- Barry Kirsch
Sometimes watching the barbs and distorted truths of presidential campaign politics on your living room television is enough to send you into convulsive fits of channel surfing, in hope of at least landing on something like a telenovela stair-falling scene replete with shattered vases and inscrutable exclamations. Well, last week – just as we were starting to get used to the soft, vindictive voices of "regular" folk warning us that President Obama would most certainly bring on the apocalypse should he be re-elected – the whole chugging train of political suggestion showed up right in our backyards in real time, and we couldn't even turn it off!
The point of the layover hangover was the highly coveted Latino vote in the Sunshine State. Obama and his presumed presidential competition were the lead speakers at this year's National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials out at Disney. "NALEO!" is all anybody on TV could say for two days.
As you surely know by now, Mitt the magic Romney hasn't been polling too well among Hispanics; a poll last week showed him 16 points behind (53-37 percent) his incumbent rival. Pundits wondered (and wondered, and wondered) whether Romney would take his eyes off the idea of selling you the country like it was a used car and actually address what everybody in the room really wanted to hear: "So, Mr. Anti-immigration, how do you feel about immigration now that you're in a room full of Latinos?"
The answer to that question was a resounding "awkward." On June 21, Romney puffed out line after line of amorphous nonsense, almost forcefully skirting the issue. "Liberty's torch can shine just as brightly for immigrants as it did for immigrants in the past," he said. How's that? You know, with high-tech fences and "strong families; moms, dads and kids all living together under the same roof." Also, "I'd staple a green card to the diploma of someone who gets an advanced digital degree in America." Plus, soldiers would get a "path to legal status." What about everybody in between? Oh, that's right, there is no in between. Tepid applause peppered with boos followed as Romney's forehead drenched itself in emergency coolant. He bombed.
So by the time Obama strutted onto the stage on Friday – with every punctuated second seeming to receive a standing ovation – it was pretty clear that Romney hadn't made much of a dent in Obama's commanding lead. Mostly he just stated the obvious: That his recent executive order offering a path to citizenship for good kids was more than Congress had been able to do in the past six years, that the nefarious "patchwork" of Arizona-style laws was at best counterproductive, that the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (a bipartisan effort) is still an option as far as he's concerned. "The bill hasn't changed, the need hasn't changed; the only thing that changed was politics!" he shot, then scored. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, he got the cheer-line of the whole event when he pointed out that Romney had, just a day earlier, said he was a man who keeps his promises.
"He has promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word," Obama said. "I'm just sayin'." Bam!
Further muting Romney's credibility, his visit came on the same day that a Bloomberg report surfaced claiming that insiders in the Republican's crazy campaign had actually been encouraging Gov. Rick Scott to stop bragging about how awesome he's been at improving private sector jobs (of course, nobody's talking about the 17,000 public sector jobs he's eliminated, because those aren't jobs). To make the wound even worse, Scott hasn't even been asked to campaign for Romney in a state that Romney admits he kinda has to win. Romney's campaign has – once again – denied any allegations of fumbling on the matter, and even if it did, the Republican Party of Florida didn't care. The group simultaneously released a press release boasting that "Florida is heading in the right direction and with Governor Scott's leadership, we will be the number one state to live, work and play!"
Speaking of living, working, playing (and praying), Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer – the king of that phrase – joined Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs on June 25 to announce his jock-itch plans for funding the $175 million Citrus Bowl renovations. As expected, Dyer's big plan involves the county backing up a giant bond issuance with $12.5 million of its reserves, but it also rather obtusely suggests that the city will back the loans with various other city funds: utilities, sales tax and communications, apparently. Dyer made it clear to the Sentinel that those funds won't be used to pay back the borrowed money – an imaginary windfall is still going to come from the tourist-development tax that everybody expects to bounce right back to fabulous in no time. Hey, and even if it doesn't, the city will pay off the debt with its reserves until tourism becomes cool again. But what if that never happens? Perish the thought. Once construction starts, we're pretty much 50 percent likely to go completely bankrupt for a stadium nobody cares about. Flip a coin!
Or, put out a cigarette on your arm. Last week, we saw a strange Facebook posting from everybody's favorite purveyor of hops, Will Walker from Will's Pub. In his status update (which he has since removed because of the controversy it stirred), Walker said that he had just been telephone-polled by "the county" about whether he'd be interested in turning his beloved beer-and-smoke house into a smokeless beer house. No!
We did a little research and ended up on the horn with Orange County Health Department spokesman Dain Weister. Now, you may recall that the health department had received a $6.6 million grant to push ahead its "All In" anti-smoking campaign, babies in gas masks included. This particular initiative utilizes $7,000 of that grant to pay the nonprofit Center for Change for "polling, creating reports, researching which bars to contact, creating the survey, conducting the survey" and stuff, according to Weister, and it involves some 200 area watering holes. The goal, of course is to sort of pressure bar owners into making the change themselves, as there's no way in hell Big Tobacco is going to allow municipalities to override the state's smoke-'em-if-you-got-'em laws. So it's "education," not "lobbying."
Whatever it is, it's stupid, according to Walker. "She didn't even know how to ask the questions most of the time," he says of the pollster. "The last four questions were in the vein of, 'If you found out that bartenders are 50 percent more likely to get cancer after working in your bar for five years, would that influence your decision?'" In other words, "pussyfootin'," Walker says.
On the upside, Walker says he was promised a $50 Publix gift card for his troubles. On Saturday night (at his smoky bar), we confirmed with him that he would indeed be using that $50 for smokes. Everybody wins!