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

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Clueless in South County?

A recent Venice Gondolier editorial suggested all three District 1 County Commission candidates (Jono Miller, Carolyn Mason, and John Mullarkey) were all equally clueless about South County. Unfortunately, it is hard for me to believe that the writer of the editorial was actually at the Southwest County Alliance candidate’s forum held at Boca Royale. Here is my response:

Yes, I marched in the North Port Fourth of July Parade and the Englewood Pioneer Days Parade. When I asked where the Englewood Parade would end and was told Englewood Elementary  I must have looked clueless, so the person helping me said: " So you want to run for the County Commission, but you don't know where the elementary school is?

I flashed him a "give me a break" look and said: "I'm not running for the dang School Board!" So maybe not knowing Englewood Elementary marks me as a hopeless south county wannabe. (At least I made the scene.) And, I’ll admit, I didn’t have a ready answer about the 776 Corridor Plan when asked about it at the Southwest County Alliance candidates forum. I chose to confess my ignorance instead of winging it.

But the fact is I have a long, rich history with south county, the Cape Haze Peninsula, Charlotte Harbor and North Port. And I suspect I am the only one of us District One candidates that can say that.

I first cruised down 776 as a teenager in the fall of 1970. I was part of a New College Environmental Biology class headed to Placida to paddle out to Devilfish Key. Since then I have paddled through all of Lemon Bay, and from Snook Haven to Sanibel (and from Ft. Meade to Chockoloskee). I’ve walked the beaches from the Charlotte County line north to Tampa Bay. Those early Charlotte Harbor forays led to my serving on the Charlotte Harbor Task Force and compiling a review of what was known about flows in the Peace River. My knowledge doesn’t stop at the County Line. I know Cape Haze, Bull Bay, Boggess Hole, and, of course, Devilfish Key.

I’ve been more than an engaged explorer of South County and Cape Haze. With my wife, Julie Morris, and Jean Huffman I undertook a major study of the habitats of North Port back in 1983. [The changing landscape of North Port, Florida as related to wildlife habitat and burning] That is one of the few documents that characterize the history of North Port before Mackles and GDC. Julie and I also worked on a major assessment of Gasparilla Island for the Conservation Foundation [Preserving the Heritage of Gasparilla Island, 1978, John Clark].

Map we produced of the Vegetation of North Port in 1948

But I’ve done more than study south county. I provided more than 15 years of leadership that led to the purchase of Manasota Scrub Preserve. That program went on to protect many key parcels along the Myakka. We should all be proud that it is now theoretically possible to park on the east side of the Myakka on 41 and walk 15 miles due north never leaving public property. I was also involved in protecting what was called the France Property – now Lemon Bay Park. Then I helped conceive and find funding for the County’s Neighborhood Parkland Program. I currently serve on the County’s Parks Advisory and Recreation Council that (successfully) recommended purchases on the waterfront in Englewood and is currently searching for non-motorized water access for the public along the Myakka at US 41. I also serve on a county group that is trying to protect scrub jays and I am arguing for approaches that do not unfairly penalize lot owners who happen to have scrub jay habitat.

I didn’t mention that I married my wife, Julie, at the Eagle Point Club in Venice or that my in-laws lived in Bird Bay Village for a while or the Curry Creek Preserve or working to keep a spring-training facility off the banks of the Myakka. But the fact is, for a guy who can walk to the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport in 25 minutes, I have a long-standing, deep relationship with South County, not merely as a spectator, or researcher, but as someone fighting for the bays, rivers, public lands, etc. I just didn’t feel it was appropriate to BS an answer about 776 Corridor Plan (although I now have a copy here on my desk).

And I can make the same promise Paul Mercier made when he ran from the First District: You’ll be seeing me in South County, engaged on South County issues; and not just when the Commission is meeting there.

I've asked the Sun-Herald papers if I can provide a guest column answering the eleven specific questions raised by the editorial. As of Saturday September 20th, I am awaiting a response.

And instead of asking shibboleth questions to separate South County sheep from North County goats, perhaps South County voters should be asking: What have you done for South County before you started running for office? 

That's one I can answer.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fresh Lies Served on a Bed of Tossed Data: The Politics of Desperation

Well, here we are 51 days from November 4th and the politics of desperation have started.  I guess they couldn't wait. This morning local Republicans released poll results they contend show me behind in the District One Sarasota County Commission contest. Concerned supporters have sent me copies of the press release and this blog is my reaction.


Back last year when I was thinking about running, I asked a trusted local politician with lots of of experience how much I needed worry about some youthful statement I might have made years ago. He told me not to worry about people taking the time to do deep research about what might have been said 30 years ago – “ They don’t bother taking the time to do that nowadays – they just make (expletive deleted) up.”

He was right. The recent “press release” is a work of misdirection or sleight of hand worthy of any amateur magician. The reader is supposedly focused on the polling data, which is quite suspect (see analysis below) but the real message is the spin they put on the data – an assertion that voters are reacting to my “anti-business/anti-jobs message”.


There is a term for deliberately mis-representing an opposing candidate’s position and that term is “lying”.

The Republican press release is deliberately lying about my position on jobs and business. I have consistently argued for strengthening the local economy through businesses that are interwoven with Sarasota’s special strengths. Our educational resources (some of the best in the state) combined with our growing reputation for sustainability and our environmental assets give us a leg up on attracting “knowledge workers” committed to solving some of the crises our neighborhoods, county, state and nation face.

For example, I support 1) finding ways to create more trade and green collar jobs remodeling homes to be more sustainable and hurricane resistant, 2) transit-oriented mixed-use redevelopment of aging strip malls, 3) new centers of innovation for alternative energy (particularly solar) and studies of aging, and 4) a more business-friendly climate that emphasizes creating (or re-creating) quality jobs and one that  supports our existing local businesses. Too many people have told me the local business climate is too hostile. We need to change that. Sarasota’s voters need to know it is possible for someone to be serious about both the environment and the economy. I'm that candidate and have been from the start. 

And, just for the record, I don't only support green business -- I just think of all our possible avenues to a local economy other Florida counties can't match, the sustainability angle has the best chance for helping us build out of the slump we're in. 

Needless to say, I’m waiting to see the evidence for their spurious accusations. I’ll probably have a long wait. Instead of anti-business/anti-jobs message they’ll find I hammer at least one of the following themes every time I speak:

When an environmentalist tells you the economy is where we need to focus attention, you better believe the economy is where we need to focus attention.

Despite our leadership in other fields, we (Sarasota County) are not one of the leading counties when it comes to creating or attracting quality jobs or supporting local business, and we need to be.

Our neighborhoods are suffering with too many vacant homes, a sobering reality that is draining our neighborhoods. These homes need to be filled with people, yes, retirees; but more importantly, working people.

And if they took time to read my blog entries here is a sample of what they would have found:

Sept 10 •  Letter to Sen. Martinez: "
In particular, I hope you will emphasize the need to invest in solar and other clean renewable technologies. That is especially crucial here in Florida and could be even more important for Sarasota, a county with a growing reputation for, and investment in, sustainability.I'm very concerned that solar and wind tax credits are set to expire at the end of the year— and that would be a disaster for those small businesses investing in an alternative energy future."

Sept 2 • On recycling campaign yard signs: "
Jim is willing to take all the political campaign signs we can get him. They will undergo a transformation and re-appear as useful products. Here's a way to address a waste problem and support local green business and reduce transportation costs for finished products."

August 28 • "
Known for his common sense and reasonable approach, Miller has made an effort to reach out to other major constituencies and has received significant, but not unanimous, support from local development and business interests, raising some eyebrows among some green supporters." 


"Sam and Jono lost the outdoor thread for a while, brainstorming instead about the economic potential of additional photovoltaic investment in Sarasota County."

July 27th • "
As Commissioner then, I believe there is a tie for the top two priorities: 1) supporting the recovery of the tax base/economy and 2) supporting the recovery of our neighborhoods, while 3) charting a course that does not drop us back into overdependence on any brittle, narrow economic sectors. Filling homes and the tax base will involve creating new (and re-creating lost) jobs, a challenging task that will require a mix of proven job generators and new initiatives."

June 2 • "
Our local economy is suffering and we need come together and revive it -- not going back to old patterns that made our economy brittle, but forwards towards economic solutions that facilitate watching out for each other: buying locally, building on local strengths, investing locally, and moving towards resilience and sustainability." 

One interesting factoid: On September 9th the Sarasota Economic Development Council (EDC) announced an awareness campaign to encourage business and government to buy locally when possible. This theme of buying locally was an important part of my first
You Tube video released exactly eight months earlier on January 9th!

And if my opponents have been focused on the economy and jobs since January as well, I’m waiting to see the evidence.


I’ve been clear about my focus on the economy and jobs since January.
People that tell you otherwise are lying to you. Call them on it.

Don’t be thrown off by the poll. I’m not. I don’t need polling to tell me there's a built-in mountain for me to climb, a mountain that reflects the discrepancy in local party registration. I’ve been climbing that mountain since January when I announced I was running against a two-term incumbent. I expect to be on the other side of that mountain on November 5th. And I don’t intend to lie to get there.

Do manipulation, lying, and other forms of distortion work? Yes, to a certain extent they do. That’s why some campaigns resort to them. It is what I call the politics of desperation and I hope voters are getting tired of it.

erhaps the next time they poll they should ask how people feel about deliberately lying about another candidate. 

Now those are some numbers I would like to see.



The press release is a case study in political maneuvering. First of all, campaigns and political parties don’t release polling data unless they believe it is to their advantage. After all, polling data is supposed to give one side an unequal advantage in knowing the likely behavior of the electorate. You don’t show another player your ace, unless you think it will benefit your game somehow.

Secondly, they are not releasing any data on the questions that preceded the “ if the election were held today. . .” question. Without seeing what, if anything, came before, there is no way of knowing how much bias was front-loaded.

Third, they conveniently seem to have forgotten the other candidate, John Mullarkey, which makes about as much sense as ignoring Ralph Nader in 2000. John should not be ignored. John will draw votes and those votes could easily play a role in who wins.

Then there is the problem with the poll itself -- did they reach representative likely voters? One of the factors that is haunting political polling this year is the inability to poll people who lack land lines and who only use cell phones. “In recent Pew Research Center surveys, only about 10% of respondents in landline samples are under age 30, which is roughly half of what it should be according to the U.S. Census” Unless the polling group compensated for that, their results will be off.

Finally, more than a fifth of likely voters are undecided in the poll.

Of course, the press release is not intended to impress me, but rather potential donors who need some reason to believe that a donation at this point is not wasted money. For those people reluctant to contribute to a campaign that is unlikely to be successful, it is necessary to craft a story of possible success. Hence the press release, such as it is.