Why Should Jacksonville Care Who Wins The 2010 Gubernatorial Race?

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Duval County

With Tallahassee proven itself too small to contain the political ambitions of Charlie Crist, the race for Florida’s next Chief Executive is wide open.

Alex Sink, the state’s CFO, looks as if she will sail to the Democratic nomination without opposition. Bill McCollum, the state’s Attorney General, has so far failed to draw a primary opponent, although State Senator Paula Dockery is said to be considering challenging him.

Regardless of which candidates are put forth, there are serious questions that should be raised of the candidates on both sides of the ticket. And, they are questions that are of vital importance to every Jacksonville resident.

Jeb Bush was arguably Florida’s most powerful governor in recent history. During his tenure, the role of of the Governor was expanded like never before. Prior to 2003, Florida’s Governor was merely one of seven equal votes on the state cabinet. The cabinet voted on all executive level decisions, which meant an alliance of four votes could override the Governor on any executive level decisions.

In 1998; however, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that shrunk the cabinet to three positions, greatly expanding the power of the governor. At the same time, voters approved an amendment that eliminated the Board of Regents, which governed the state’s higher education and shifted that responsibility to the new Florida Board of Governors, which are appointed by the Governor.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush answers a question during the opening day of the Foundation for Excellence in Education national summit, with U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, at Disney's Contemporary Resort, Thursday.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush answers a question during the opening day of the Foundation for Excellence in Education national summit, with U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Thursday. photo via Orlando Sentinel

Charlie Crist has continued to expand the role of the governor while in office, using his position to push through the deceptively named “Save Our Homes” Amendment. (Deceptive, in that it marginally cut property taxes while negatively impacting funding for Jacksonville and other local governments.)

With the memory of these two most recent chief executives in mind, here are five questions Duval County voters may want to ask as they begin to think of how they will vote next November.

1. Where does the candidate stand on the expanded role of state power at the expense of local governments?

The candidate’s position on this issue should begin to emerge rather quickly as they hit the campaign trail. Are the candidates pushing an agenda that includes cutting property taxes?

If so, they are most likely masking an effort to further weaken the ability of local governments to provide essential services to their citizens. They are also removing the option to cut taxes from local governments and consolidating it in Tallahassee.

2. Does the candidate support the Crist practice of using non-recurring revenues and trust fund raids to balance the state budget?

Sink was quick to announce her opposition to trust fund raids, but McCollum has remained ominously silent on the issue. The practice of depleting trust funds, particularly when the market is so low, is dangerous for Florida and something that will have dire consequences in the long term.

3. Where does the candidate stand on water issues?

train bridge on the st. john

This is one that will be quite difficult to pin any candidate running for statewide office down on, but it’s one that Duval County residents should be very concerned about. The recent decision by the St. Johns River Water Management District to allow Seminole County to remove up to 5.5 million gallons of water from the St. Johns River each day will not bode well for the long-term health of the river.

Central Florida has known for years that their growth is not sustainable, but will a gubernatorial candidate be willing to upset the vote-rich I-4 corridor to state the obvious?

4. Where does the candidate stand on the sales surtax that Gov. Crist vetoed?

This is an issue of particular importance to Duval County residents. Duval is at a disadvantage when compared to every other county in the state because of the inability of our elected commission—the city council—to levy a sales tax surcharge to fund indigent care.

Crist inexplicably vetoed a measure that passed the legislature unanimously that would have allowed Jacksonville to shift the burden for indigent care from the city’s operating budget to a half-cent sales surtax, freeing up much-needed funds for other services.

5. Where does the candidate stand on the Fair District Florida effort?

Fair Districts Florida is an effort to put two amendments on the ballot that would fundamentally alter the redistricting process in Florida. Redistricting in Florida has grown increasingly partisan in the last several decades.

Groups have been marginalized and districts throughout the state have been drawn in ways that make no geographic sense—it’s glaringly apparent that they exist for one of two reasons: To either protect an incumbent or minimize a specific segment of the population. It’s important to know where the next Governor of Florida would stand on this issue—after all, she (or he) would play a major role in drawing new districts after the 2010 census.

Of course, these are just five of the many issues facing the state, but they are a start. It will be interesting to hear both sides address them as the election nears.

Should Jacksonville Gut Arts and Culture Funding To Balance The City’s Budget?

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King of all Jiffy Feet by R. Land

From the Ed

Will Jacksonville become a Jiffy Feet town who shutters it’s cultural organizations? Abel Harding from JaxPoliticsOnline discusses the current debate over cultural funding in the city.

As Jacksonville’s budget debate has heated up over the past few weeks, city spending on arts and culture has, predictably, come under heavy criticism. Taxpayer funding of the Cultural Council—the non-profit organization that oversees the city’s grant program—has long been a target of those who believe that support of arts and culture is not an essential role of government. Critics point to long-struggling organizations like the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and question the wisdom of local government continuing to pick up the slack. The school of thought seems to support the mantra that if non-profit organizations are unable to survive in the free market, they should cease to exist.

In truth, Jacksonville’s arts and culture scene, while surprisingly vibrant, is not heavily funded by local government. Jacksonville actually allocates roughly $3 million of taxpayer dollars—less than 1/2 of 1% of the city’s budget—to fund arts & culture programs in the city. According to the Cultural Council, that $3 million equates to the city investing $3.50 per person in arts funding—less than the price of a Starbucks Latte. That minimal expenditure of taxpayer dollars is used to leverage matching funds from private organizations, a tactic that is essential to obtaining those private dollars. (Private charitable trusts and companies are unlikely to demonstrate a willingness to invest in arts & culture in a city that has no interest in investing any of its own taxpayer dollars.)

The Cultural Council uses that $3 million dollars in cultural services grants to support 26 organizations, including the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, the Florida Theatre, the Museum of Science and History and the Beaches Fine Art Series. Lest anyone assume the aforementioned organizations are merely high-priced venues for Jacksonville’s elite, the reality is that the Cummer served 2,400 Jacksonville kids with disabilities at Very Special Arts Day, the Florida Theatre subsidized the fees of more than 25 nonprofit events, MOSH has taken the lead in developing educational awareness of water resources and the Beaches Fine Art Series presented eight free concerts to more than 10,000 people last year. Those are just a sampling of the organizations that benefit from Jacksonville’s public service grants. In all, the organizations funded through the Cultural Service Grant program served 339,826 Duval County students last year.

Before Jacksonville considers slashing funding of arts and culture, we need to pause to consider where downtown would be without the arts. Despite decades of failed development attempts, the one thing that has continued to thrive in downtown Jacksonville is arts and culture. Whether it’s a Jacksonville Symphony Concert, a new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art or an event at the storied Florida Theatre, the organizations that serve Jacksonville’s arts community have proven to be the lifeblood of downtown.

In all, the organizations that receive funding through the Cultural Services grants program, provided an economic impact of $69 million last year. Not all of the impact; however, can be measured in terms of dollars. Imagine a Fortune 500 company that would consider relocating to a city without a symphony? Or, a thriving ballet program? Or, a historical society? The business of the arts is truly the business of economic development. A flourishing arts community symbolizes a city committed to greatness.

A tough economic environment is no excuse to deliver a sucker punch to Jacksonville’s arts and culture community. Their funding should remain intact. They are a critical component of the Jacksonville I want to live in, the Jacksonville that will continue to attract economic investment and the Jacksonville I hope my child settles in someday.

This article first appeared on Abel’s blog JaxPoliticsOnline. Abel is a regular political contributor to this site.

Bringing Jacksonville’s Government Into The New Century

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This past week, JCCI released its study of the city’s financial condition and the picture is bleak. Administration after administration funded grand developments via long-term financing. As a result, the city is in a position where future borrowings may jeopardize the city’s bond ratings. Additionally, the city faces shrinking revenues as property values have plummeted. Further complicating issues, the city’s three pension plans are now drastically underfunded.

Before suggesting steps that might be taken to remedy the city’s financial woes; however, JCCI suggested an effort to regain public trust. That trust has vanished in the wake of open government scandals, no-bid contracts and FBI raids.

Two of JCCI’s suggestions involve participation of the community at large, both in developing a community vision and in setting budget priorities. A frequent complaint heard in Jacksonville is voters feel no connection to their City Council Member, much less the Mayor or other constitutionally elected officials.

While some City Council members are faithful in holding town hall meetings, they seem to be the exception. In many cases, meetings are held at inconvenient locations and times that are hardly accommodating for working individuals or families with young children (or political bloggers -Ed).

No Jacksonville City Council members, indeed no local government agencies, have made serious attempts to harness the amazing powers of the web to engage their constituents. Barack Obama may have held an online town hall meeting, but the concept remains foreign to Jacksonville despite the free services of such programs as Cover It Live. In fact, Urban Jacksonville’s recent hosting of a live transit chat roundtable was really a “first of its kind” in connecting bloggers and citizens with a local official in a live online format. (The forum, incidentally, didn’t cost a dime.)

Mayor John Peyton Facebook Page

While Mayor Peyton has established a Facebook presence, he’s unique in soliciting public input via that medium. With the exception of Councilwoman Glorious Johnson, who occasionally engages in political discussion on Facebook, no other local officials are attempting to solicit public input in that manner. No locally elected officials maintain a blog that seeks public input.

Which brings us to the ultimate question—how do we change that? What would you like to see? If you could suggest a communication medium to your district council person, what would you suggest? Would you like online chats? A blog? A YouTube channel? Informal Sunday afternoon question and answer sessions at a public library where constituents can drop by to offer input?

Let’s hear it, Jacksonville.

Abel Harding writes about politics and the superiority of Florida Gator Football at JaxPoliticsOnline.com. Check out The Ghost of Shipyards Past, a 3-part series that will run on consecutive Sundays from JaxPoliticsOnline.com. You can follow Abel on Twitter @jaxpolitics

The 2011 St. James Buzz

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Mayors for 2010
From left to right: Tony Boselli, Jim Bailey, Mike Weinstein, Rick Mullaney, Glorious Johnson, Daniel Davis, Kevin Hyde, Ronnie Fussell, John Rood (is watching you)

The 2011 Mayor’s race is starting to heat up in Jacksonville. Rumors are flying and at least one candidate has already jumped in the race—nearly two years early. With Tallahassee being upended by politicians pursuing higher office, the excitement surrounding change seems to have spread to the River City. And, for good reason—there are some rather exciting candidates whose names are currently drawing some buzz.

The 2011 race could see a few first-time candidates in the mix. Among the more famous of this group of first-timers—Tony Boselli, the former Jaguar. Since retiring from the Jacksonville Jaguars several years ago, Boselli has immersed himself in community development. Through his non-profit foundation, The Boselli Foundation, Boselli has worked to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged youth, working to provide after-school programs and re-open community centers. He had a bumpy introduction to politics when he encountered opposition to one of his community centers, but he seems to have weathered the storm.

Jim Bailey, Daily Record Publisher, is also said to be considering the race. Bailey has long been a player in efforts to revitalize downtown Jacksonville, recently leading the charge for “Make A Scene Downtown.” Bailey’s connections to the legal community and his tireless work on behalf of downtown would make him a formidable (and exciting) choice.

Vestcor Chairman John Rood is another rumored candidate with downtown connections. Rood would certainly not be a newcomer to the political scene, particularly in light of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has raised on behalf of the Republican Party and the Bush Family over the years, but this would be his first run for office.

Another possible first-time candidate? City of Jacksonville General Counsel Rick Mullaney. Mullaney has close ties to previous Mayor (and current UNF President) John Delaney, and Delaney had even hinted at a possible endorsement of Mullaney in 2003. Mullaney has certainly faced controversy in the years he has served as General Counsel, but he’s not to be quickly dismissed. While not well known to the general public, he is considered one of the most powerful men in City government—as such, he’d make an intriguing candidate.

There are a number of elected officials who are also rumored to be considering bids for the Mayor’s Office. City Councilwoman Glorious Johnson (D) has been one of the more outspoken Jacksonville politicians over the six years. She’s fought for accountability and always blazed her own trail. She’d bring an indomitable personality to the Mayor’s race.

City Councilman Kevin Hyde (R) is also in the mix. An attorney in the Jacksonville office of Foley & Lardner, Hyde has established himself as a thoughtful, reasoned member of the Council over the last six years. Among Hyde’s latest initiatives has been legislation aimed at easing the spate of foreclosures plaguing the Jacksonville area.

Ronnie Fussell is an At-Large City Councilman whose name has often been bandied about. Fussell gained significant name recognition and support as the chief opponent of the Mayor’s plan to award the Waste Management contract without putting it out to bid.

City Councilman Daniel Davis (R) is one of the younger candidates being mentioned. The current Executive Director of the Northeast Florida Builder’s Association, Davis has deep ties to the development community. He is well respected on the Council and was one of the first to embrace public access to Council Member e-mails, something both Hyde, Fussell and Johnson have also done.

Another local politician rumored to be considering a run? State Rep. Mike Weinstein (R). While Weinstein can point to a rather impressive record when it comes to revitalization issues (he was the original chair of the Super Bowl Committee), it’s hard to imagine his candidacy gaining much traction. After all, he did quietly bow out of the 2007 race, leaving a myriad of supporters feeling rather abandoned. (After which he mounted a failed attempt to become the Speaker of the Florida House in 2014).

Of course, you can never count Duval County Tax Collector Mike Hogan and Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland out. Both are former City Council members who have previously expressed an interest in running for Mayor. Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford has also been mentioned as a candidate, but what platform he would run on remains unclear. While he remains relatively popular, Jacksonville seems years away from making any headway on its murder problem.

At this point, let’s hope they all run. Because, after all, isn’t that what democracy is all about—a plethora of candidates that leaves voters with real choices? A former football player working to better his community, hard-working public servants, successful businessmen who have worked to improve the City’s core…

2011 is looking to be an exciting year.

By Abel Harding also writes about politics and the superiority of Florida Gator Football at JaxPoliticsOnline.com.

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