Why I am running for Governor of Florida
Becoming Florida's governor is the culmination of a 15–year project. Beginning in 1994, I began intensive research into finding practical and compassionate solutions to the problems of the world. In 2000, only part way through writing a book, I decided that I should put some of my ideas regarding public policy and urban design to the test. After scouting for just the right place, my wife and I moved across the country from Santa Barbara to DeLand, Florida. I wanted to move to a place where we could make a difference and create a living laboratory to learn what works on a practical level. Starting from broke and borrowing from over 20 private lenders, we bought 32 crumbling homes and businesses and rebuilt a downtown neighborhood previously known as “Cracktown.” The day after arriving, I sent my pregnant wife away while I ran out a drug gang who threatened to burn down the neighborhood. Soon after my wife returned, our daughter Sophia was born in the first house we rebuilt – once the worst crack house in Volusia County. Throughout the struggle we learned that our neighborhood and town were going through problems common to cities everywhere. Eight years later, most of our neighborhood's problems have been resolved, and my book is finally being published. We now live in a beautiful and safe historic neighborhood I have renamed the “Garden District.”
In the course of rebuilding a neighborhood, I hired or worked with people from all strata of society – from people living in the woods who had nothing more to lose, to those who have invested their whole lives in bettering themselves and sharing their rewards with others. When negotiating with the local government over what could be done, I received help from those who were willing to try something different to help the community. As expected, there was resistance from the criminals who were profiting from the destruction of the neighborhood. Sadly, I also encountered resistance from those in government who believe that the status quo should be defended even when it is clearly wrong. The city's order for the neighborhood, on the eve of my arrival, called for it to be bulldozed, beginning with the three oldest structures. I pleaded for them to be spared, acquired them, and today, they are at the heart of an officially designated historic district.
Just as Cracktown was a bellwether of problems that can be found in nearly every other town, Florida is a bellwether for every other state. We have so many issues that are reaching crisis proportion – including the erosion of the middle class, the growing income gap, unemployment, immigration, population growth, crime, aging, water management, energy, climate change, drug policy, voting rights, the environment, transportation, and sprawl. The recession was especially hard on Florida's growth-centered housing market. Florida's prisons are growing faster than any other state. Homeless people are wandering our streets. Health costs are soaring and most people are underinsured. The War on Drugs is a horrific 40–year case study of how righteous zeal has unleashed a global tragedy. As a conduit for drug cartels and international crime syndicates who distribute through warring local gangs, Florida is at the center of that storm.
Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they've tried everything else.” Sadly, it is worse than he thought. Instead we are doing the same same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. This has been called the very definition of insanity. In this age of accelerating change our future depends on getting it right, from the start.
In my research and experience I have found reasons to feel optimistic. There are workable solutions to all these problems. As we weather the storm, we must insure that instead of being a bellwether of coming disasters, Florida will be ringing the victory bell for success and progress. Providing the greatest benefit to the greatest number – in a sustainable manner – will require an unusual effort. For that we must question every aspect of business-as-usual and be prepared to implement the innovations that will improve our lives in the long run. When I am elected as Governor of Florida in 2010, I promise to clean house as I have done from the first day I came to town. The choices we make in Florida will reverberate across the country.