We remain a nation divided.
Separated by ideology, race, sex, national origin, culture, socio-economic status, political party – you name it – even professional sports, once something we could all rally around with a sense of regional pride, has now dissolved into a place of bitter political divisiveness.
In Florida – which has always been considered the “drunk uncle” to the rest of the United States – we are still squabbling, filing law suits and recounting ballots more than a week after the general election.
We’re like some weird Banana Republic – an utter embarrassment to democracies everywhere – and we deserve the barbs and zingers thrown at us by political pundits and stand-up comedians.
The margins in key races – like who will serve as our next Governor or United States Senator, even Agriculture Secretary – are razor thin; now complicated by the typically Floridian response of multiple law suits and wild allegations of voter fraud. . .
Truly a house divided.
In Volusia County, things aren’t much better – in fact, we could be considered the poster children for political dysfunction – divided by a clear line demarcation between those who have, and those who don’t – victims of an artificial economy created by a select few political insiders who have stacked the deck and used massive campaign contributions to reduce regulatory and impact overhead – and ensure their permanent place at the public trough.
That’s why I laugh whenever I hear politicians – many of whom have done everything possible to alienate and marginalize large segments of their constituencies – now whining about “mending fences” and “stopping the negativity.”
For instance, outgoing Volusia County School Board Member Melody Johnson used her final meeting to plead for civility and positivity. “I asked (Superintendent Tom Russell) more than once how do you change perceptions? Because perceptions are truth even if they’re not really true, we’ve got to stop fussing at every level. Divisiveness will never bring VCS to greatness.”
Neither will the asinine policies and utter dysfunction that has plagued Superintendent Russell’s tenure – but that didn’t seem to bother Ms. Johnson in late October – when she joined the Troika of Ida Wright and Linda Cuthbert in a mean-spirited, cheap-jack move to defy the teacher’s union call for new leadership by extending Mr. Russell’s contract just ahead of the general election.
Fortunately, Volusia County voters sent Ms. Johnson to the ash heap of history where small-minded politicians who place their loyalty with an ingrained power structure – rather than working in the best interests of students, faculty, staff – and taxpayers – go following their bite at the apple.
Then, in Ormond Beach, where the sight of an environmental atrocity on Granada Boulevard galvanized a large segment of residents who were horrified as slash and burn land clearing operations turned a very visible segment of our community’s greenspace into ugly black muck.
In February, Developer Paul Holub, Jr. eradicated some 2,061 trees – many of them century old hardwoods – and churned approximately 20-acres of natural buffer and wildlife habitat into a muddy gash, while area residents looked on as displaced wildlife attempted to flee the carnage.
What followed was a hard-fought campaign for the future of Ormond Beach – fought by uber-wealthy developers and those who make their living building and selling commercial real estate – and grassroots activists and environmentalists dedicated to smart growth initiatives.
In total, over a quarter-million dollars was spent on a local City Commission race.
Still think the stakes aren’t high?
Now, after incumbents returned to office on a green wave of cash provided by these special interests who feed themselves well transforming our natural places into obscene “theme” communities and half-empty strip centers – a large segment of the population is coming to the realization that their perceptions just became reality.
On election night, our tone-deaf incumbent Mayor and Commissioners posed for a picture on the dance floor of the Rockin’ Ranch – epitomizing the back slappin’ good ol’ boy network they represent – holding a filthy push broom to signify their unanimous “clean sweep.”
To add insult to injury, the most vocal of the bunch – City Commissioner Troy Kent – who long ago became the mouthpiece and chief apologist for speculative developers – was costumed, cap-a-pie, in a ten-gallon cowboy hat and boots – personifying the chummy Old South crony politics many of us have worked hard to escape.
Simultaneous to the Hootenanny over at the Rockin’ Ranch – those aligned with Mr. Kent and his buddies – placed an industrial highway sign on Granada Boulevard in the shadow of the moonscape that will become our new WaWa – blazing antagonistic one-liners (“THANKS ORMOND NO-CANDO”) and other juvenile slogans – as a direct thumb-in-the-eye to a very committed segment of their constituency who fought hard for what they thought was right for their quality of life.
Now – incredibly – Commissioner Kent was quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal decrying how divisive the election was and vowing to start “mending fences” with his neighbors whose worst fears were realized in a photograph of four arrogant assholes – and a cheap low-blow from a non-permitted electronic sign that shit on everything they stood for.
Mr. Kent has a strange way of knitting the torn fabric of his horribly torn community back together: First engage in antagonistic gloating – then feign reconciliation?
Now, we live in different times – and, unfortunately, we’ve gone too far down the road to turn back now.
Many have come to the realization that our quality of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast is under siege by greed-heads and others who would see us drink our own sewerage and sit in gridlock traffic while they throw up even more cracker boxes in “lifestyle communities” while paying little, if anything, in the way of impact fees with absolutely no idea what “growth management” even means.
It’s the Wild West – a gold rush in the pine scrub – and now that all the right facilitators are in place – it won’t end until everyone who is anyone is fat and happy.
As for me and mine – I plan to stand firm in my conviction that clean water, greenspace, wildlife and natural places are more important to the lives of our children and grandchildren – than the overstuffed pocketbooks of uber-wealthy land speculators and the sutlers who make their living on the crumbs of what’s left in their wake.