Campaign Crawlers

Florida Air War

A governor's race so awful even the Libertarian is useless.

By 8.20.14

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Tampa

The governor’s race in Florida is on and it’s ugly. But like our pathetic response to ISIS, it’s almost entirely an air war. Mostly throwing dirt high into the air to little or no effect.

Incumbent Republican governor Rick Scott, along with his Democrat (for the moment) challenger and former Florida governor Charlie Crist, plus the various groups supporting these two, are running lots of television ads. Most of these ads helpfully point out that the other guy is a villain, a blackguard, a knave, a poltroon, and a low-down suck-egg dog (or words to this effect) with neither the integrity nor competence to be trusted with the office of assistant county rat-catcher, let alone governor. If Florida voters believe these ads, this could be the first election for governor in which no one votes.

The candidates are conducting retail campaigns, making stops here and there which are covered by the local suits and hairdos of “Action News” and the local “Daily Bugle.” As I travel the heavily populated and politically important Tampa Bay area, I’ve yet to see a single yard sign for either candidate. I’ve seen only one bumper strip, that for Crist, on the back of a car festooned with strips for various left causes.

And make no mistake, Crist, the Reagan-Republican (self-described) of early 2010, is now running as an unapologetic Obama Democrat. All left, all the time. In recent pronouncements on what he would do on his first day as governor — a barometer of what Crist wants Florida voters to think he thinks is most important (with Charlie, this is always subject to change without notice) — he says he would sign executive orders that would: require state contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour and to outlaw discrimination against gay and transgendered employees of state agencies. (Of course he offered no evidence that gays are in fact being discriminated against in state employment.)

Crist also said he would sign an order obliging “equal pay for women” in state agencies. This last one is a world-class redundancy, as federal law already requires equal pay for women. In fact, I spent a few years as a Florida state employee in the late sixties and early seventies. The pay scale for men and women was already the same then. But perhaps Charlie has been too busy praising Obamacare and promising the education industry he would pour more state money on them to notice.

Speaking of which, the barrage-counter barrage on the issue of education has been particularly unedifying. Both candidates charge the other with cutting spending on K-12 education when they were governor. And both are right, in that both in fact cut education funding during their terms. Both also increased education funding during their terms, the ups and downs being pegged to the condition of the economy at the time. All of this is a non-sequitur in that under all administrations more money is spent on education than on any other item, and no one has established a relationship between the amount spent on the education industry and student achievement, which has remained indifferent as the billions spent have piled up.

As both “major” party candidates score poorly on the approve/disapprove dimension, this cycle would seem to offer an opportunity for a presentable and cogent third party candidate. And there is a Libertarian in the race. But he doesn’t appear to have the heft to get that party out of single digits, where it chronically lives. Adrian Wyllie of Palm Harbor, 44, who styles himself a self-employed IT consultant, has been campaigning across the state, but hasn’t raised enough campaign cash to pay Barack Obama’s July greens fees, let alone enough to run a statewide campaign.

The Miami Herald has reported on a number of Wyllie’s financial difficulties, stemming from small claims court suits, an outstanding court judgment on a traffic violation, and foreclosure proceedings on his Palm Harbor home. Wyllie says all these things have been sorted out, and perhaps they have been. But it won’t help his campaign to have to take time to explain them.

One can hardly be a Libertarian without at least one quixotic tic. Wyllie’s is that he has refused to renew his expired Florida drivers’ license for the past three years because he feels the questions Florida asks to establish licensee identification are “too intrusive.”

Eccentricities aside, Wyllie has some issues that have appeal among some conservatives as well as libertarians. He opposes all property taxes for homeowners, opposes in-state tuition for citizens of other countries here illegally (which a Republican Florida Legislature authorized this year with Scott’s signature), opposes red-light cameras, Obamacare, and random drug tests.

Pollsters for the past month or so have called the race “tends tied.” Crist led by a bunch early on, but in his last couple of elections he has faded in the stretch. His leads tend to disappear as completely as the morning dew and almost as quickly. Recent polls have shown Scott with a small lead, but within the margin of error. The latest, released Monday by the Florida Chamber Political Institute, shows Scott with a 44 to 41 percent lead over Crist in a head-to-head matchup. When the Libertarian is included, the results are Scott 41, Crist 35, and Wyllie 4.

Both Scott and Crist face primary opponents next Tuesday, but both are expected to easily skate past them. Nan Rich is a real, life-long Democrat who served in the Florida Legislature. But she has almost no statewide name recognition and has gotten little media coverage. She hasn’t raised enough campaign cash to enter the television suck-egg dog jamboree. Scott faces two vanity candidates who are hoping for a majority, or at least a plurality, of voters from their immediate families.

Many Floridians, weary of the mud and the hyperbole, must wonder if there is any way to avoid the air war. Only remotely. Hit the button marked “mute.”

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.