Politics is changing Florida’s brand

By David Houle, Special to the Herald-Tribune, March 27, 2023
About a year ago, in this space, I wrote a series of columns about how much Sarasota was changing.  These columns triggered more and longer emails than at any other time I have been a columnist here at the Herald-Tribune.  The thrust of the columns was that the sleepy, cultured, beautiful, affordable slice of paradise we call Sarasota was fast becoming unrecognizable.

Since that time, and for the first time since I have lived here, I have had numerous conversations with people about how Sarasota is turning unpleasant.  The most frequent complaints have been around housing costs, traffic gridlock, overdevelopment, and the real issue of employers being unable to attract employees from out of state due to these problems.

Sarasota is going through what many other beautiful places have faced. People vacation at a place, fall in love with it, and either buy a second home or move to it. Aspen is the classic case.  In the 1960s and 70s, it was an idyllic ski resort. When the affluent people moved in real estate took off and there was no place for workers to live. The ski resorts couldn’t find workers and the restaurants couldn’t find staff. The city eventually built several dormitory-like apartment complexes miles up the road and bussed workers to town. Aspen is now one of the wealthiest per-capita and per-density locations in the U.S.

This feels like the future roadmap for Sarasota in 2023.

This column is about the state of Florida and how it is changing.  Why?  Politics is changing Florida’s brand to the world due to politicians and their political agendas.

As with most of you readers, I speak to people living in other states and countries daily. Invariably, the question is “what is going on in Florida?”

What people from around the country and the world have gathered about our state over the last couple of years is:

  • books are being banned
  • red tide seems to have become an annual event
  • women do not have equal rights
  • gay people are discriminated against
  • Disney World is bad
  • education at Florida’s public universities is being politicized
  • guns are prevalent and can be carried by anyone, anywhere

Every single one of these points has been raised to me by people I know who live elsewhere.

Tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers for the state of Florida. In 2022, some $30 billion dollars from 140 million tourists was spent here.

The list above, created by politicians serving personal agendas, is not a tourism-friendly list.  To briefly go down the list:

  • People who believe in education and books now hold our state in low regard. I do not know a single person who is for the banning of books, except Florida politicians
  • I believe that red tide is mainly due to what we humans do on land, with fertilizers, run-off, and rampant development. I know of people who did not come to the state for spring break because of this.
  • State politicians are making it clear that women are second-class citizens.  Women make up more than 50% of the world’s population and in the US a sizable majority are for abortion rights.
  • There are a lot of gay people in the world, and they now know that Florida, its governor, and other politicians, are anti-gay.  Many will no longer visit
  • In 2021, Disney World was the most visited theme park in the world with 12 million visitors.
  • The complete takeover of New College in our community feels like a fascist act.  Who is going to apply to attend from out of state?  Recently, I have heard and read from several sources that the perception of high-schoolers applying to college, and their parents, is that the curricula of all state universities are controlled by politicians and that they should apply elsewhere.
  • The effort by the governor and the legislature to make it legal to have almost anyone be able to open-carry a gun is remarkably anti-tourist. Just wait until a tourist gets shot while walking on the beach.  In this hyper-connected world, that meme will fly around the world.

This is not the profile of the state I visited all my life.  It is not the state that I moved to part-time in 2005 and full-time in 2015.

Politicians focused solely on gaining power are not helping the Florida brand.  I don’t think they care or even have thought of this.

What do you think?

Sarasota resident David Houle is a globally recognized futurist. He has given speeches on six continents, written 13 books and is futurist in residence at Ringling College of Art and Design. His websites are davidhoule.com and the2020sdecade.com. Email him at david@davidhoule.com.