Salt Life: Rep. Buchanan’s Town Hall Meeting (by Sasha)

IMG_2861Although we registered online to attend Rep. Vern Buchanan’s March 18th town hall meeting, and therefore believed that we had reserved two seats, every seat in the hall was taken, and we were left standing outside the 1700 seat performing arts hall with 100s and 100s of others. But an outdoor speaker system broadcast the questions and answers from inside and so we stayed with the crowd, listened, and reacted.

Today’s Herald Tribune featured an article with the title “Buchanan wary of health plan.” Whether his office had salted the news or not, this article foreshadowed the issue that would dominate the questions: health care, and more specifically, the ramifications of overturning the Affordable Health Care Act (better known as Obamacare.) Buchanan suggested it was too early in the game, “just the third inning,” to know what the final health care product would be.

On the one hand, Buchanan seemed to know his constituents, vowing support for Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans Affairs, but on the other hand, we believe he has underestimated the anger among constituents that has energized them to become politically active and vocal as never before.

A telling theme was present in the questions asked by at least three people:  how can Buchanan, who is generally acknowledged by voters from both parties to be a person of integrity and decency, live with the contradiction of offering support to a president who lacks both attributes?

His  response was that people needed to give Trump a chance and it was too early to judge him. A majority of the outside crowd booed loudly in response; and the speaker system picked up on the same response from inside the hall.


So how does one explain this contradiction? Does loyalty to party “trump” all other considerations? Is Buchanan really taking a wait and see strategy? Does he feel his seat is safe in 2018 and he need not engage in intra-party opposition?

Jack suggests another explanation: that Buchanan and other Republican members of Congress see an advantage in letting Trump be Trump. When the President draws attention to pseudo-issues, like the accusation that Obama had Trump’s phones “tapped” or that the media is the “enemy of the people,” attention is deflected away from an agenda with items that many Republicans actually do believe in and are actively pressing. There is the moral agenda that supports attacks on reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood, and the LGBT community. There is the national security agenda that is anti-immigrant and pro-military industrial complex. There is the economic agenda of protecting corporate interests, cutting programs that serve the poor, and undermining regulations (e.g., environmental protections) viewed as a hardship to business interests. And there is the conservative political agenda that big government must be dismantled to ensure “liberty.” With Trump and Bannon taking the heat, representatives can choose which of their pet issues to press forward.

So Buchanan’s “wait and see” approach sounds fair and cautious, even as the issues he does in fact support (like defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting immigration) move forward.

However, the majority of the crowd, ourselves included,  would have none of it. Basically, what we were telling Buchanan is that his “wait and see” approach makes him complicit–and therefore vulnerable in 2018.





With a Grain of Salt: Trump’s Campaign Promises (by Jack)

canstockphoto-comDo elected officials say one thing when they run for office and, once in office, do another? Although studies by political scientists consistently show that politicians generally attempt to implement the policies they campaign on, many cynics do not believe that is the case. I venture to say that most Trump supporters believe that “career politicians” say one thing to get elected and then do something else once in office.

Over the years the media has been more vigilant in attempting to document when politicians break their promises (although they have been less rigorous about highlighting when they keep them). How did Obama do? According to Politifact over his eight years in office Obama made 533 campaign promises. Of those, he kept 48.2% of them and “compromised” to get at least part of what he wanted on another 27.6%. On only 24.2% of the promises he made did he fail to keep them. Note that Politifact doesn’t explain exactly why the promises were not kept.

Politifact has already identified 102 campaign promises that Trump has made and they will be keeping a scorecard of how well he does. I would just like to highlight some of the more interesting ones and project how they will be fulfilled by our new president.


“Draining the Swamp.” This, of course, is a great line for campaign rallies as it conjures up images of a murky Washington D. C. environment filled with slimy snakes and gators feasting on the body politic. But, how will we know if and when the swamp has been drained? First of all, it has never been made entirely clear exactly who the predators in the swamp actually are. Are they career politicians? Lobbyists? Bureaucrats? Campaign donors? All of the above?

As best we can tell by looking at Trump’s actions so far apparently the predators in the swamp do not include campaign donors. His Education Department secretary- designate Betsy DeVos’ family donated over $200 million to Republicans over the years, his nominee to run the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, donated $7.5 million to back his run, the Deputy Commerce Secretary designate Todd Ricketts had his family donate $1.3 million, Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder chipped in $320,000, and on and on. But maybe Trump really meant that the predators in the swamp were the career politicians and here he supports a constitutional amendment to place term limits on members of Congress. Of course, that proposal must actually go through Congress itself. It’s toast. Hey, but at least he can claim that he tried.

That leaves us with the easiest target, the bureaucrats. Expect some sort of nasty presidential order directed at those poor slobs, the most vulnerable swamp creatures. After it is signed expect Trump to declare that “the swamp has been drained” and we will never hear the phrase again.


“Defeat ISIS.” Trump either has a plan to defeat ISIS or he doesn’t have a plan. It’s not clear. One time he said he knew more than the generals and had a plan, but he also said that once elected he would tell the generals to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS. Seems a little confusing.

The key to understanding ISIS is realizing that it is an amorphous amoebic-like organization that operates in strange ways and has much different goals than most organizations. Trying to defeat it is like playing whack-a-mole. Every time you smash it in one place it pops up in another. ISIS is not committed to taking any particular land, it merely need staging areas and access to the Internet.

Because so few people really understand much about this group and because it operates primarily in places most Americans have never heard of it lends itself to image manipulation. We should expect the Trump administration to deal with ISIS as a PR problem. They can defeat ISIS by coming up with “alternative facts” to demonstrate that Trump has actually defeated the terrorist organization. Sure there will be terrorist attacks in Europe and maybe even in the US, but these can be attributed to fake terrorist groups which mimic ISIS whose creation can eventually be blamed on Obama.

“Oreos.” A lot of people may have missed Trump’s promise about Oreos as it was not widely reported by the liberal media. In August of 2015 someone told Trump that Nabisco was shutting down its plant in Chicago and moving it to Mexico. In response he said he would not eat another Oreo until it moved its Oreo production back to the US.49657788-chocolate-cookies-with-cream-filling-isolated-on-white-background-1

Now obviously this would be a difficult promise to hold Trump to as, in the middle of the night, he could sneak down into the White House kitchen and surreptitiously munch on a few of those delicious cookies. Who would know? But, as luck has it, Trump won’t have to go those lengths to eat an Oreo. In fact, although some jobs at the Nabisco plant will be lost they are not being lost to transfer them to Mexico; Nabisco is merely re-organizing their production lines. Better yet for Trump, Oreos are, and will continue to be made in the good old U. S. A. Expect an East Room spectacle with Trump in front of a heaping tray of Oreos declaring victory and passing them out to reporters as a peace offering. Great photo op.


“Make America Great Again.” This, of course, was Trump’s signature campaign theme and while some cynics criticized it because they thought America was already great, it struck a cord with a lot of rust-belt voters. Still, it’s one of those phrases that is difficult to pinpoint about what exactly it means. How will we know when Trump has made America great again?

Fortunately Trump has already provided us with the answer about when we will know when American is great again—he will tell us!

In his first week in office Trump, through his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway, seemed to indicate that they were perfectly within their rights to challenge the media with what she called “alternative facts.” In other words, the Trump administration feels free to create its own reality, divorced from, of course, reality. So, regardless of what actually happens during the Trump term expect President Trump to fulfill this promise and, at some point during his term in office, declare that America is great again!

Expect a new kind of presidency—one which will be able to easily fulfill all Trump’s campaign promises because it will create its own reality. In Trump’s words we will get really, really tired of winning so much.


Or, perhaps Chico Marx’s words are more prescient:

Who are you going to believe—me or your own eyes?

The Trump Phenomenon: Part III; Image “Trumps” All (by Jack)

Back in 1858 Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas conducted seven debates throughout seven of the nine congressional districts in Illinois as they campaigned for the United States Senate. Each debate was scheduled to last three hours. What they said was recorded by stenographers, reprinted and distributed throughout the United States. People discussed and argued the issues that the two candidates raised. No one listened to them on the radio, saw them on television, or live streamed them; instead they read the debates in newspapers. This was democracy at its finest—candidates identified and framed the issues and citizens discussed and debated with each other.


Contrast that with the image of Donald J. Trump in Mexico City standing side-by-side with Mexican president Peña Nieto calling him a friend and referring to the Mexican people as “amazing people.” A few hours later in Phoenix Trump, standing in front of American flags, talked about creating a “deportation task force” to round up Mexicans (rapists and murderers?) who had illegally entered the country and send them back to stand at the end of the line to re-enter the land of milk and honey. Trump’s visit to Mexico provided him with a great visual—standing at a podium next to a grim-faced Mexican president. Then, hours later, creating another image as he blasted away at illegal Mexican immigrants. Whatever he said in either venue was irrelevant; it was the image that was significant.

In Mexico he created an image of a world leader capable of standing up to leaders of hostile nations (for Trump Mexico is a hostile nation). Back in the friendly confines of Arizona he reverted to the image of a “non-PC” candidate “telling it like it is.” Forget what Trump is saying (he often says things that are not true), image is what the Trump campaign is about.



It has been argued that Trump thrives upon, and even encourages, misinformation; that uneducated angry white men are flocking to him; that he is followed by “deplorable” people (the latest by Hillary). I think that is too simplistic. His appeal is broader. Trump is an extension of a presidential campaign phenomenon that began with the advent of television, was realized by Ronald Reagan, and became an art form with George W. Bush. These presidents (really their advisors) understood that reality had become “contested,” and they attempted to define it for their own political purposes through images, not words. Politics today is not a battle of ideas (ala the Lincoln-Douglas debates) but a battle of images. “Dubya” even went so far as to hire an image team composed of professionals drawn from the major networks to stage “message of the day” backdrops for pseudo-events to convey a simple yet coordinated message.

So Trump is not unique in his use of images. What is somewhat different about Trump is that he lacks virtually any substance at all. While candidates such as George W. Bush were taken to task for not being as informed about issues as presidential candidates should be, Trump’s ignorance about basic political issues and his lack of policy proposals is stunning. Still, it may not matter. Image becomes its own reality.

The difficulty with images is that they disempower the American citizenry. At their best images are effective at raising questions, but they do not provide people with information and perspectives that can provide the basis of democratic dialogue among citizens. How do you argue with an image? Images merely “are.” They can be pleasant, attractive, ugly, and disturbing. But they don’t provide the kind of information citizens need to engage in democratic discussions. Substantive arguments (which the Lincoln-Douglas debates provided) possess the possibility of engaging citizens in dialogue about important issues.


But images are effective on the campaign trail because they tap into people’s feelings, and those feelings often override rational thought. Unfortunately image creation and manipulation represents our present-day approach to presidential campaigns. As three-time Grammy Award winning guitarist Adam Jones once said:  “It doesn’t matter what [the image] is about, all that matters is how it makes you feel.” Trump is creating an image that taps into people’s emotions and those emotions may very well overwhelm rational discourse.

Off-the-Top-of-our-Heads Reactions to the Clinton-Trump Debate #1


Jack:  The Poly Sci wisdom is that debates tend to reinforce the support among strong supporters; so it is the “undecided” voter, usually a moderate, that is the target of the candidates. Undecideds are still a large segment of the population, so this debate was important.

Jack:  Clinton needed to reach out to where her favorability ratings were shaky or falling: young people who are interested in economic inequality and suburban white women who are concerned about whether Trump is “presidential.” Trump needed to present a presidential demeanor to reassure voters who would like to vote for him mainly because he is not Clinton. He didn’t accomplish that tonight.

Sasha:  Given that, she succeeded. She presented as presidential while Trump interrupted her repeatedly, had several (albeit minor) implosions, and ended by saying she didn’t “look” presidential. He quickly changed the phrasing to a lack of “stamina;” or how he put it the second time he said it with emphasis: “stam-men-a” (code for testosterone?) Undecided women won’t like how he treated her; her base will solidify. She missed an opportunity, however, to remind voters that there are many female leaders of foreign countries and Trump will need a respectful demeanor to work with them.

Sasha: Trump avoided questions; he repeated himself; he sounded unschooled. However, his base likes that off-the-cuff, ready to rumble demeanor.  But will this win him undecided voters? I don’t think so.

Final throw-in thoughts:

Clinton managed to act natural although she was obviously well-rehearsed, had control over her body language, and was very aware of how the camera was on her (and him) at all times.

Could Trump have been a bit ill? We thought he sniffled throughout the first half of the debate and his eyes looked almost closed, then he started to come around. But given that he has criticized Clinton’s health, he couldn’t very well claim illness, could he.

Finally, calling these performances “debates” is of course a misnomer. They are at best side-by-side press conferences. A serious debate consists of having a proposition (e.g., decreasing taxes on large businesses in order to create jobs),  allowing each side time to argue for or against the proposition,  questioning and challenging each other’s facts and analysis, and then giving closing statements. That presidential debates are in fact “debates” is debatable.


From the Salt Mines: Unionizing in Sarasota (by Sasha)

Just when I thought that unions were a dying breed (along with any recognition of workers’ rights), two groups of employees in Sarasota have recently voted to unionize: the faculty at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, and the newsroom of Sarasota’s local newspaper, the Herald-Tribune.

Kudos to both. Teaching and news reporting are worth fighting for.

SCF faculty had to do something after the disastrous decision by its Trustees to eliminate tenure for all new hires, making SCF unique among Florida state colleges.


Tenure is mainly defended for the philosophical reason of “academic freedom.” This isn’t just a highbrow concept; it has practical implications for those of us who have taught and researched topics that are controversial (and in the world of academia where just about anything is questioned, that means just about everything.) Imagine researching global warming, reproductive rights, religious tolerance, genetic engineering, or a theory of limited growth in Florida’s current political environment. Your career would be at risk.

But tenure is more than just academic freedom. It is what the business world would normally concede to be a “best practice” because why on earth would any professor of merit, i.e., a scholar who worked for 10+ years to earn a Ph.D. and establish a strong c.v., choose to join an outlier college that did not offer job security when there are other choices available? In addition, the academic world is scheduled to at least one year out for jobs, conference papers, grants, journal submissions, and invited lectures. The offer of a one-year contract means that new hires will need to apply right away for their next job. One foot out the door is not a way to build a dedicated faculty.

It’s no surprise, then, that the faculty at SCF Manatee-Sarasota, voted last week 75-25 to unionize.

Decisions were also made at the Herald-Tribune that threatened the workforce and the integrity of their work. From 2006-2008, the HT cut its workforce by one-third. Within the last five years, the paper was owned by the NY Times Co.,  sold to the Halifax Media Group in 2011, then acquired in 2015 by GateHouse Media. As expected, layoffs followed the acquisition; 16 newsroom employees lost their jobs.

For the newsroom employees at the Herald-Tribune, the September 15 decision to unionize appears to have been a difficult one. The vote to unionize was 22-16; a number that is sad not just because it shows divisiveness, but because of the sum: there are only 38 newsroom employees left.

The Herald Tribune building by

The downsizing of staff made it possible for the  HT to announce in August that it will move from its iconic Main Street building to three floors of the SunTrust building next store. Meanwhile Senior Editor, Bill Church, will leave the HT effective September 26 to take a promotion to Senior Vice President of News at GateHouse in Austen. Apparently he achieved in Sarasota what he was hired to do.

So pay attention workers of Sarasota–workers’ rights are at a nadir and unions may be on the rise. Hmmmmmm. Cause and effect?



The Salt Life: The STOP! Town Hall Meeting on “Sarasota, The Vue, and You” (by Sasha and Jack)

img_2040The biggest question at the standing-room-only STOP! Town Hall Meeting Thursday, September 22 at the Selby Library was this:

How on earth did a monstrous building like the Vue gain public approval?

Vue with man
The Vue

The simple answer is that it didn’t.

And it didn’t because, unbelievably, it did not need public approval at all.

As Kate Lowman put it, “Administrative review gave us the Vue.”


This exclusion of a public voice regarding development is behind the formation of STOP! (a community-based organization of Sarasota citizens).  In order to “preserve our quality of life,”  four City Master Plan & Zoning Code changes are sought:


  • Wider sidewalks with room for greenspace;
  • Realistic traffic studies;
  • Reintroduction of opportunities for public input during the review process; and
  • Prevention of expanding the administrative review process beyond the downtown into neighborhoods.

(More information at

Over the course of an hour, four speakers offered details that explained how The Vue and other downtown development projects came to be.

Kate Lowman, who serves as a steering committee member, described how in 2003 new city zoning codes, inspired by the principles of New Urbanism, aimed to create a walkable, pedestrian-friendly downtown. But this effort was undermined when a lawsuit by Argus was settled by replacing a public review process with a purely administrative review process. Without any opportunity for public input, approval for development was guaranteed as long as a proposal met the zoning codes.

Mike Lasche, a bicycle and pedestrian advocate argued that “walkability” must mean more than a mere possibility that a person could walk a path. He suggested that walking is a form of transport that should be safe, viable, shaded, conspicuous, and even convivial.

Eileen Normile, former city commissioner, explained that the use of arcane traffic impact formulas result in developers (e.g., those of the new Quay project) escaping any amount of “concurrency fees.” What is needed, she argued, are realistic traffic studies.

Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, former planning board member, contrasted the public process of development approval (that includes 3 closed and 3 open steps) with the abbreviated administrative process that makes no room for public input at all.

Even from the water, the Vue is imposing

STOP! is clearly onto something here. Anyone who attempts to walk by The Vue or new construction sites near Fruitville or First Street can experience first hand how truly pedestrian and bicycle un-friendly these sites are. It’s like walking through a concrete tunnel with traffic racing nearby.

So, the points made at the September 22nd meeting clearly resonated with the 200 plus people who attended, and the four speakers were informed and informative.

But as political scientists, we would like to suggest several questions for STOP! to consider as it moves forward. Continue reading “The Salt Life: The STOP! Town Hall Meeting on “Sarasota, The Vue, and You” (by Sasha and Jack)”

Presidential Election 2001 Redux? (by Jack)


With the recent tightening of the presidential contest I began to think about our last close presidential election (the Gore-Bush 2000 election) and I was struck by the emerging similarities. Here are just a few:

  • Going into the month of September both Gore (in 2000) as well as Clinton (in 2016) had substantial leads in the polls. Clinton’s lead was around 8% while Gore’s lead was around 10%. By the end of September Gore was in a statistical tie with Bush; Clinton is now virtually tied with Trump.




  • In 2000, after a long drawn-out impeachment disaster people were experiencing “Clinton fatigue” (Bill that is). Today voters are experiencing their own version of “Clinton fatigue”—this time it’s Hillary.
  • In 2000 voters rated Gore higher than Bush in terms of competence and being prepared to be president. It didn’t matter all that much. Likewise, voters rate Hillary higher in terms of competence and being prepared to be president. It doesn’t seem to matter.
  • In 2000 the economy was doing quite well—growing and producing jobs. Gore was unable to take advantage of that. Today the economy is also doing quite well—growing and producing jobs—but people are convinced otherwise and Hillary doesn’t seem to be able to take advantage of a relatively healthy economy.
  • images
    analyzing the “hanging chads” of Florida ballots; from

    In 2000 Florida proved to be the critical swing state (I won’t dredge up those hanging chads and that horrendous Supreme Court decision). According to poll analyst Nate Silver Florida is the state with the highest probability of being the key swing state in the 2016 election (an 18.1% chance).

  • In 2000 the voter registration rolls in Florida were artificially (and illegally) depressed by state officials as they purged thousands of voters who should have been allowed to vote. Today Florida leads the nation in disenfranchising voters by denying ex-felons the right to vote. Slightly less the 7% of the voting age population is denied the vote in Florida, the highest disenfranchisement of ex-felons in the nation. (Note: Vermont and Maine allow people in prison to vote in presidential elections).
  • In 2000 Al Gore was framed by the media as “dull” and “wooden.” In 2016 Hillary Clinton is framed by the media as “uninspiring” and “unable to generate enthusiasm.”
  • In 2000 the Democrats surprised many by creating an effective get-out-the-vote campaign (unusual for Democrats). In 2016 it is commonly believed that one of Hillary’s advantages is her “ground game” where she has thousands of offices focused on turning out the vote.
  • Media analysts were in agreement that the coverage of the 2000 campaign, with its emphasis on scandals and negative politics, undermined journalistic credibility. Coverage of scandals and negative politics in 2016 pales by comparison and the media is attacked by both Trump and Clinton as being unfair.
  • In 2000 there were two minor party candidates in the race, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, who probably cost Gore the election. In 2016 we have Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, both of whom will probably draw more votes away from Clinton than Trump.


So in 2000 George W. Bush won the election although he received more than half a million fewer votes nation-wide than Al Gore. Nate Silver gives the odds of a similar result happening in 2016 only at a 6.4% chance.

But, hey, we live in Florida where weird things happen all the time.

Looking into my crystal ball I see  a winner vaguely coming into view. It seems to be an image of a blond woman. My hunch is that Hillary will improve her support among young people and Hispanics and her ground game will be able to turn out the necessary votes to win a close one (yet again) in Florida. Floridians will breathe a sigh of relief and feel free to name their sons “Chad” without fear that they will be laughed at when they get to junior high.

What’s your prediction?