ST PETE TIMES COLUMNIST HOWARD TROXLER ON ELECTIONS by Roxanne Escobales

11/15/06

St Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler is known for writing about complex issues in an accessible folksy style. Today in downtown St Petersburg he delivered a rare speech after swearing off public speaking a few years ago. Troxler had a couple of strong opinions about last week’s election, and he couldn’t have picked a better audience than the political Suncoast Tiger Bay club. His first target? Negative campaigning, which he says has never been this bad.

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The campaign of Republican Kim Berfield who ran against Charlie Justice for a seat in the state senate particularly rattled Troxler. The Berfield-Justice race became ugly as each side slung mud in attack ads. But it reached a new low when in one mailer the Berfield camp accused Justice of supporting peadophiles over children and teachers.

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Howard Troxler heaped blame on the 527 political action committees that are often funded by big business and do not face the same financial restrictions as candidates. But ultimately he said candidates attack each other for one simple reason -- because it works.

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The other elections-themed target Troxler aimed his wit at is when governments spend taxpayer dollars trying to persuade voters to cast their ballots for or against amendments. Pinellas County faced a change to its charter that would either make it easier to implement county-wide services or strip power from city governments, depending on which camp was talking. The county on one side and 21 cities on the other each spent tens of thousands of dollars on what they called public education campaigns that promoted their respective positions.

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A similar situation in St Petersburg Beach pitted anti-development residents against a pro-development city government.

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Howard Troxler frequently defends voters’ decisions, whether he agrees with them or not. He opposes government campaigning and measures such as state amendment 3 -- which makes it harder to pass amendments -- because he says such attempts reveal a mistrust of voters. WMNF asked Troxler what does it say about voters when less than 47 percent turn up to cast ballots during a gubernatorial race, such as what happened during last week’s election?

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As Troxler rails against what he sees as abuse of power, we asked him how he sees his role as a widely-read columnist in one of the state’s largest newspapers.

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You can read Howard Troxler’s columns in the St Petersburg Times on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

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