Published On: Fri, Oct 5th, 2012

Popularity Contest or Substantive Debate….

A few weeks ago, two things occurred that brought the District 89 State Representative race between incumbent Bill Hager and challenger former Speaker of the Florida House, Tom Gustafson, into the proverbial spotlight.

The first was receiving an invitation for a fund raiser that had many local political names endorsing Bill Hager to represents the interests of Boca Raton and 15 other municipalities along the coastline from Fort Lauderdale to Riviera Beach.  The second item was the entry into the District 89 race of Tom Gustafson, a name that may be remembered from his days in the Florida legislature as its Speaker and as an expert on issues directly related to coastal communities and environmental concern.

Well, with Boca Raton politics being what they are, one can only wonder the reasons for such an overwhelming one sided early political endorsement.

To begin, this is a partisan race.  Hager is a republican with a partisan reputation as evidenced by the issue statements posted on his campaign website.  see www.billhager.org/meet-Bill .

Bill is well known in the local community.  He was a former City Council member and Deputy Mayor; he was a businessman in the community serving as President and CEO of NCCI in the 1990s; he was a family man in District 89 for over 20 years; and he has been highly visible amongst the social and cocktail set of Boca Raton for a very long time.

Since being elected to the House in 2010, he has served on 5 committees including one of particular note to Boca Raton; to wit: the Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee.  Other committees are the Judiciary, the Insurance and Banking, the Pre K Appropriations, and the Civil Justice Subcommittees.

In researching the legislation he has championed that may be relevant to these Boca Raton endorsements, there is little to report.  Besides being somewhat vocal in the insurance area and calling for the end to Citizens’ Insurance, opting in favor of a free market model, there is not much to report relevant to the issues here in Boca Raton.

In the issues section of his website there is no mention of urban redevelopment, planned mobility, density, congestion, or transportation.  There is also no mention of coastal environmental concerns, beach restoration, or inland navigation matters, items of great import to Boca Raton as well as the other coastal communities within the district.

Shifting Sands…..

Tom Gustafson presents a somewhat different picture.  In this partisan race, he is a democrat.  However, his legislative reputation and history demonstrates a political personality that can and has reached across the aisle as necessary to get the job done.

In 1990, after having served in the Florida House for 14 years with 2 years as speaker, Tom left politics to follow what has been his focus for over 30 years now.  Tom is an often sought after speaker on many topics related to transportation funding opportunities, sustainable development and livable communities.  His political and academic accomplishments are remarkable and too voluminous to list here.  Suffice it to say that he has touched our lives on the local, state, and federal levels for many years.  To see the details visit http://cake.fiu.edu/TIGER2012/bio/Gustafson.pdf .

In the last few weeks, Tom has inserted himself to understand Boca Raton’s issues with planned mobility.  He commends Charlie Seimon’s amendment proposals but recognizes that the community is not prepared, not educated and not ready to accept these items on face value.  He has already begun to bring forward ideas to reduce the angst amongst citizens while keeping in mind the developers’ needs and desires.  His inherent understanding of these issues is demonstrably evident to anyone who will take the time to discuss these matters with him.

Elections have consequences….

It seems that there is a lot yet to learn about the District 89 race and the two candidates seeking the office.  Citizens may find additional items to reinforce their belief that the council’s action rushing through increases in density is simply wrong.  Citizens are demanding the benefit of further community discussion and further dialogue.  Perhaps the District 89 State Representative race is the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Council members would be well served by calling for a debate between the candidates.  After all, as seen in the Archstone litigation, it is the State Legislature that passes laws which become subject to challenges in the local communities.  It seems that before our elected leaders endorse one candidate, especially one that is not being heard on the issues of the day here in Boca Raton, the council should give the citizens opportunity to explore which candidate would better serve the citizens’ interests.

At a recent Homeowner Association Council meeting, both candidates were given five minutes to address the audience.  This interaction displayed differences in style, understanding and platforms mostly on the Citizens’ Insurance question.  However, what was apparent is that whichever candidate wins the seat, the winner’s effectiveness in Tallahassee will have direct impacts on our community, the great city of Boca Raton….

Like a salmon swimming up stream, this writer believes that Tom Gustafson is the better candidate to represent our interests.  He is better prepared, better informed and the better spokesperson on the issues of greatest impact to the citizens of Boca Raton in this next upcoming legislative session.

So back to the original question, popularity contest or substantive debate….I vote for substantive debate….

Al Zucaro

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