Doug Guetzloe, the recalcitrant leader of the Ax the Tax group, loves to boast about his ability to defeat tax proposals brought before Orange County voters.
"Eight-to-zero," the barrel-chested, 48-year-old Guetzloe would say, referring to the lopsided run of county tax issues he claims to have helped kill.
But last week Guetzloe took a tumble, much to the delight of his critics, when voters overwhelmingly approved a half-cent sales tax increase, the proceeds of which will go to build $2.7 billion worth of schools.
Downplaying defeat, Guetzloe pitched a change-up after the election, saying Ax the Tax was merely a "catalyst" for anti-tax voters suspicious of corrupt government officials. The real losers, he says, are the 800,000 residents of Orange County who not only get slapped with a tax increase on their next trip to Wal-Mart, but must also endure the growth new schools will surely bring.
"The voters might as well bend over," Guetzloe says.
It will be interesting to see whether Guetzloe has lost any influence from last week's election. His critics often complain that Guetzloe is a public figure only because the media props him up by quoting him extensively without any context on who he actually speaks for (Orlando Weekly is guilty of this sin, too).
Ax the Tax is seen as a dummy organization designed to give the appearance of a populist movement. Guetzloe says the group has a mailing list of 10,000, but the group never meets and its only point of contact is -- guess who -- Guetzloe.
His weekly program, The Guetzloe Report, which airs on WIXL 1190-AM, has an audience so tiny it fails to rank on the Arbitron rating system. He pays for the air time.
"Anybody can get out and lead and tell you they represent a constituency," says former state legislator Dick Batchelor, Guetzloe's sales tax nemesis. "But you need some point of reference `regarding` what the organization is."
Even so, there's something about Guetzloe that borders on the absurd, drawing you to him even as you are repelled. Maybe it's his ever-malleable concept of the truth. Just before the Sept. 10 election, he paid a black AM radio station to play an anti-tax rap song, a move Guetzloe says awakened the black community to the evils of the tax. As a result, he says, seven of 12 black precincts voted against it.
Which sounds impressive until you realize that there are actually 37 black precincts (as defined by a minimum of 25 percent of registered voters who are black). And even in the seven precincts Guetzloe's claiming as "wins," the total margin of victory for the anti-tax side was but 132 votes. Not exactly something to crow about, but good enough for Guetzloe.
"Where does it all end?" he pontificates. "When we reach the populist utopia I dream of."
We'll talk then, Doug.