Former CIA Director John Brennan received hearty applause two weeks ago during his Ringling College Town Hall lecture at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall when he said it seems to make sense that we could somehow require our elected officials to be qualified for office, as we require dentists and surgeons to be trained. That just running for office on your celebrity does not qualify you for public office.
Clearly, that was Brennan’s potshot at Donald Trump.
But there is a certain degree of appeal to the idea. Indeed, the Brennan idea comes to mind when you look across the bay to the election next Tuesday for Florida House District 72.
Three first-time candidates — first time for any public office — are running to fill the seat of Republican Alex Miller, who resigned late last year, after having served less than a year.
Miller’s district encompasses a sliver of southern Manatee County and a large swatch of northern Sarasota County, essentially the city of Sarasota and all of Siesta Key.
It has been a Republican district. But increasingly over the past decade Democrats and NPAs have become a serious threat —Republicans make up 44.1% of registered voters; Democrats, 43.1%; and non-party affiliates (NPAs), 12.6%. Add in Democrats’ hate for Trump as motivation, they are hoping they can take another seat, albeit at the state level.
Surprisingly, none of the likely candidates for this seat stepped in — e.g. Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo; former Sarasota County Commissioners Carolyn Mason or Nora Patterson; former Sarasota City Commissioner Fredd Atkins; or even Ray Pilon, who held the seat before Miller.
Filling the vacuum? The three rookie politicians: Republican James Buchanan, son of six-term U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan; Democrat Margaret Good, a Sarasota lawyer; and Libertarian Alison Foxall, a 29-year-old owner of a marketing business.
Let’s be clear: If you can wipe away all of the usual nastiness and ugliness that turns political campaigns into toxic oil spills, the three candidates for District 72 are decent, earnest, well-meaning people who want to do good.
Their challenge is to sell their character, political philosophies and ideas. But what makes that all the more difficult, if not impossible, are the standard tactics of the two major political parties’ machines. Indeed, the Republican and Democratic parties are doing what they always do — turning their party’s candidates into hackneyed, unlikable political caricatures. If elected, the party machines tell voters, either Buchanan or Good would destroy the world with their allegedly extremist philosophies.
Democratic political action committees incessantly attempt to paint Buchanan as a climate-change denier, while Republican PACs are slopping on Good the goo of being a supporter of sanctuary cities. (Good actually has expressed opposition to state legislation that would penalize cities and counties if they don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.)
The effects of the bombardment of negative campaign mailers and TV ads are a growing disgust among voters with politics altogether. This is making more and more voters either look for an alternative to the two parties or give up and not vote at all.
Indeed, Foxall, the Libertarian, told us, voters have buoyed her optimism for a possible victory. As she has canvassed the district, many voters have expressed their willingness to consider an alternative to the major party candidates. “It doesn’t matter what my positions are; people are gravitating toward me because I’m different, I’m positive.”
Foxall, for sure, is a long shot. But when you assess the three candidates, she is a refreshing departure.
Consider the candidates’ political philosophies.
Good is a standard-issue liberal. Read her issue positions on her website. They’re the usual compendium of platitudes; calls for more, bigger government; more government regulation; less freedom and free enterprise. To wit:
“Margaret knows that we cannot continue to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, cut Medicaid and limit patient choice … She will fight to expand Medicaid,” she states. She opposes school choice via charter schools and vouchers. She says she “will work to ban fracking and will hold accountable the big corporations that keep endangering our wetlands.” She wants to increase state spending on “workforce development” and provide small businesses “with incentives to foster growth” — whatever that means. And she lists two of her issue priorities as “reproductive rights” and “LGBTQ+.”
Check the Democrat box.
Buchanan, likewise, is standard Republican: “limiting regulation and keeping our taxes low … We must end sanctuary cities and put a stop to illegal immigrants … allow the free market to improve access to quality (health) care” and “competition to ensure affordable prices.” Like his father, knowing how Sarasotans feel about oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Buchanan opposes drilling.
Check the Republican box.
In contrast is Foxall. She fits the Libertarian label — which we would describe as a common-sense embracing of individual freedom over government interference. Yes, Foxall believes in decriminalizing marijuana. “Why not, it’s their business,” she says. If she had a magic wand, she would separate education from the state. But she knows that’s not realistic. She favors giving parents more choice. “I’d rather see the money in the hands of parents” than in vouchers … “The role of Medicaid should shrink; deregulate the health care industry, and eventually we won’t need Medicaid.”
This one is a truth that all Libertarians embrace: “Health care is a service,” Foxall says. “No one is entitled to someone else’s labor.”
She opposes subsidies for economic development, sports stadiums and tourism promotion. She has a concealed-carry permit. “If you’ve served your time, you should have your rights restored.”
'A THINKING BRAIN'
The more you talk to Foxall, the more you see she would offer a fresh, independent alternative to the Democrat-Republican dogma. She acknowledges she’s not a seasoned political veteran, although she cites experience working on other Libertarians’ campaigns. “David versus Goliath,” she says, smiling. “But I have a thinking brain.”
Foxall is introvert by nature. She described herself as a Booker High School student “as a quiet kid and didn’t engage much. I played a lot of basketball, flag football and gravitated toward physical activities. Sometimes I wonder how I even fell into libertarianism. But here I am!”
She brushes off the criticism that, if elected and being the only Libertarian in the Legislature, she would have little say or influence for her district’s taxpayers. How would you maneuver? she is asked. “Diplomacy.”
Given the exasperating, depressing climate that engulfs elections and the making of public policy, and given the bromidic, banal dogma of the major party candidates, it would be refreshing to send an independent alternative to Tallahassee. Let’s hope District 72 voters are willing to embrace that message.