creating the County's Environmental Lands Program, (which I was also pilloried for, see the prior accusation) a program that created the need for local acquisition agents as well as land managers. We'll work on a total.


I had hoped the campaign would be about issues and where the county needed to head, instead my Republican opponent descended into a litany of distorted attack ads that lacked any way for voters to independently research the truth. According to definitions provided by the Sarasota County Civic League, this appears to have been dishonest, irresponsible and disrespectful. For more on this see an earlier blog.

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