facing sneaky tactics
By CARL HIAASEN
Posted on Sun, Sep. 30, 2007
can be sure you're on the right side of an issue if John Thrasher is on
The former Florida House speaker and big-shot
lawyer-lobbyist has sent out a mass-mailing to scare voters into
removing their signatures from a statewide petition in favor of the
''Florida Hometown Democracy'' amendment.
The Hometown Democracy initiative would let
citizens vote to approve or reject major changes to the comprehensive
land-use plans in their counties or cities. For the first time,
Floridians would have some direct control over how their communities
Thrasher's deceptive and slimy letter is proof of
the panic that has set in among those who've made a fortune raping the
state and are afraid of losing their sweet ride.
The lobbyist ominously warns that, if the Hometown
Democracy amendment passes, ''special interests'' will triumph and ''Big
Developers'' will wreck Florida's ``scenic beauty.''
Like it's not happening now?
Special interests already manipulate many county
and city commissions -- not to mention the Legislature -- while
Florida's green space continues to disappear under bulldozers at the
rate of hundreds of acres per day.
What Thrasher neglects to reveal in his fright
mailing is that big developers and landholders are the ones most
frantically opposed to the Hometown Democracy movement, and that he
himself represents some of the biggest, including the St. Joe Co., which
is currently selling off the Panhandle.
He says that allowing the voters to decide whether
they want a new megamall or condo tower down the street could stifle
growth and cause taxes to go up -- another cynical fiction designed to
frighten middle-class workers and the elderly.
What really causes taxes to soar is the need for
increased services due to overdevelopment and overcrowding. Bad planning
means that the public ends up paying dearly and repeatedly for more
roads, fire stations, police patrols, water-treatment plants and
Lots of folks in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach
counties will tell you that runaway growth has done nothing but push up
their tax bills and diminish the quality of their family's lives.
All over the state, Floridians are disgusted by the
failure of their elected officials to do restrained, responsible
planning. That's why the Hometown Democracy petition has momentum.
While it might not be the perfect answer to
derailing the engine of manic greed that's ruining so many lovely
places, many residents are so heartsick and frustrated that they would
welcome a dramatic change.
According to the website,
petition supporters have collected about 331,000 verified signatures of
the 611,009 needed to place the amendment on the November 2008 ballot.
Thousands more signatures are awaiting validation.
The deadline for signing is Feb. 1, only four months away, which has
lent urgency to the opposition's propaganda blitz.
Nothing is so horrifying to some developers and
corporate interests as the prospect of having to deal directly with
citizens when trying to get a building project passed. It's much easier
to woo politicians, whose loyalties often can be purchased with a hefty
campaign contribution or (as in recent cases in Palm Beach County)
That's the way things have always worked in
Florida, which explains the plague of ugly sprawl. The Hometown
Democracy petition would throw a wrench in that whole cozy, corruptible
Predictably, opponents grandiosely calling
themselves Floridians for Smarter Growth have cooked up a rival
constitutional amendment that would require 10 percent of voters in a
city or county to sign a petition, before any land-use referendum takes
The petitions could be signed only at the office of
a municipal clerk or elections supervisor, an inconvenience that
virtually guarantees a fatally low turnout.
Obviously, the forces behind Floridians for Smarter
Growth aren't interested in participatory democracy. They want the
public to shut up and let the politicians do their thing.
According to The Sun-Sentinel, the group raised
$841,000 between April and August. Major donors included the National
Association of Home Builders, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and U.S.
It's a motley roster of special interests whose
motives are anything but pure.
The Hometown Democracy movement undoubtedly was the
prime target when pro-development legislators passed a law allowing
voters to revoke their signatures from amendment petitions.
That opened the door for John Thrasher's specious
letter pretending to denounce the very developers for whom he's
shilling. In urging citizens to abandon the Hometown Democracy campaign,
he blames ''slick lawyers'' for tricking them into putting their names
on the petition.
Thrasher himself is one of the slickest lawyers in
Tallahassee, and it is he who has stooped to shameless trickery.
letter comes with a postage-paid envelope. Mail it back with the
two-word reply of your choice.