Op-Ed

Disgusted with smarmy campaigns

MCT

How seriously should we take the candidates on the November ballot? As seriously as they take the big issues, which is not very.

The races so far have been largely driven by personalities, not by issues.

Take the governor’s race. Please. These guys don’t deserve to be taken very seriously — at least not yet — because they haven’t begun to substantively discuss the plethora of critical issues confronting our state. They include, in no particular order: the future of gambling and destination casinos; returning sanity to growth-management policy; reining in utility companies; expanding Medicaid; women’s reproductive rights; same-sex marriage; medical marijuana; how to fully fund education; fair tests for the Florida State Standards; reforming the state prison system; reducing the sway of big-dollar donors in Tallahassee.

What have either Charlie Crist or Rick Scott said in depth about any of those or other key issues? Bupkis.

Instead, Floridians have been inundated with TV attack ads whose memes the candidates repeat, ad nauseam, in their campaign appearances.

“Too shady for the Sunshine State,” ominously intones a Crist ad showing Scott in unflattering footage from an old deposition that may reflect on Scott’s character but has nothing to do with the job he’s done as governor. Scott, meanwhile, is running a pair of anti-Crist ads featuring a montage of photos showing a beaming Charlie and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. The ads darkly accuse Crist of “selling judgeships” to Rothstein. A PolitiFact analysis says that didn’t happen, even though Crist did appoint Rothstein to a Judicial Nomination Commission, which doesn’t reflect well on Crist’s judgment and looks like a quid for a quo.

Are you thoroughly turned off by all this smarmy campaigning? You have every right to be. Disgusted, too. Mad enough not to vote? That may be Scott’s strategy, to depress voter turnout because Republicans historically turn out in higher numbers in off-year elections than Democrats. The half-million vote advantage in registration held by the Ds in Florida will mean nothing if they stay home on Election Day.

The same kind of personality-driven campaign is under way between Rep. Joe Garcia and Carlos Curbelo in the 26th Congressional District. Garcia is taking some serious hits because the FBI is looking into a straw candidate recruited — allegedly by his chief of staff — to run against then-incumbent David Rivera in 2010. It’s the same kind of underhanded game that Rivera played two years later when he and Ana Alliegro secretly ran and paid for the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, a lamb they led to the slaughter in the hopes of bringing down Garcia. Ugly, huh?

Garcia denies knowing about or having anything to do with the candidacy of Roly Arrojo, who was a close friend and onetime roommate of Jeff Garcia (no relation), who was Joe’s campaign manager and later chief of staff. He pleaded guilty to absentee ballot fraud and served 65 days in jail. Rep. Garcia claims to have had no knowledge of what was going on. But it is somewhat reminiscent of that prison guard in Hogan’s Heroes who always said, “Nothing, I know nothing.”

Garcia and Democratic Party operatives have tried to churn up a scandal involving Curbelo, a political PR consultant and sometime lobbyist. When he worked for then-Sen. George LeMieux, on the advice of Senate lawyers, Curbelo transferred ownership of his company to his wife. And then left it that way when he went back to the private sector and was elected to the Miami-Dade School Board.

Curbelo has refused to release his client list, which Garcia has said is tantamount to corruption.

It would be interesting to see if any school-district vendors, whose contracts Curbelo has voted for, have contributed to his campaigns, but thus far Curbelo appears to following the letter of the law, if not entirely the spirit of full disclosure.

All this back-and-forth between Curbelo and Garcia has shut down serious discussion of the real issues that either man will face in the House of Representatives. I’ve invited both to debate on Channel 10, and they say they will; no date has yet been set.

Scott and Crist have three TV debates scheduled next month. Here’s hoping the formats will allow for longer, substantive answers and the chance for real back-and-forth between the candidates. And here’s also hoping the candidates’ answers go beyond their well-rehearsed but shallow talking points.

The time for talking points is over. Let the real debates begin.

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