Suburban strategy 101

On paper, state Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Chuck Clemons represent Gainesville. But for all practical purposes their job is to contain the city, not see to the best interests of its residents.

Perry and Clemons are classic suburban Republicans. Gainesville is an island of blue in an otherwise north Florida sea of red and is treated accordingly in Tallahassee.

It was a slap to the face of our “representatives” when city voters decisively rejected their scheme to remove Gainesville Regional Utilities from city commission control. So now they’re back with still more anti-city devilment: Subjecting Gainesville to a legislative “audit” just to make sure it isn’t being run by a bunch of crooks.

You might think this is being done out of political spite. But perhaps there is a method to this continuing legislative maliciousness against all things Gainesville.

Maybe its just another cog in the GOP’s suburban strategy machine.

Don’t look now but the Republicans are losing the suburbs. Have been ever since Trump took office. Practically every election since then has reflected an erosion of GOP strength outside cities. It is why Republicans lost control of the House in 2018. And the erosion continues in the run-up to the 2020 elections.

“Republican support in the suburbs has basically collapsed under Trump,” Republican strategist Alex Conant told the Associated Press in the wake of Democratic victories in Kentucky and Virginia. “Somehow, we need to find a way to regain our suburban support over the next year.”

The war of spite Perry and Clemons are waging against Gainesville may not help Trump. But it could benefit Clemons, who is facing a tough challenge from Gainesville Democrat Keiser Enneking.

Enneking almost beat Perry in the last election, and would have if not for some GOP-dark money chicanery. If Trump enters Florida as a wounded incumbent, down-ballot Republicans like Clemons stand to suffer from the fallout.

And make no mistake, Clemons is vulnerable. He just managed to squeak by his last challenger, Jason Haeseler. If Trump bombs in the suburbs, he could very well suck Clemons and other Republicans down with him.

And the stakes are huge for the party in 2020. After the census comes reapportionment. If Florida Republicans get too badly cut up in Trump’s shredded coattails, their ability to front-load elections in the GOP’s favor over the next decade could be jeopardized.

How better to aid Clemons’ survival than to whip up some good old-fashioned “We-Hate-Gainesville” froth among the suburbanites?

Is your commute into the city too long? Blame Gainesville liberals who would rather spend money on buses and bike paths than traffic lanes. Hey suburbanites, why should your utility dollars fund city parks, police and all the services that benefit from having a municipal-owned utility? (Answer: Because if Gainesville didn’t exist neither would its bedroom communities. Those daily commuters are driving here to work.)

This is all just part and parcel of the GOP’s larger suburban strategy. You can see it being played out every session, when dozens of bills are introduced to eat away at the home rule authority of cities. My favorite so far this year is legislation to keep GRU and other municipal owned utilities from using their revenues to fund city services.

Perry told WCJB that the bill, by West Palm Beach Republican Mike Caruso, has merit because utility-generated revenues give some cities “an unfair taxing advantage.”

Listen, Gainesville isn’t being represented. It is being scapegoated.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at

What Red Cross knew

Where’s our Red Cross when we need him?

To the extent that anybody remembers J. Emory Cross these days it is because that Gainesville-base state legislator birthed Florida’s Sunshine Law in 1967.

That is of course a fine legacy. Less well known is Red Cross’ long-running fight to tax exploiters of Florida’s natural resources.

“I found that the phosphate industry was tax free and it was producing I believe, 75 percent of all phosphate produced” in the US, Cross recalled in a 1978 UF Oral History interview. “It was polluting the air and not reclaiming any land back then. So I just felt that it was unfair to let them go free without paying some part of the tax burden.

“Of course I found out that I had jumped on a sacred cow, sure enough.”

For his trouble Cross made powerful enemies like Associated Industries and Dupont robber baron Ed Ball. “We used to kid each other up there,” he said of the lobbyists who lined up against him. “I would tell them ‘you fellows ought to cut me in. I keep you in a job.'”

Cross’ dogged campaign to impose an excise tax on mineral extraction ultimately caught up with him. “I was fortunate to survive as long as I did, sixteen years, because they fought me every time. They would put money against me every time trying to defeat me. What saved me was the well informed people” of Gainesville.

But then his university city-dominated district was sliced up to include several rural counties. Cross was defeated by oil-gas distributor Bob Saunders, who offended no special interest and enjoyed an unremarkable Senate career.

Still, a new governor named Reuben Askew finally did get that tax on phosphate, using the money to reclaim old strip mines that looked like lunar landscapes.

Red Cross’ other legacy is worth recalling only because there remain so few Florida politicians who are willing to take on the polluters that they are practically an extinct species.

Which is precisely why Nestle thinks it can pour a million gallons of Florida spring water a day into little plastic bottles and pay next to nothing for the privilege. It is why Lake Okeechobee is a giant cesspool. It’s why red tides and green algae blooms and bacteria beach closings are the new normal.

To the extent that our politicians are even willing to address water pollution they tend to do it from the wrong end – spending public money to try to clean up the mess after the fact. Stopping pollution at its source might require higher user fees or stricter regulations, which risk getting on the wrong side of Big Sugar, Associated Industries, the Chamber of Commerce and all of the others who profit from treating Florida’s water like dirt.

And, really, I don’t blame them. Politicians tend to follow the money, and the smart money banks on dirty water.

No, I blame the rest of us. We keep electing and reelecting the very people who do the bidding of the polluters. We’re stupid that way. Otherwise we would have thrown the rascals out by now.

Where’s our Red Cross when we need him? He’s probably that candidate who keeps losing to better-funded, better-connected incumbents and party hacks because we voters simply refuse to make the logical connection between dirty water and dirty politics.

That’s why we get the government we deserve. And isn’t that a dirty shame?

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at

Winter’s still coming

Yes, we were all disappointed in the series finale of Game Of Thrones. Is that all there is?

No, actually, a sequel is in the works.

And it will be ugly. Republics will fall. The center will not hold. The new order will march in lock step. Tweets will go nuclear.

On the plus side the flag may still wave. We may still retain the illusion that life as we know goes on. We will continue to consume and twitter.

But all that will be an illusion. Winter really is coming. And the only thing that can hold it back is our collective will. And only if we care about our children and their children and our species and life as we know it.

The Republic is rotting before our very eyes. From the inside out.

We have just one year to stop the rot.

And if we don’t then we deserve what’s coming.

The winter of our discontent is near. Do we care?

Do we?

When he’s right…

This time I’m with Trump.

No, seriously.

This time I think he’s on to something.

I also want our troops out of Syria

And out of Saudi Arabia and out of Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Oman and (list simply too long to continue)…..

Let the oil companies hire their own army for a change.

Hey, remember that time Iraq and Iran attacked America on our own soil?

Me either.

But now we’ve got Iran surrounded.

And we broke Iraq. So now we own it.

And we’ve certainly, um, taken care of Saudi Arabia.

I’m just tired of keeping the world’s peace. It’s exhausting. And expensive.

Who asked us anyway?

Oh yeah, I forgot.

What we’re fighting for.

Still, maybe we ought to sell the world fewer guns and more butter for a while.

Hey, remember that time Turkey sent troops to destabilize Venezuela.

Me either.

How about we let, oh I dunno, Norway defend the world for a while.

While we take care of some other pressing matters at home.

Before things start to implode on us.

Personally, I don’t want to study war no more

Because frankly, we’re already too damned good at it.

The center crumbles

Things I’ve noticed while slouching toward Bethlehem

The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed

And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned

The best lack all conviction

While the worst are full of passionate intensity

Surely the Second Coming is at hand

Somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.

The darkness drops again

Vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

With apologies to William Butler Yeats

Stream of consciousness

It appears that the end may finally be near.

The suspense has been killing us.

But the signs are everywhere.

The news is telling.

A plague of Biblical proportions looms.

Storm clouds are gathering.

But we know from bitter experience that there are strange forces out there capable of….um….surprising us.

But dare we hope this time?

For a glimmer of light at the end of this impeachment tunnel?

Because don’t we have other things to worry about?

Than this clown?

Even as we speak, the birds are going missing.

And we don’t know why.

Are the insects next?

It’s getting to the point that the only thing more endangered are moderate Republicans.

Can’t we all just stop for a moment? And maybe take a deep breath.

And ponder whether there more to this invisible line dividing us than walls and shadows?

I only ask because, well, the guy’s a publicity hound and we’re still throwing him bones.

Where are the adults in the room?

Perhaps we are arriving at a generational moment.

Don’t we have bigger, um, fish to fry?

Have we finally trapped this rat?

He broke it. We bought it.

The evidence is clear.

The defense has rested.

You don’t even have to read between the lines.

To arrive at a just verdict.

That’s guilty.

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

He knows it. She knows it. We know it.

You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows.

Time to exit. Stage right.

Out of sight Out of mind.

The hand that mocked them. That colossal Wreck. Boundless and bare.

Marked for life

Pity poor Hester Prynne. Censored by her Puritan community for having a child out of wedlock she was forced to wear a scarlet A, so that all would know of her mortal sin wherever she went.

But really, sexual promiscuity is so passé in this day and age. Everybody does it, right?

No, the real promiscuous behavior – the nearest thing to original sin in autoAmerica – isn’t performed between the sheets, but rather on top of the asphalt.

The new promiscuity is committed every day by miscreants who refuse to insert themselves into two-ton steel cocoons, like normal people, before using the public streets.

Instead they insist on inserting themselves, sans cocoons, between the unobstructed road ahead and the God-given right of American motorists to drive as fast as they please wherever they please.

Slow down hell! Freedom of movement is an American birthright and not to be surrendered lightly.

Until some reckless pedestrian or renegade cyclist gets in the way. And then pity the poor motorist who has to live with that.

Thus the new scarlet letter. Interfere with the fast flow of traffic is you must. If you dare. But at least, for the love of Ford, brand yourself with neon red flags.

Or fluorescent yellow vests. Or something else reflective to warn innocent drivers that you intend to rudely interrupt their freedom of movement.

It is only in hunting that the predators wear bright orange and the game goes unadorned. But that’s just because they can’t figure out how to make a deer wear a vest.

But there is a war being waged against cars in autoAmerica. Everybody says so. At the very least the anti-auto insurgents should be made to identify themselves.

Really, there ought to be a law. We could call it the Yellow Flag Law. Branded for life.

And when will these people learn to just stay out of our way? Haven’t we drivers suffered enough?

Or maybe the prey aren’t the problem. Maybe it really is the hunters.

Perhaps it is because, as a mobile society, we stubbornly refuse to design our communities and public streets to protect life rather than facilitate speed.

Instead of this.

We could do this.

And we could reverse this deadly trend.

By slowing cars down. Because we know that speed kills.

And we know how to do it.

We simply lack the will to do it. No matter the consequences.

Hence the new scarlet letter. Something to scare or shame the miscreants so they might stay out of our way.

But be warned, autoAmerica. France’s yellow vest law set the stage for a revolution. It could happen here.

Viva la revolution.

Governing is hard

A moment of silence to mourn the passing of Governing.

In the world of “fake news” and global media conglomerates, Governing is a rather obscure publication that has, for 32 years, examined the inner workings of state and local governance – basically what legislatures, counties and cities do and why they do it.

It’s not sex. It’s not scandal. It didn’t have to bleed to lead. It was mostly about what it really takes to fill potholes, make transit run on time or build a smarter electric grid.

Typical Governing headlines:

“The problem with one-stop government,” and

“The parking garages of the future,” and

“Will upzoning make housing more affordable?”

Alas, such content is fast losing its relevance in a Trumpian Tweetisphere Age where politics often seems to, um, trump policy.

“Governing has proven to be unsustainable as a business in today’s media environment,” reads the magazine’s obit. It concludes, optimistically, with “we’re confident that the tremendous work of America’s state and local public servants will go on.”

I hope they’re right.

Politics is easy. Governing is hard. And America’s dirty secret – the one that may ultimately lead to our downfall as a functioning civilization – is that we too frequently opt for the easy way out.

You can see it at all levels.


Politics: Cut taxes, yes.

Governing: Balance the budget, no.


Politics: Prohibit cities from doing anything about guns, pollution, unsustainable growth, yes.

Governing: Do something about guns, pollution and unsustainable growth, no.

For a long time it seemed as though cities and counties would be the last bastions of good old fashion governance in America. The old chestnut that potholes aren’t political is comforting if oversimplified.

But the right wing think tanks have figured out that cities, especially large ones, tend to be run by Democrats, while Republicans usually dominate the legislatures. Thus the new “preemption agenda” has been aimed at stopping city and county commissions from doing pretty much anything. The politics of preemption just forced Alachua County and Gainesville to back off their newly enacted plastic bag bans.

Now all we have to do is sit back and wait for Tallahassee to do something about the one-and-done bags that clog our sewers, litter the landscape, kill marine life and poison the food chain.

Still waiting….

“Will states stop cities from combatting climate change?” poses one Governing headline. They’re certainly trying.

Governance, it seems, isn’t just irrelevant, it’s becoming a fighting word.

Just understand that when Trump derides Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta et al as “rat infested” hellholes, he’s using Republican shorthand for “governed by Democrats.”

Which is not to say that governance is dead in America. Not yet.

Partisan gridlock may be the status quo in Congress. One-party state rule is trying mightily to stymy local innovation and problem-solving. But if there is anything like a governance revival going on in America, you’re still more likely to find it at city hall than in the executive mansion.

Alan Ehrenhalt, who has been writing for Governance almost as long as it’s been around, puts it best:

“What if the national political culture is just as bad as most of us believe, but another corner of the political system is steadily getting stronger?” he poses in one column. “Federal and state government may be a mess, but local governments are an increasingly positive force, innovating and solving problems that would have been beyond them a generation ago.”

Which is another way of saying that you can’t keep good governance down.

So keep fighting, commissioners.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)

Two paths diverge

Donald Trump will not be the next President of our United States of America.

Yes, I know. I have heard all the pundits opine otherwise.

About how the Democrats are already blowing it with their reckless talk of impeachment and Medicare for all and open borders and gun control and yada, yada, yada (insert your own favorite leftist talking point here).

Because Democrats will trend too far left to win.

Because they’ll surely stray from the dead center middle of the road.

Because Trump will make certain that The Squad is the new face of the Democratic Party no matter who gets the nomination.

Because if Warren or Sanders or Harris or whoever gets the nomination instead of Biden or Gillibrand or (insert your own favorite white center of the roader) they will hand the election to Trump.

Because the American voter is as skittish as a cat on a hot tin roof when it comes to taking a chance on a socialistic America-hating radical.

I mean, people: Didn’t we learn anything from George McGovern? (You remember, the WWII war hero who lost to a crook).

But I say screw all that.

Listen, I’m a pundit too. I’m a dues paying nattering nabob of negativism. I was punditing when Ronnie Reagan invaded Grenada on a whim and the Army nearly ran out of suntan lotion.

I’m one of those storied sultans of swat who are reputed to ride down out of the hills after the battle is over to shoot the wounded.

Yeah, that guy.

And for what it’s worth, here is my prediction for the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump will not be the next president of our United States of America.

Won’t happen.

Because one of two things will happen.

Thing One:

I believe the American people, for all of their faults, are at heart too decent, ethical and moral to reelect a pathological liar, sexual predator, bigot, con man, sadist, Russian collaborator and all around pathetic excuse for a human being.

It’s like Abe said. Fool me once, hey it happens. Fool me twice, my bad.

But I may be wrong. In which case:

Thing Two:

The American people may in fact have descend so deeply into self-indulgence, self-gratification self-abasement, self-denial and general all around selfishness that just enough of them (under our bizarre electoral college math) will indeed pull the lever for The Donald.

But even so, Donald Trump will not be the next president of our United States of America.

Because if the electorate has become so debased, so decadent or so disinterested in their civic duty as to reelect arguably the worst excuse for a carbon-based life-form in the known universe, then – simply – this will no longer be our United States of America.

No, we will have instead become the Authoritarian Vassal States of Trumpistan.

And another notch in Putin’s gun.

And if that comes to pass the only thing to be said for certain is that we will have the president we so richly deserve.

I take no great solace in making this observation. But history is ever on the march.

Great nations are born. They grow and, hopefully, prosper. They make their contributions to the entirety of human civilization.

And then they tend to weaken, go astray and eventually die.

It happened to ancient Greece. It happened to Rome. To the Brits, the Ottomans, the (insert your favorite fallen empire here). And it must inevitably happen to our United States of America.

Call it the Immutable Law of National Entropy. The center cannot hold. Things fall apart. And then something else takes its place.

There is no glorious thousand year reich lurking behind Trump’s MAGA promises. He has already squandered our credibility and dependability so far as the rest of the world is concerned, so our passing will not be overly mourned.

Frankly, I hadn’t expected national entropy to occur in my lifetime. And I still hold out the hope that the American people – having teetered this close to the very edge of the abyss and peered over into its darkness – will choose to step back before it’s too late.

OMG, what have we done!

I have to believe that. Because I am born and raised American. I have been to war in the defense of my country. I have dutifully paid my taxes. I have voted at every opportunity. I believe deeply in the civic compact that has united us for more than two centuries.

We citizens of our United States of America are better than Donald Trump. Whether we still, collectively, believe in and are willing to fight for our American ideals remains to be seen.

In November 2020 two paths will diverge in the course of American affairs.

One path can lead to an American renewal.

We can choose to stand up in the face of the relentless march of history and say, with one voice: Not now. Not yet. Not on our watch.

The other path will surely lead to the death of the American dream.

But only if enough of us choose to stand by idly as the parade marches past.

Courage Americans.

Keep the faith and do the right thing.

If you – if we – do that then our United States of America will not perish from the face of this earth.