I talked to Jim Davis during my reporting for the Al Austin story that ran earlier this month in the Tampa Bay Times and Politico. He referenced something Lawton Chiles used to ask: How do you turn a crowd into a community? "It's the flip side of the benefits of the fact that we've grown so much," Davis said. "It's the giant political challenge of this state." And has been for a long time.
Former Gov. Bob Graham coined the term "Cincinnati factor" to describe residents who moved to Florida physically — but never emotionally. In their "golden years," many such couples settled in places like Fort Myers, The Villages or Pembroke Pines, where they subscribed to the Cincinnati Enquirer, cheered the fortunes of the "hometown teams" — the Cincinnati Bengals and Bearcats — and voted against educational referendums, arguing that they had already paid their school taxes in Hamilton County, Ohio. And, in accordance with their wishes, when they died their bodies were shipped to the Buckeye State for burial.
But the Florida identity-disconnection is a serious issue — and it's not solely due to the "Cincinnati factor." Because of the state's geography and the different ways in which Florida's far-flung communities have evolved, even Florida natives have trouble identifying with each other as Floridians.
There was a letter to the editor just today in the Times from a Janice Gibney in The Villages:
Yes, this community is largely Republican, but as an independent liberal thinker, I don't care. We do not discuss politics with our neighbors and friends, mostly because we are so happy living here.
This is probably the best community in Florida. Yes it's too far from the "big" water, but most of us have "been there, done that." We can be busy doing fun and entertaining things all day long, then go to the town squares and dance like teenagers.
H. Gary Morse may be extremely rich; good for him. He has built an amazing community and most of us don't care that he gets a piece of everything, or that he's a big contributor to the Republican Party. Politics is not why we live here — we love the nonstop fun.
What that says is this: Don't bother me. I'm just here to have a good time. That's fine for an amusement park. But that's not what Florida is. It's a place. With people. Almost 20 million of them. Participants in a functioning society have to be just that. Participants. There has to be some sense that we're in this together. Meager crowds at the Trop are one illustration of the lack of that here in the land of fun in the sun. So to call the people of the Tampa Bay area bad fans is not an interesting conversation. But it is the beginning of one.