Isn't this Sarasota election something? The whole country has been watching our political process, and I must say, from what I’ve been reading on the “Internets”—President Bush’s expression—they’ve been amazed. “What’s in the water down there?” they ask. Well, what they don’t know is that this is business as usual. Remember when that nude picture of Sheriff Charlie Wells was making the rounds? Now, that was an election.
Let’s start with the primary. The best part was the pole dancing. You know, when David Mills was caught spreading the rumor that his opponent for the state legislature had been married five times and was a former pole dancer. Now, I’ve known David Mills for years and am astonished that he was privy to such good gossip, as he certainly never told me anything that couldn’t be repeated in the vestibule of a Presbyterian church. Where was this strange behavior coming from? And he had the best TV commercials—a man of a certain age tying on his running shoes and then going for a spirited if slightly arthritic jog. The first several times I watched it I thought it was for Colonial Penn Life Insurance.
It never occurred to me that David wouldn’t win. He is a true pillar of the community, seen everywhere, supporting every cause. And who was this Laura BensonSarasota there’s usually one person you have heard of in an election and four or five wannabes that maybe sat on some school board or something like that and now think they’re the hottest thing since sliced bread. I lumped Laura Benson in this category. Then came the rumor. My question: Do you think people voted for her because she had been unchivalrously attacked? Or because they wanted a pole dancer?
The tragic character in all this is Tramm Hudson. He’s the guy who lost in the primary to Vern Buchanan. All his life he’s wanted to be a congressman. In all his Republican Party doings, he has been setting the stage, making the right friends, waiting for the right moment. Then who does he get stuck running against? Mr. Moneybags. And then he makes a racially insensitive remark while Mr. Moneybag’s camcorder is rolling? (What do these people do, record each other 24 hours a day, hoping they’ll say something stupid?) And then, to add insult to injury, he even loses to Nancy Detert, who, to me anyway, was just another name on a lawn sign. She turned out to be the heroine of the primary, almost beating Vern on a budget of approximately $24. I didn’t even know what she looked like until I saw her on TV on Election Day, when she sounded so modest and so gracious. With all due respect, she would never be mistaken for a pole dancer.
Also sad is the campaign of Jan Schneider. Someday a grateful Sarasota Democratic Party will erect a statue in her honor, as she was one of the first to come out of the closet and say, It’s OK to be a Democrat. Back in the old days, everybody registered Republican so they could vote in the Republican primary. This was the important election, since it determined who “our rulers,” as Katherine Harris calls them, would be. Poor Jan just seemed to run out of steam this time. I saw virtually no advertising on her part; she couldn’t even afford mud to sling.
Speaking of Katherine Harris, describing her campaign is well beyond the power of my feeble pen. Have you read some of those blogs? I’ve never seen such vitriol. And that’s from her former staffers. One of them, who calls herself “formerKHstaffer,” literally gets hysterical with rage. It actually makes you feel sorry for Katherine, whom so many of us know from the good old days when she was uncontroversial—so organized and efficient it was mind-boggling, and an ornament to our community.
Believe me, books are going to be written. In fact, I’m planning my own. I call it Steppin’ Out: On the Town with Katherine Harris, and in it, photographer Rebecca Baxter and I will display more than 200 pictures of Katherine at various social events over the years. And even though I don’t agree with some of the things she’s said in the heat of campaigning (like her comments on the separation of church and state), there is a side of me that is hoping she’ll win, for the simple reason that I want to see her in the Big Time. Imagine: a Senate with both Hillary Clinton and Katherine Harris. Heaven!
But the question on everybody’s minds: Who will replace her in the House? I’m writing this well before the election, of course, since we here at the magazine have what is known as a long “lead time,” meaning it takes so long for Pam Daniel and Kay Kipling to figure out what goes on what page and to make sure that the page numbers are in order, and then the sales staff runs in with another real estate ad they just sold (which are getting scarce as hen’s teeth, by the way) that by the time Pam and Kay have done the whole thing over again, working late into the night with a six-pack by their side, and the tattered pages are sent off to India or wherever the damn thing is printed—well, by the time my column actually “hits the streets” it often sounds like gibberish.
But I will say this. Vern and his opponent, Christine Jennings, are both very nice people. Vern’s big problem is, of course, the cell phone he always has attached to his ear. Doesn’t he see how off-putting it is? I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they saw Vern on the street the other day, but he was so busy talking on his cell phone that he didn’t recognize them. Who does he have to talk to who’s more important than the person standing right in from of him?
Of course, I’m not allowed to endorse anyone, and I never would, as it would mean instant political death for the person involved. Luckily, I can live with either one of them. Christine is livelier company and has a better “look”—the bright St. John suits, the platinum hair that’s always arranged a slightly different way. Vern can’t quite lose his car salesman image, unfortunately, but then, $50 million and a seat in Congress can make any man attractive.
I remember the first time I met him. It was in a bar. And guess who introduced us? Christine Jennings! Yes, me and Vern and Christine sitting in a bar. Just another Sarasota election.