September 1, 2007

G'Ville Blues

Never seen a college town so in need of light rail or some kind of faster public transit. College Avenue in Gainesville was a clogged, heart-attack prone artery at about 5PM. Thankfully I had my new car stereo.

I've also never seen so many mopeds in my whole life. That must be the thing with today's Gators.

Chiles' generation of Gators had other (Korean War) issues to deal with.

Got some good material in the UF Archive.

August 30, 2007

Gretna, Florida

Gretna, Florida is a small town on highway 90, on the Chiles Trail. Many economic analysts believe it to be the poorest town in Florida. Things haven't changed much since 1970.

But for Chiles, the path to the governorship went through Gretna. I'll be visiting Gretna and some other towns farther out on 90 soon and taking pictures. As a preview, here is a clip from Chiles' "Walkin' Notes":

I passed thru Gretna last night, which was just on the other side of Mt. Pleasant, and then we spent the night in the camper pretty close to Quincy. Today is the first day that I can say summer has arrived in North Florida. It was hotter today than any day on the trip so far, and I really noticed it. I know I didn't do anything but lose weight today because it sure was hot.

Chiles lost 20 pounds on the Walk.

August 29, 2007

Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge

On the way back from Lakeland last time, I decided to make a stop on the Chiles Trail off the main highway. I stopped at Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge was thick with hungry mosquitoes, oversized grasshoppers, and sprawling spider webs. Not a gator in sight. Critters ruled the day.

The Refuge sits on the vast range of beachless, raccoon-tracked green coast stretching from Tampa to Tallahassee. Some call it the Forgotten Coast. Some call it Nature Coast. Just the sort of place that got Chiles interested.

The bat house.
Suwannee River.
One of many, usually yellow spiders.
Whole lot of grasshopper.
Suwannee Forest of knees.
The stormy road back to Tally.

$15 for Big Change

John Edwards spoke to a packed house in Orlando last night. If other presidential candidates offer a similarly priced Chiles-style event, they'll get space on this blog.

Lighting was tough in the restaurant.

August 27, 2007

Small Change for Big Change

Tomorrow Edwards for President is having an event in Orlando. "Small Change for Big Change," I think that could have been a political slogan for Lawton Chiles.

He-Coons and Coral Snakes

When pundits, political professionals, and Jeb Bush's gubernatorial campaign marked Governor Chiles as too old-fashioned, gray-haired, and folksy for Florida in 1994, Chiles reminded voters--especially those who met him on the Walk--which candidate knew Panhandle towns like Quincy, Jay, and Baker as well as Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. Behind in the polls against the son of a president, he picked a phrase from Southern folklore to express many voters' simmering suspicions about his opponent, cautioning Bush in the final televised debate of the campaign that "the ol' He-Coon walks just before the light of day." Speaking a bit of "cracker" in the debate would drive rural North Florida wild, and strength there combined with a triumph in South Florida would win the election for him. Perhaps he also bet that a bit of bravado would reassure anyone wondering if old age had dampened his zeal for service.

According to the lore, the "He-Coon" was the eldest and wisest of a pack of raccoons. He knew to wait until the break of day, when the hunting dogs were tired of running, before venturing out to forage. The ancient appeal to wisdom baffled many Floridians--Jeb Bush most of all--but became the eccentric theme of the Chiles campaign's final push. On the Election Day when the Gingrich Revolution swept dozens of veteran Democrats out of office across the country, Governor Chiles made good on his warning to Bush. He leveraged every relationship built in thirty-six years of walking, talking, listening, and policymaking to win an upset re-election.

When you think about the "everyday lore" Floridians have grown up with certain animals, it's not so strange to consider why the "He-Coon" mythology sprung up.

Consider the coral snake, found in the Southeastern United States and marked by red-yellow-black-yellow-red-yellow-black bands. Although an antivenin is available, their venomous bite is quite painful and if you're not close to treatment, you could die from a close encounter. But worse still would be getting bit by a harmless milk snake, which shares the red-black-yellow colors but in a different configuration, and think you're on your last hike.

Unless you know the coral snake lore:

Red touching yellow kills a fellow; Red touching black is a friend of Jack

A simple change in color order is life or death. The best folklore is so simple and logical that most of the time you forget you're using it, but yoy won't forget it when it's most useful. Chiles spun simple sayings--some call 'em "cracker"--into political theater that no one can quite replicate without being laughed off the stage.

He was a four-dollar bill.

Chiles and His Florida: Lamont

Lamont is a "post office town" that sprouted up from nothing in 1848 as a rest stop between what were then the big cities in Florida--St. Augustine and Tallahassee. It's off US 90 and Chiles didn't go there as far as I know on the Walk in 1970. But it gives a flavor of how little has changed in the smaller parts of the Panhandle since 1970. If anything, it's gotten worse since Chiles strolled through.

Lamont is just about 20 miles east of Tally, but you get the quiet Jefferson County feel quick. There is no stoplight so it's easy to miss. But after driving by 4 times on the way to and from Lakeland, I finally had to stop.
Main Street. There is so little there other than empty wooden shacks, it's not hard to imagine mule-drawn wagons shuffling around the bend, laden with cotton.
Best-maintained building in the town. Baptist Church.
Get your peanuts!
There are a couple junk heaps like this.
As usual, a storm was brewin' on the way to Tally.
It's tough to get a good shot of clouds unless they're really weirdly configured like Mammatus clouds or something like that.

August 26, 2007

Like Herding Cattle

Managing Florida's mega city-states and runaway boomburbs nowadays must be like herding cattle like the "Crackers" used to do in Old Florida with a bullwhip.

These cows in Hernando County huddled close together to get a bit of shade. It was hot.

Funny how natural disasters bring together every cow in the pasture like that.

Florida's One-Legged Stool

Maryland faces a budget shortfall next fiscal year totaling $1.5 billion, approximately the same amount that faced Governor Chiles when he took the reins in Florida in 1991.

One of the wild and wonderful things about Florida politics, however, is that with such a small state tax base to draw from--sales and corporate income tax--each governor has to put the entire budget on the chopping block and cut more than they ever dreamed when recession rolls around. Schools, health care, roads...basic services and salaries get cut. The public rages, but not much reform happens. Governor Chiles used to stay that Florida government was a three-legged stool, depending on the House, Senate, and Governor to work. I think the Florida budget is a one-legged stool (sales tax) and when you kick it (through recession or drop in tourism), the whole thing collapses.

Maryland boasts an income tax, sales tax, and a gas tax, to name just a few. It's even considering raising the gas tax. It's got more than a few legs to stand on. Plus a Democratic legislature with more than a few liberals willing to raise taxes. And a massive federal workforce who are mostly cushioned from recessions.

Florida had none of that in 1991. It seems to me that the Florida governor holds a "Visit Florida!" sign in one hand and a budget ax in the other. He would rather just use the first, but when it doesn't work...the second is his only tool.

Walkin' With a Purpose: Albert Pollard

Albert Pollard, businessman, former executive director of the Virginia Sierra Club, former delegate from the Northern Neck, is now running for state senate to replace State Senator John Chichester (R).

He is doing it in an innovate, awesome, energetic way that recalls Chiles.

He is taking a risk.

In addition to the conventional campaign tactics, Pollard has taken to walking and picking up trash on the rural highways of the 'Neck. He gets folks involved in doing something other than licking envelopes--something that helps the community before one vote is cast. And he gets his name out there with signs that follow the trash bagging. Free media galore.

Best wishes to Pollard on his clean-up

The town pictured to the right is historic Reedville, on the tip of the Northern Neck.