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

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Biggest Campaign Surprise So Far: Update

On May 13th my blog stated that the big surprise in the campaign so far was the surge in crude oil prices. Then the next day my presumptive incumbent opponent announced he was withdrawing from the race. That's moved into first place in the big surprise category. 

Of course, I'll be writing more about what this means for my campaign, but this is a busy time as we reconfigure the race not for an incumbent with a record, but for one, two, three, (or  four or five?) political opportunists who may apparently be experiencing a compelling, if not overwhelming, spontaneous urge to serve the county. 

I just think it is interesting that no one in Paul's party was driven enough to serve to step up and challenge Paul when Paul was a powerful presence;  but, now that the Republican coast is clear, their conviction has suddenly clarified, their resolve quickly solidified and their no doubt longstanding interest in serving as a County Commissioner will finally be revealed.                                                                                                                                                            ............
Okay, that was a little snippy. Probably one of those things one should sleep on before responding to. A more gracious way to come at this would be to say that had these new challengers announced earlier, it might have helped Paul reach his decision sooner and therefore given them, the newcomers,  a better start. That's better.

The main thing to focus on is the fact that during the few months we were opponents Paul and I went beyond civil and cordial to actually remaining friendly. I sat next to him at a South Venice Civic Association meeting and we both held to our commitments to be aboveboard with each other. 

As a commissioner his service to the community comes closer to 168 than 40 hours a week. And I'm sure the salary is long forgotten as a storm like Charley surges up the west coast. And despite our differences, Paul and I shared many traits -- we're both northeasterners with a strong sense of humor and different way of approaching challenges. We came to Sarasota and made a commitment to the community that transcended raising kids and working. I look forward to resuming our non-competitive relationship and, contrary to my initial venting above, I want to welcome others to the race. 

Part of of why I am running is to provide Sarasotans with choices and if no Republicans step forward, that goal will have been thwarted.  Welcome aboard.


Sarasota Herald-Tribune Political Columnist Jeremy Wallace covered the Republican Party's search for candidates in the first district race current Commissioner Paul Mercier exited last week. The column (reproduced below) is more of a list of who isn't than who might. That's not too surprising. Aside from my third of a year headstart in terms of fundraising, voter contact, name recognition, website, blog, endorsements, TV and radio appearances, and grassroots organization, someone wanting to enter the race at this point faces two structural challenges:

1) Paul's timing prevents "carpetbaggers" from renting a place in the first district and then claiming they are residents. That restricts potential candidates to people who actually live in the district -- a good thing in my opinion. As for myself, I've lived in the first district twice, most recently for the past 17 years, which gives me valuable perspective on how the district is changing. (I've also lived in six different locations in the district, which also provide perspective.)

2) It is too late to get on the ballot by petition as I did (see my blog on the subject). That means candidates will have to stroke a check (for $4,665.53 as I recall) and that money must come from some mixture of the candidate's personal funds and money raised in increments of $200 or less. That's a significant threshold whether one is dipping into a personal account or putting a fund raising machine in gear.

I fully expect one or more Republican challengers to enter the race, but it may take a little while for prospective candidates to gauge how much of their time, money and personal life will be consumed the next 169 days. These are not quick and easy decisions, particularly when families are involved - it took me several months to work through all the life-changing implications.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gas Prices: Hoping the Customer Isn't Always Right

The biggest surprise of the campaign so far? The one that might have the biggest effect on shaping the County's future? Is it a stealth candidate? The resurgence of the Democratic Party? The broad spectrum support for the Urban Service Boundary consensus?  No, it is the fact that oil now costs 25% more than it did when I started campaigning in mid-January. It's been increasing at a rate of roughly $6 a barrel a month. And $3 a gallon gasoline is starting to seem as nostalgic as rotary dial phones and pennies with little heads of wheat on the reverse.

Friday's (May 9th) USA TODAY featured two apparently contradictory articles, both of which predicted our petroleum future. On the front page of Section B (MONEY), fifty-five percent of 372 petroleum industry executives said "they think the price of a barrel of crude will drop below $100 by the end of the year." That encouraging thought was tempered by a special report on the front page of the paper that included these nuggets from a USA TODAY Gallup Poll (presumably of American gas buying customers): "54% say they expect gas prices to reach $6 a gallon in the next five years" and "eight in 10 say they doubt today's high prices are temporary."

Of course, both groups could be wrong, and theoretically both could be right if the price of crude drops while oil companies perversely manage to keep raising gas prices. Ordinarily one would expect oil prices to be somehow yoked to gas prices, both falling or rising together, however out of phase. The least likely scenario, it seems to me, is that crude oil will continue to increase in price while gas prices drop. 

But other than estimating the cost of driving around the county, why does a County Commission candidate care about prices structures the County Commission has no control over? Because gas prices affect driving habits and driving habits are at the center of both sprawl and traffic congestion, two of the public's biggest concerns. 

Imagine if gasoline were free. Then the only constraint to living in Arcadia and working in Venice would be how much or little one likes to drive. Since many cars are now more comfortable than many offices, a scenic drive through Myakka Park with iPod or bluetooth cell phone might not seem like such a hardship. 

Now imagine if it cost you a dollar a mile just to put gas in the car. [That could be $6 a gallon gas in a vehicle that gets 6 miles to the gallon.] The daily commute from Arcadia to Venice and back would cost $100, or $2,000 a month. In that scenario people would be doing nearly whatever they could to live near whatever destination mattered most to them, be it work, school, church, shopping, the beach, or restaurants. That effect might drain cars from the road, minimizing the need for new lanes of asphalt and maximizing the demand for public transit.

And that's precisely why this candidate is wondering whether USA TODAY poll respondents or oil execs have a better sense of what may happen. Higher gas prices should help limit sprawl, but dramatic and sudden increases will cause severe problems because our land use patterns (and wages/income) change MUCH more slowly. That will leave many residents stranded in their homes, unable to travel as they assumed they would. And up and down yo-yoing of oil prices deprives us of the predictability needed to plan and adjust.

I don't look forward to $6 a gallon gas in 2012 (the Gallup Poll scenario), but if higher prices are coming I believe Sarasota can and will adjust priorities to adapt, continuing to move towards sustainability. 

May 15th Postscript: The New York Times reports today that oil refiners are having "a traumatic period". The reason? " The price of their raw material, oil, is rising because of strong global demand. At the same time, consumption of gasoline in the United States is falling as a result of slower economic growth and consumer efforts to conserve." And despite the fact that we are experiencing high gasoline prices, the producers haven't been able to pass along all the costs. According to the article "Oil prices doubled in the past year, while wholesale gasoline prices rose a mere 39 percent." The article goes on to say that the big companies (like Exxon Mobil) that produce their own oil are making lots of money, but smaller refiners that have to buy oil are struggling