Monday, October 11, 2010

Profiles in Florida: Unholy Unions

Democratic candidate for Florida governor Alex Sink recently caused a stir among Republicans and law-enforcement officials with a barrage of ads touting her endorsement by the Florida policeman's union. Though she received the endorsement months ago, the ads are the first time many are hearing it, which means that the rest of the state must now cope with a few people recognizing that the apocalypse is upon them. This is the first time in 20 years that a Democratic gubernatorial candidate has earned the nod.

The St. Petersburg Times has more:
Rick Cochran, vice president of Tampa's police union and a registered Republican, explains the union's reasoning:

The Florida Police Benevolent Association doesn't want Republican candidate Rick Scott to become governor because Scott supports pension reductions and the privatization of prisons.

That would cause prison guards to be laid off, and it would affect officers' pension plans, said Florida union deputy executive director Matt Puckett.

Cochran said that some local members have visited the union's office this week to ask why their group would endorse a Democrat. The party has generally carried the perception of being soft on crime.

"When we explain it, the majority get it," he said of the endorsement. "I've had a few people say that they're a Republican, and they just can't do it."
Florida is a great state because things like this happen. It's almost categorically broken, but the fact that events like this represent catastrophic sea changes at least makes for some fun. The process is a lot like a Carl Hiaasen novel, but without any sense of justice, heroes to root for or a chance that the humor is intentional.

The full article explains that some union members are wary of the Democratic party because it's traditionally "weak on crime." But apart from pointing out that the narrative of lily-livered liberals trying to coddle hardened criminals with counseling programs is the stuff of ancient 1970s history — and apart from mentioning that this image was definitively killed off as a Democratic plank about 20 years ago when Michael Dukakis climbed into a fucking tank to play Death Karts — the first thing you want to do is just grab these people and shake them and repeat: "You are uncomfortable that your union supports the Democratic candidate. You are worried about YOUR PUBLIC-SECTOR UNION endorsing a DEMOCRAT."

Even so, this is hardly a big deal. Democrats in Florida resemble the Democratic party in most of the rest of the country about as much as American "liberals" resemble the liberal wing of any government in the rest of the westernized world. It's an error of nomenclature that everyone outside the situation politely tries not to laugh at. Florida Democrats and west coast Republicans are like Hardee's and Carl's Jr. restaurants: apart from one or two inconsequential menu items, cross a border somewhere, and it's the exact same shit with a different name.

In fact, there's not really much fundamental difference between Alex Sink and the old-school sorts of Florida conservatives like Charlie Crist: they could just make a new party called "Floridians Who Don't Give a Shit About Abortions and Like Cheap OJ" and merge their platforms without much fuss. Sink, for her part, is a businesswoman who earned $10 milion in Bank of America stock options after overseeing the Nations and Barnett bank mergers that saw her cut 6,000 jobs. Her job creation ideas could come out of any GOP boilerplate for the last three decades and in fact matches much of her opponent's (while Scott also cut 6,000 jobs in Florida, his substantive difference, both past and present, is that he goes beyond Sink's platform by adding shit that is genuinely crazy). Any resident functioning at a level higher than "ready to have organs harvested" could get two out of three without batting an eye: promote tourism, incentivize business relocations to Florida, commercialize the output of Florida's scientific and technical research institutions.

Worse, one source of budgetary windfall she thinks she can claim is trimming "the excess" in Tallahassee. This would make sense if the state hadn't been doing this since 2007, hadn't slashed its property tax rate, had an income tax and wasn't effectively totally stalled out in the absence of the Ponzi State flipping of residential real estate that provides its typical engine of tax revenue. At this point, solving Florida's budget shortfalls through state austerity programs makes about as much sense as North Korea responding to another famine by suggesting people try to eat less.

Rounding out her general resemblance to a conservative is the fact that she has the full southern drawl and neat little wool-suit appearance of Laura Bush — only with slightly more widened features, like someone grabbed Laura by the throat and whaled on her face until it flattened out and looked permanently skittish. The fact that Alex Sink is unpleasant to look at fits the experience of planning to vote for her. She's the fractionally tolerable slump-buster lay that a guy spies at the end of the bar after a prolonged period of striking out and has to drink himself sloppy in order to gird up a passable level of enthusiasm before pulling a lever for her. She's pretty much as close as possible to the type of score he doesn't want, but if he squints and promises to hate himself later, he can focus for a short while on the one or two things that make it endurable — like a D next to her name or two on her chest.

Of course, Sink lacks even these last two, while the first one is almost a formality verging on the meaningless, but no metaphor can stretch on forever. I know dozens of people planning on voting for her, and I don't know a single one remotely happy about it and few who even want to mention it. Alex Sink is fucking terrible, but eventually you have to go home with somebody.