Local Republican officials betray GOP values
Originally published June 23, 2012 in SRQ Daily
As the slate of candidates for local office has come into focus, the dominance of Sarasota’s Republican Party once again is clear. Thirty candidates are Republicans, three are Democrats, with three write-in candidates, one Libertarian and one independent rounding out the field.Surely, the Republican Party is doing what any party should —organizing, grooming candidates and getting out their vote. Nothing wrong with that; it’s smart politics. Problems creep in, however, when local races are no longer competitive and candidates count on voters who vote along party lines, assuming all Republicans walk their talk.
To many, a vote for a Republican is a vote for fiscal responsibility. Many believe it’s a vote for the free market, accountability and smart economic decisions. One-party Republican rule has been the status quo in Sarasota County for decades. But have our local leaders made good on these Republican values?
Our County’s recent history is littered with examples of how local leaders have not walked the Republican talk. Unethical county procurement practices came to a head in 2011 when a county employee was arrested. The acceptance of gifts by the employee was obviously wrong, and just as important, the practice of tailoring bidding specifications to favored vendors is anti-competitive and detrimental to our local economy. County economic development grants without accountability (e.g. Sanborn Studios) are diametrically opposed to common sense and Republican values. Most support smart growth in our county, but was the County Commission’s decision to open the door to unlimited building heights truly in step with conservative values? Where is their restraint?
One example of poor fiscal management occurred a few years back when the County purchased land from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch through the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program. Schroeder-Manatee knew they were giving up their development rights to the land (adjacent their planned “Villages” project) in exchange for $7 million from Sarasota taxpayers. Voters were getting what they approved via
referendum—the acquisition and protection of natural lands. As time went on, Schroeder-Manatee wanted more. Commissioner Jon Thaxton publicly told the company: “You can have the money ($7 million for development rights) or the density (for the village). You can’t have both.”
But the County Commission ultimately gave both. Schroeder-Manatee was ultimately allowed to claim the now county-owned land
as greenway or buffer space for their project and keep our $7 million. Why would the County Commission pay millions for land, then allow the property to serve as greenway space for a development project? Why wouldn’t our Republican commission insist on compensation for the taxpayers either in dollars or land? Why would a Republican County Commission fail so miserably in their duty to steward our financial and
environmental resources? Do they really deserve to be called Republicans?
When casting our ballots in local races, let’s all remember party affiliation doesn’t necessarily reflect party values. No doubt these concerns are shared by our local tea party activists. Every voter must ask: will the real Republican please stand up? And who knows? Sometimes, it might even be a Democrat.