This week I had the opportunity to sit down with the leadership of the Gainesville Firefighters’ Union with the hope of obtaining their endorsement. I felt pretty good about my chances because my campaigns, both this year and last year, have focused on preserving core services while opposing projects that are beyond the scope of a city government.
Last year, I did not even get a chance to have this interview, as the Union endorsed Craig Lowe without shopping any other candidates. After he was elected, Lowe led the charge on pulling half of the Fire Department’s budget out of the general fund and creating a new Fire Services Fee, which was to be paid for by churches and non-profit’s as well as private and commercial properties. The University still pays nothing, although they are big users of fire services.
I am proposing that we place fire protection back where it was before, and downsize less important city services and projects, which should be on the back burner during an economic downturn.
It was because of my position, in spite of my desire to put fire and police FIRST in the city’s budget, that my opponent got their endorsement. Even after getting their fire services fee, the city is facing an even bigger budget shortfall than last year. But this does not matter at all to the Firefighters’ Union because they got their fee, and that is apparently all that matters.
If I am elected, the Firefighters are going to get their money, no matter what. They are an essential public service and they do a great job. They are one of the things you pay for when you cannot afford a golf course, a one-stop homeless center, roundabouts, narrowing the roads, a tree-burning power plant, and highly questionable building projects. And those are the things the Firefighters’ Union were willing to overlook to get their fire services fee.
Here is a flyer with information we should have seen before our mayor and city commissioners committed us to a tree-burning plant. This document shows the following items of interest:
Biomass is dirtier than coal
It does not use the best available technology
There are significant health risks
It’s financially risky
It threatens our natural resources
Most people in our community have the impression that our city commissioners are environmentally responsible. This is simply not true. They and past commissioners dragged their feet for almost 30 years while the Koppers toxic waste site kept seeping poisons deeper and deeper. It will not be much longer before it reaches our drinking water.
Now they want to burn trees to make our electricity. This is supposedly to “save the planet” from Global Warming. So, they are going to destroy the planet to save it. And in the process, your GRU bills are projected to go up EVEN HIGHER!
Vote March 15th to turn back this man-made disaster: the City’s Tree-burning Biomass plant!
I have been opposed to the biomass plant since 2007, when I asked Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, “Does wood burn cleaner than coal?” She may not remember me asking her that question at the candidate forum at the Matheson Center, but it was one of those anonymous notes from the audience that I scrawled on slip of paper and gave to one of the forum volunteers. It was a direct question that deserved a straight answer, but we all got the tap dance instead. There are different kinds of emissions; some are greener than others; it’s comparing apples and oranges…time’s up!
I am not a scientist, but as a citizen, I know I must arrive at a conclusion if I am going to participate in the democratic process intelligently. I had already talked to educated people who were for biomass and others who were against it. They were all very compelling. In the final analysis, we all have to boil the complex down to the simple. I decided that it was a step backwards to burn trees for energy. I knew we had to progress from coal and oil at some point, but I did not believe that wood was the right direction. I also knew that fossil fuels burned more cleanly and efficiently than they did in the past. I think we can still squeeze more refinements out of this technology while we experiment with new ideas. I also think we need the low cost of coal to keep a downward pressure on the price of new energy.
As new commissioners were elected, we still seemed to be going full speed ahead on biomass, even though I don’t recall a robust debate on the subject. I also wondered where all the environmentalists were in this process. I had always assumed that our city commission was “green”. So I was perplexed that Gainesville was on a course to be called a “Tree City” for an entirely new and unforeseen reason.
I got into the Mayor’s race last year because, with a week to go before qualifying ended, I could not believe that a credible candidate had not stepped up to oppose the seven-year incumbent commissioner, Craig Lowe. I mean no disrespect to Richard Selwach, but I did not think he had a broad enough appeal to get voters motivated to show up. I think Richard is a great guy and an important voice of dissent in our city’s political process, but I knew he was not a campaigner.
I don’t want to relive the Mayor’s race, but I bring it up because it was the first time the people of this city had a chance to weigh in on biomass and Koppers, the other environmental embarrassment, at the ballot box. What I learned from the campaign was that the word “biomass” is not descriptive enough for people to grasp. They’ve been told it’s a carbon-neutral, green technology, and they just swallowed it whole. But, when you keep calling it a tree-burning power plant, the light goes on. People really don’t want this.
But is it a done deal? Until they actually build it, I don’t believe it is. And we are not the only community to be re-examining plans to build a tree-burner. Other plants are being canceled. There is hope. There is also an election this March. You will have a chance to place 3 commissioners who are against the tree-burner. I am one of them. I am running at-large, so if you are a city resident and registered to vote, you can make a big difference. If you live in District 2, you can elect Robert Krames. If you live in District 3, you can vote for Rob Zeller. We will do whatever we can to stop the tree-burner. Do whatever you can do by making sure you vote March 15th.
For your edification, I give you these links to peruse:
The Florida League of Conservation Voters has summary documentation on adverse effects of Biomass plants – includes documentation on effects of particulates-PM10 & PM2.5 http://www.flcv.com/biomass.html
As the dust begins to settle following last week’s election fallout, some of our leaders are beginning to figure out what it meant. Many members of Congress, particularly the new ones, understand that there is a strong national mood for putting away the national credit card and cut spending. And although there are still many who believe this is not the case, there are not enough of them to take us all on the next round of the shopping frenzy.
All of this will have a powerful trickledown effect. Our local politicians will be getting less pork from Washington, and they will squeal more and more about unfunded mandates, and they will be looking for more ways to tax you directly for government services. In other words, we will no longer get away with believing that someone else, somewhere, will be paying for our services with someone else’s money.
This is why we need local leaders who will make the tough decision to tighten the city’s belt. The days of getting extra money from Washington or the State of Florida are numbered. State and Federal subsidies have helped city hall disguise its careless growth of government services in the past, but not much longer. We, as Gainesville residents, will soon have to come to terms with what we can really afford to do here.
When I see our city busses trundling around town empty, or with only 2 passengers, I want to find a creative solution to this problem. We have these large, air-conditioned, diesel-belching vehicles doing the work of a single taxicab, and I wonder how we can replace some of these wasteful behemoths with 15-passenger vans. Our bus system burns over 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel per day. I am sure we can do better than this. But we won’t as long as we believe there is someone, somewhere else, that can be taxed to pay for it. Before long, it will be YOU who will shoulder the burden of all of it.
Just yesterday I was in the home of one of my customers, and I met someone who voted for me in the last election. We were both complaining about the ugliness of politics when she started telling how terrible the Tea Party movement was. I quickly came to the defense of the movement, telling her I thought it was great that so many people who were not involved before were beginning to care enough to do something.
This reminds me of the hard time I got for listing the Gainesville Tea Party on my campaign site last spring. Even then, the Tea Party was being slandered and vilified by the media and everyone who felt threatened by it. When Craig Lowe’s campaign was offering to take students to the polls, we decided to send some ringers to get these rides. We were just trying to find out what they were saying about us. Here is how the conversation went:
Don Marsh Ringer: “So, Don Marsh is a conservative, right?”
Craig Lowe Stooge: “Oh, no. He’s Tea Party.”
Ringer: “But that’s conservative, right?”
Stooge: “That’s beyond conservative!”
There was never much more of an explanation than that. It was a label, and an easy way to demonize me without having to handle those pesky issues: sky high utility rates, $7 million budget shortfall, rising crime rates.
Last year, the media was calling the Tea Party a Republican Trojan Horse. They were just a gimmick, a repackaging of the party. This year, we are finding that even Republicans are not safe if they are part of the over-taxing, over-spending, control-freak culture of Washington. Last month, incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) lost to the unknown Tea Party candidate, Joe Miller, in the Republican Primary. Since then, the undead Lisa Murkowski has decided to run as a write-in candidate in an attempt to be a spoiler and get the Democrat elected. This is a fine example of the entitled politician (who is also the daughter of an entitled politician) who is so deranged with outrage that one of the little people has insisted on taking the reins of government that she must strip away every last vestige of dignity to stop him. That is also an example of the new lunatic fringe: the political know-betters that hate the political nobodies.
So, what is so terrible about wanting to get back to the roots of our government, the Constitution? And what is so terrible about wanting to cut back the size and scope of our inept government? And what is so terrible about wanting to make your own decisions with your own money? Does this really make you a nutcase? The Tea Party bashers think you are.
This is all quite relevant to our local government. For many years, the Gainesville City Commission has been elected every spring by a tiny minority of the voters. These are the Know-betters. They know better than you do about the size and scope of a city government, about how necessary it is to have a city golf course that loses $300K per year, and a $5 million Homeless center to draw more indigents to our community, and to close down our coal-fired generating plant so we can burn trees to make electricity at an even higher price.
This past spring, we got voter turnout to the lofty heights of 16.75%. It was almost enough to unseat a 7 year incumbent Know-better. He won by 42 votes in a race where 60,000 voters stayed home. If you are one of those people who stayed home, I am inviting you to the Tea Party. I believe you matter and that you will make the difference.
For your enlightenment, I am including this link to the CATO Institute Book Forum. There is a presentation there on the Tea Party that you can watch on video, or just listen to the audio in the background while you are working. It will help you get past the jeering, sneering, slandering Know-betters of the political class and the media. Make up your own mind. Know better for yourself.