Bound, part 2: Lakeland's House of Lords needs a purpose. How about a PPP for schools and other vital public services?

The Polk School District's 13,000 employees and 105,000 customers deserve the same support as Harrell's LLC and its 419 employees.

You can read part 1 of the “Bound” series here.

It’s a look at how the 2020 presidential election marks America’s first comprehensive democratic rejection of Chief Justice Roger Taney’s Dred Scott opinion and power’s right to openly declare itself unbound from the rights of fellow citizens. This is part 2, a more local and education-focused take, but with a ton of wider implications.

Part 3 will explore what makes a politician, or any wielder of power, successful. Subscribe and get added to the email delivery list.

Harrell’s, LLC, a Lakeland-based “customized agronomics solutions” company, has received between $5 and $10 million in federal COVID-19 socialism — otherwise known as the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

That makes Harrell’s one of Polk County’s top three “small business” recipients of PPP money, which comes in the form of a loan you don’t have to pay back. You can search for yourself here at ProPublica’s “coronavirus bailouts” site. See a screenshot from an SBA spreadsheet below.

Jack Harrell, Jr. runs Harrell’s, which was founded by his grandparents in 1941. I do not think I have ever met Jack Harrell Jr. or his son Will, a lawyer who now also works for Harrell’s. Both are big “conservative” donors and players in the Lakeland First PAC — Lakeland’s unelected House of Lords.

During my campaign, for some reason, the Harrells took great angry interest in me, a person they have never met. Will organized the “Citizens for Polk Education” PAC; and Jack Jr. kicked in $10,000 of the $82,500 Will’s PAC raised to lie about me in public with ads designed to inflame and exploit social and political divisions in our community and society. You can read a bit about that at this link and at this link if you want. And here’s a screenshot of Harrell’s “core values” and a link to their website.

I’m not sure how pursuing narrow electoral benefit by lying at scale and deliberately inflaming divisions in their own community fits into these values. The readers and the Harrells can decide for themselves. That’s not the point of this essay. It’s just context and disclosure for a much larger and more important discussion about the purpose and politics of local concentrated capital.

$5-$10M in PPP socialism for a company of 419 employees

Harrell’s has 419 “employee owners,” according to its website. So let’s split the difference on the $5-$10 million “loan” and call it $7.5 million. That’s almost $18K per employee that you and I paid to support Harrell’s in its time of need.

In the common tongue, a forgivable taxpayer-funded bailout is called “socialism.” But I’m not sure that means anything. I happen to think every economic “ism,” including “socialism,” is “capitalism” — and that “capitalism” is entirely about power, not economics. Thus, “capitalists,” in my experience, are just socialists with power and access to capital. “Socialists” are the same in reverse.

Of all the stupid debates in America, capitalism/socialism may be the stupidest. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t prefer having money to not having it, nor anyone who really cares how exactly they got the money, once they are benefitting from it. If people did care, inheritance taxes would sit at about 95 percent. And there would be no legacy admissions at “elite” colleges.

The point of PPP’s capitalist socialism, which I support in principle, is to keep private businesses afloat with public capital so that people stay employed and businesses retain capacity during COVID times — hence the name.

I’m not sure that Harrell’s, a rather giant fertilizer company, was at the same risk of existence as a small, independently-owned restaurant or bar; but I guess it’s reasonable to err on the side of more socialism, not less, in a time of crisis.

$7.5M PPP for Harrell’s would equal $234M PPP for Polk Schools

Now let’s extrapolate the Harrell’s PPP money to the Polk School District, which employs roughly 13,000 people and serves 105,000 kids directly each day. If the state and federal government valued school district employees and the continued function of public schools in the way they do Harrell’s, the equivalent PPP number would be $234 million — just for the Polk district. $234 million.

But there is no PPP for schools; and the $33.5 million in CARES ACT funding the district received must be split among all COVID needs. Doing the math, that comes out to about $2,576 per employee — but it’s not a PPP plan; so it’s not designed to really do anything for employees. The district is kind of using it as a PPP plan by jamming a lot of the CARES money into reserves in the hope of preserving some positions in the future, in theory. In practice, it’s just increasing the fund balance and paying for PPE supplies mostly.

So let’s be very clear again: your state and federal lawmakers, of both parties, are 900 percent more committed to saving jobs and business at Harrell’s than to preserving Polk county’s largest employer and top 2 or 3 economic engines and provider of its most important public service for children. Period.

Here’s a pie chart laying that out:

Harrell’s “small business” got paid directly from the orange. Schools get “paid” from the green. Anybody who owns stock or benefits from large scale corporate capital, myself included, got paid indirectly from the blue. In general, Lakeland’s House of Lords, like all houses of lords, did very very well from both the orange and the blue.

Capacity for me, but not for thee

The Polk County public school district, like all public school districts, has received exactly nothing from the state or federal government designed to protect its 13,000 “employee owners.” (All taxpayers and citizens own the public school system.)

Without those “employee owners,” there is none of the free socialist child care that Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran were so desperate to get back. And Mitch McConnell and the rest of Senate Republicans are blocking any effort to support state and local governments, which include schools.

As a school board member, I loudly called for “PPP for schools” from the state and federal government all summer. William Allen went around deriding a PPP for schools as a “federal bailout,” while the Harrells, two of his biggest supporters, were luxuriating in their own $18K per person federal bailout of their family business.

That’s very nice socialism for capitalists, if you can get it; and I think it’s a very good example of how some possessors of concentrated, inherited capital have become unbound from the dynamic health and human infrastructure systems of their communities.

Losing the resource race in a state that already lags badly

Unlike the House of Lords, I know and care that the next two years, at least, will come with massive budget hardships for our school district and others. That means kids will lose teachers and social workers and etc. Local businesses will take a hit from the reduced capacity of employees in one of Polk’s top economic engines to spend money on their products or housing or whatever.

The unserious Republican-led state government was just trying to push the politically painful experience of that hardship out beyond the presidential election. And now it will blame whoever it can that is not itself for whatever pain comes next.

This will particularly hurt Polk County schools because our county has no local option tax revenue source for school operations and personnel — as opposed to capital construction, which we do have. In lacking a local school operations tax to sustain teaching and support capacity for kids, Polk is falling rapidly behind in resources to many competing counties — of widely varying politics.

See this map I put together in 2019 to show the counties that are pulling ahead of Polk in providing resources for what happens inside school buildings — rather than just providing a sales tax income stream for the local construction industry and making sure the AC works.

Every shaded county below does more than Polk to fund the capacity and quality of its education operations. And that image is dated; it’s gotten worse since. Note particularly the tax-loving, Trump-voting red counties running up the spine of the state to our north.

You can’t just summon human capacity that doesn’t exist. You have to create, develop, and nurture it.

In the absence of a PPP for schools, this failure to keep pace with education resources will drain Polk’s competitiveness and education capacity for a long time to come. You would think a local House of Lords — interested in gate-keeping local government — would care about that.

You would be wrong — if the deeply mediocre and cliched and dated “Lakeland Leads” education brochure is any indication.

“Lakeland Leads” is yet another offshoot of the local House of Lords. I wrote recently about how Kate Wallace, another entitled child of the inheritocracy, produced a very low quality “white paper” in their name with their money.

In short, the white paper mentions nothing about human capacity and doubles down on the same tired, irrelevant, test-chasing education policies that have caused Florida to produce America’s worst state test score performance for the last 25 years — fully documented at this link.

Because I try to address real problems with real action, I had begun to push for an operations capacity tax, with at least tentative support from the rest of the elected School Board, when COVID hit and everything froze up.

Polk Builders Association stalwart Alice Hunt, a sort of honorary member of the House of Lords, was a big supporter of the construction tax, which benefits her industry directly; but she yelled at me about the operations tax before I could explain it to her.

As I asked Alice, who I enjoy talking to: “Do you want a public education system — or not?”

She didn't really answer. But that’s probably why the Polk Builders Association wanted to be rid of me. I was willing to take their political hit because I know the real world harm to our community and kids the capacity shortage on that map represents. I understand the disadvantage it causes for local business, even if they don’t understand it themselves.

All of these locally powerful people seem to think the capacity to provide free, compulsory education and child care magically emerges from the teacher stork. It does not.

Mommy and daddy must commit to certain level of interaction in their politics and capital to actually produce that lovely public education system we want to show off to the world. (Or even to just provide the free child care for business.)

The membership committee for Ruling Class Club

I compared Lakeland First to the “House of Lords,” the United Kingdom’s hereditary pseudo governing body, at the opening of this article. But it’s not even all of Lakeland First, really. If you want to see specifically who I’m talking about, the big contributors to Scott Franklin’s Congressional Campaign PAC offer a pretty clear picture. Link to story here.

Wingman PAC, the committee created to support Franklin’s candidacy, reported more than $247,000 in contributions through the end of September. That figure included infusions of $70,000 from Barney Barnett of Lakeland, $58,000 from Jack Harrell Jr., $15,000 from Wesley Barnett (Barney’s son) and $12,500 from Wesley Beck.

Will Harrell doesn’t quite have daddy’s money quite yet. So he apparently he only dropped $1,500.

These guys — and they’re all guys, honorary Alice not withstanding — are the membership committee for the Lakeland-area Ruling Class Club.

If you want to be in it, you apply to them. You also surrender your dignity. You may remember that William Allen publicly begged for their financial help when he announced his campaign. I’m not much on begging. I suspect that’s another reason why these are most of the same key funders and players behind “Citizens for Better Education.”

It should be noted that the House of Lords supported Scott Franklin at a somewhat greater rate than they opposed me. In pure dollars, electing Scott was about three times more important than beating me for Barney Barnett — and nearly six times more important for Jack Harrell Jr. That’s not great for my ego; but it’s never bad for me to have my sense of my own importance checked.

Why is there a PPP for Harrell’s, but not schools or local governments? We need to ask the House of Lords

Having proven so financially instrumental to electing Scott Franklin, the House of Lords would be quite well positioned to demand he support a PPP-for-schools and police and working people paid by the public as part of federal stimulus talks. They would be very well-positioned to point out the anti-public structure of COVID emergency funding that both parties supported.

Jack Harrell could say: “Scott, look at this pie chart. See how the government took care of me and my business at $18K per employee so that could I give you $58,000 in my spare change. It’s time it did the same for hard working teachers and police and nurses suffering through very difficult working conditions right now. At our family company, we ‘take care of people’ It’s a core Harrell’s value.”

Anybody expect that to happen? LOL.

Scott Franklin is a nice enough guy. I’ve always liked him and found him impressive. But, if the campaign is any indication, the House of Lords kicked in all that money so Scott can go snuggle up to Matt Gaetz at his most buffoonish and say mean things about Nancy Pelosi (most of which I agree with, for perhaps different reasons.) What a demeaning expectation for a person of Scott’s background and stature. I hope he finds a greater purpose.

It seems to me the House of Lords elected him to be “a congressman,” a backbench, irrelevant freshman in the House minority, rather than actually do anything helpful for people. That’s certainly the model Dennis Ross, also a nice guy, followed before he came back to a Southeastern sinecure about “leadership.”

Likewise, the House of Lords could lean on Kelli Stargel, who is now the state Senate Appropriations Committee chair. Kelli has always been an easy, eager mark for legislative leaders to launder their most morally corrupt and self-interested acts.

You can hear them all laughing now: “Who are we going to dump all these terrible cuts on? Dude, give it to Kelli; she’ll do anything we tell her.”

The Lakeland House of Lords could make that much, much harder on her if they chose. Will they? LOL. Surprise me.

Physical infrastructure and amenity vs. human infrastructure and development

No one should misunderstand me here.

The House of Lords is quite beneficially ambitious in using the capital it owns to supplement Lakeland quality of life. I like the Joinery today and will enjoy Bonnett Springs Park when it opens. (I am, in fact, a paid “friend” of the park.) The construction boom in Downtown Lakeland is an example of what can happen when attention to experience and capital meet.

And Florida Southern’s Barney Barnett business school should do a detailed case study on the entrepreneurial interaction of Catapult and the Downtown Farmer’s Curb Market over the past few years. Catapult to Farmer’s Market to cool, established brick-and-mortar business is a thing — a very good thing. (Full disclosure: the market is owned and operated by the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, of which my wife is the executive director.)

In short, private capital adds immeasurably to Lakeland’s quality of life, just like the socialist capital from Lakeland Electric does. They mix together beautifully, which is the fundamental structural appeal and advantage of Lakeland. No socialists and no capitalists (who are actually the same thing) should resent the offspring of that happy miscegenation of ideas.

Where Lakeland’s local private capital is abysmal is in pursuing a politics that confuses physical infrastructure and monuments and amenities and naming rights (buildings, parks, “leadership class” self-congratulation etc.) with the dynamic mass human infrastructure of development and constructive order (education and governing and health and transportation).

Feudal capitalism looks out for lords much more than peasants

Governing, at its heart, is the development and sustenance of beneficial public capacity. It’s a dynamic, high touch, reasonably expensive function designed to help the general public produce more and wider-spread private capital. Eroding the capacity of vital governing services concentrates private capital — rather than growing it, dispersing it, and allowing it to unleash the creative power of citizens.

We have another “ism” word for a capitalism that hordes private capital in a few all-powerful hands: feudalism. If history has taught us anything, it’s that hereditary lords thrive far more than working peasants in feudalism — even if the lords leave behind some nice castles for tourists.

Nowhere does this lordly failure play out today more starkly today than public education, which is the primary source of capital for a large chunk of our fellow citizens.

The Polk County community, of which the House of Lords is the financial and political apex, has chosen to create a public education system that both lacks operational capacity and segregates its kids who have access to personal private capital away from those who don’t. No other county in Florida has made this civic mistake at this level. None. We are unique; and we’re not better off for it. Believe me. Running that structure year after year though the moribund and corrupt state accountability model is deadly for numbers and human experience.

So when the House of Lords and its Ruling Class Club wonder why Polk doesn’t throw off Fishhawk Ranch numbers on the fraudulent scoreboard for every school, they should consider looking in the mirror for once and questioning their dated, erosive, anti-human capacity politics. Try a second of humility and self-reflection.

Today, with its current approach, not only is House of Lords not the political solution to public capacity issues in education and beyond — it is the problem. For goodness sake, even Charles Koch is expressing regret for his partisan failures and making noise about constructive collaboration around governing and capacity.

If you won’t believe Billy because I’m supposedly mean, believe one of those nice Koch brothers instead.

Why be the guardians of elected officials who don’t govern?

The fundamental difference between me and the House of Lords, which controls access to Ruling Class Club, is this: I don’t care who rules, myself included. I care what the ruler, whatever his or her identity, actually does. That is why I’m talking directly to the House of Lords today, while also enjoying the enhanced personal freedom to be direct that they helped provide me.

I truly don’t understand what the Lakeland House of Lords even gets out of its politics other than possession of a velvet rope for a very small local club. Perhaps they can explain.

They didn’t stop the minimum wage hike or restrict the citizen referendum process.

Felons can vote, sort of. Citizens are chipping away at the doomed and disastrous anti-capital Drug War, which the House of Lords spent a lot money to preserve a few years back over medical marijuana before losing four years later.

Trump has a tiny hand out the door finally, while his anti-elite appeal to working people, like that of Bernie’s and to a lesser extent Biden’s, is likely to remain a disruptive — and possibly constructive — force in American political economy. Somehow I doubt that’s the part of the Trump show the House of Lords most enjoyed.

Communities other than Polk are taxing themselves all over Florida for education operations just so Tallahassee can rip them off with its endless state-level failure and grifting. Yet, the House of Lords seems unable or unwilling to do anything about either side of that reality here in Polk other than trying to get me to shut up about it.

The only real controversial actions the Lakeland First City Commission have taken are moving the Confederate monument and imposing a city mask mandate. Lakeland Electric seems safe, at least for now.

It’s hard for Team Woke to object much to any of that, isn’t it?

It’s also all happening largely independent of actual elected officials operating in a traditional small-r “republican” sense. The House of Lords' hold over elected officials has rendered republicanism essentially useless. Elected officials, by and large, aren’t leading; the public is, in maddening fits and starts, with public pressure. The House of Lords isn’t good at pushing back.

Hell, the House of Lords couldn’t even keep the superintendent here, who no elected official ever wanted or tried to fire. That's an outcome at which I can only LOL.

What exactly is the point of all that politicking?

So what does it all mean? Does it have a meaning at all? What’s the purpose?

If Jack Harrell wants to spend all that money on politics so Will Harrell can LARP a Mayberry version of Karl Rove on Facebook, who am I to stop him? It just seems small and pointless and a waste of possibility and a Stanford law degree. It’s not junior year at LCS anymore, Will.

And yet, it’s true that American government, at all levels, considered the Harrells beneficial enough to public capacity that it directed $5-10 million of my money and yours to their family business. Jack and Will were very very very quick to take my money and yours. They did not worry about austerity or the national debt or socialism or fiscal conservatism when they cashed our very large check.

Jack and Will need not thank me for that; although they might want to thank you, the public. But maybe, just maybe, we should all expect a little more in return than writing $68K worth of political dark money checks — that I know about — without caring an iota about the policies and human outcomes that result.

Anyway, if you ever want to meet me and learn something about public policy, Harrells; if you ever want to discuss more productive and effective and beneficial collaboration and binding to each other, House of Lords; I am, as you all know, extremely willing and easy to reach. And you should definitely subscribe.

I promise I will be every bit as nice as Charles Koch.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be safe; and know that I’m thankful for your presence in my life and willingness to listen/read what I have to say.