Can a person who hates Lakeland become Lakeland's mayor?

And other random thoughts and predictions for Election Day.

Elections and campaigns serve three key functions, all of which are temporary:

1) They peacefully distribute official power.

2) They clarify public issues, trends, personalities, alliances, and priorities.

3) They reshuffle the battlefield of citizenship, ideas, and power — official and unofficial — so that the competitive initiative comes up for grabs again.

With those three things in mind, here are some thoughts/predictions about our city’s most symbolically and reputationally — but not substantively — important election in my 22 years as a Lakeland citizen.

Saga’s right. The Sagasphere is the true GOP, and the rest of you are RINOs

I see the race like this: the Lakeland GOP is split; everybody else is unified in self-defense. We’re trying to fend off a vicious crazy person who declares that Minneapolis no longer exists and George Soros controls Lakeland and it’s bad for the NAACP to be a Lakeland stakeholder — and whose “media” henchman attacks the parents of developmentally children.

Not in spite of that vicious crazy, but because of it, I predict Saga will win the Lakeland GOP vote. The question is by how much. The key fact of the Polk/Lakeland GOP is this: if you’re not a rage-filled, crime-adjacent, Habitat-for-Humanity lawnmower pilfering, presidential election-rejecting, Capitol Lynch Mob-excusing and/or cheerleading nut, you’re a RINO. Doubt me? Just take a look:

Indeed, I’ve heard a couple of anecdotes of people who early voted for Saga because they heard she “wasn’t a RINO” and now regret it. But I don’t why they’d be having second thoughts. I agree with those voters a million percent. They shouldn’t regret their Saga vote if RINO-hunting is what motivates them. The Sagasphere is indeed the heart and soul of local and national GOP. That should be clear to everybody.

If, by some miracle, the Lakeland GOP turns on Saga, Mutz will win 73-27. (All electorates have a 27 percent crazification factor. It’s science.) But that ain’t gonna happen. The truly determinative question is the actual size of the GOP split: is it 50-50, 65-35, 80-20? At 80-20 Saga probably wins. At 65-35, it’s close, and she’ll be crying fraud if she loses.

Saga already said this at her closing “rally” of a dozen or so people:

"They telling me we're neck and neck which is so weird because we've got people out flag-waving and walking and knocking on doors. and I don't see the other team doing that."

You might want to jack up security at City Hall or wherever they’re counting the votes tonight.

If Mutz wins; it’s the Constructive Citizens Alliance, not the LEDC or “Lakeland First”-ers, that saved our city’s reputation

I’m trying to imagine Will Harrell and Dave Hallock and Brian Philpot and Wesley Beck and Jeff Chamberlain and Steve Scruggs and all the other “Lakeland First” bros bringing this person to a meeting with an airline or some big piece of capital/economic development investment.

LOL. Those guys used to complain all the time about fraudulent public school grades sending a bad message to future employees or high skill jobs/workers. What message would Mayor “What’s your wife think about that” send?

It’s too late to worry now. With the exception of Jeff Chamberlain, who put his name on Wesley Barnett’s big fundraiser host committee for Bill Mutz, all those Lakeland First bros were either too scared, too indifferent, or too sympathetic of the Sagasphere to oppose it in any meaningful way when they could.

Those are distinctions without differences, and I couldn’t care less which applies to whom.

But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that “Lakeland First” wouldn’t lift a finger to support the decent mayor they recruited against a malicious bonkers person — because they were never about Lakeland first. And we are well rid of those guys as political actors if they are, in fact, choosing to be done.

If our Constructive Citizens Alliance succeeds in turning back the Sagasphere without Lakeland First offering a scintilla of help, perhaps they will fall over themselves to thank us for protecting the reputational value of their capital holdings and to offer meaningful civic collaboration. (Pause for chuckle.)

In the meantime, I’m calling us the Constructive Citizens Alliance because “CCA” also can be used for “Citizens Crushing A-holes,” an update of this I wrote from a few week back.

See decent people can pull a “Let’s go, Brandon!” too.

City unions stupidly declared public war on their only potential allies against “elitist behavior”

In an utterly epic self-own, the Utility Workers Union of America Local 604 endorsed Saga for a very strange reason — in addition to her “brilliant, inspiring plan” for making it 1970 in Lakeland again. They said:

We Believe you will shine a light and end the elitist behavior of this administration.

The fire and police unions joined them. Thus, in backing a vicious, racially-exclusive bonkers person, who cannot even answer a policy question about returning her beloved Confederate monument, the organized workers of Lakeland declared open public war on Lakeland’s constructive citizens and its true critics of the “elite.”

The city unions declared war on everybody Saga demonizes. Except that’s not the elite. LOL. By contrast, a teachers union is way too smart and too patriotic to make that error.

Let me ask you, organized Lakeland public sector workers: before you declared war on the public on behalf of the Sagasphere, who do you think would have given you a more sympathetic hearing? The union-busting right-wingers of famously anti-union Polk County power? Or the coalition of Democrats and independents and RINOs selflessly trying to stop the Sagasphere?

Good luck, now.

I don’t have good firsthand knowledge of the relationship between the Lakeland city manager/senior leadership and the public sector unions. But if, as people have suggested to me, the city manager’s behavior toward those unions and city workers helped birth the Sagasphere, that’s something a second Mutz administration will need to deal with — quickly.

In my public life, I’ve seen firsthand — and fought hard against — how heavy-handed, uncollaborative, vindictive management behavior can create a serious drag on a government workplace and damage staff innovation and productivity.

In five years as a public school activist and elected School Board member, I fought relentlessly for a decent schools workplace. My tough, action-based advocacy for employees and a good workplace ran off one superintendent and prompted another one to quit because she didn’t like elected official oversight.

I blew up and defeated an openly union-busting impasse in my first year as a board member protected 1400 jobs in my last year when the state and district conspired to threaten them over the “Rally in Tally.” In between, I convinced a very resistant board and superintendent to put an extra $8 million per year to worker salaries.

I am the most effective public advocate for the interests of fair pay and conditions for public workers — and the non-elite public — in the recent history of this county. That’s why the “elite” of the county organized against me in 2020.

You, city unions, could have just non-endorsed Mutz and reached out to me for help. Instead, you backed a vicious crazy person declaring that Minneapolis no longer exists and George Soros controls Lakeland and it’s bad for the NAACP to be a Lakeland stakeholder — and whose “media” henchmen attack the parents of developmentally disabled children.

On her behalf, you declared a war you will probably lose today on your only potential allies for tomorrow and beyond. “Brilliant plan” indeed, even if she wins.

The multi-layered stench of the Sagasphere won’t wash off easily for anyone. Not Howard, not Grady, nobody.

It’s not just the unions.

I don’t think folks realize just how long the stench of the Sagasphere will linger if they’ve been part of it — or intimidated into meek silence by it.

It’s similar in that way to the Capitol Lynch Mob. If you’re not against it and against the politicians who whipped it up; you’re for it. Period. I don’t think many of you have really internalized that yet. Believe me; I have.

And I am so grateful to Saga’s buffoonery with Lauren Boebert and Mike Lindell for helping me test out the post Jan. 6 electoral and civic landscape. I did not think I would get a full-on Lynchriot challenging a decent reasonable RINO right here on favorable electoral ground at home — where I could have the most effect.

I mean, as long as I have this platform, Howard Wiggs will — forever — be part of the Sagasphere. He’ll forever own the behavior of his fellow Saga backers because he made not a peep when she lied endlessly about racial issues. He made not a peep when fellow RINO-hunter Robert “the Lawnmower Thief” Anderson attacked Bill and Pam Mutz as a parents of a developmentally-disabled child. Not one peep about the morality of his allies from Mr. Former Mayor — Mr. #lovelakeland.

All because Howard is mad Johnny Reb got moved a mile away from a place of civic power to a place of actual memorials. Hope the rage fit was worth it.

And I have actual live film of Grady Judd’s reaction when Saga just took his endorsement from him and dared him to take it back — "If Grady Judd wanted to call me up and tell me not to do it, I wouldn't do it," she said. 

Grady could’ve put a stake in Saga’s entire campaign with one press conference. But he needs the Sagasphere; it’s his base. So he bravely ran away.

Lakeland, and the Constructive Citizens Alliance, has the initiative even if a Lakeland-hater becomes mayor

By contrast, the CCA did not run away. We constructive citizens have fought hard for our city — and its culture and honor and reputation and common frame of citizenship. We also fight for it daily with our talents and effort and shared citizenship. We are the people who make things happen on the ground in this city. We make it a great place to live.

And we have taken the initiative back from the Sagasphere’s heady few days at the beginning of the campaign.

They got out early and cold-knocked some houses and businesses into putting up signs. Give ‘em credit. She made a splash. And it rocked some decent people back on their heels and injected some dread. Then I came back from vacation. LOL.

Of course, electoral politics is funny. You don’t always win the most votes even when you have the initiative. Saga could become mayor because Big Capital and Big Guns sat this race out and legitimized her with their silence — except for Wesley Barnett (again, props dude).

No worries. Mayor only comes with one vote and some ceremonial responsibilities that she will mangle. She’ll just be one ignorant vote, easy to ignore — and one ignorant mouth impossible to ignore. Because we’ve taken the initiative away from her, she will enter office with an unprecedented lack of respect from the people who do the hard, but joyful, daily work of citizenship in this city — from people who pay attention.

And she’ll invite an unprecedented level of public scrutiny and mockery that will embarrass power even more than it embarrasses her. The CCA will use that to our advantage in advancing the city.

“…the most fun mayor you all have ever had”

On the other hand, in the last month or so, the Sagasphere has been reduced to stealing signs and making weird sexualized taunts instead of answering basic questions about even her beloved Confederate monument.

And you should go watch Saga’s tepid speech at her little closing rally. A Trump rally it’s not — beyond the basic content. She’s standing in front of an open field. It sounds like there’s about 15 people. And the whole speech is just so small, tiny. The NAACP shouldn’t be a Lakeland “stakeholder.” No “Marxist path” etc. “Social justice” bad, not wanted here. Blah blah blah. It’s all so stupid.

But I chuckled at this:

“There’s people all over town who are shaken to their core. And I know I’ve shaken them up downtown because they’ve told me…

… [Beckoning to the empty green field in front of her] And this is evidenced by today, I am going to be the most fun mayor you all have ever had. They want to know how we’re going to bring Lakeland together. We’re gonna do stuff like this, where it’s not about what color, race, or religion or anything you are, it’s about just coming together and having a good time. For some odd reason we’ve lost that.

I giggle at this because Saga gave this speech in front of 15 people and an empty field about 16 hours after I saw her cruising the jam-packed Buena Market in “downtown” Saturday night. She was begging for votes from hundreds of people whose existence she resents — and looking very out of place.

Thousands and thousands of people of all types came happily to Downtown Lakeland on Saturday. From the Farmer’s Curb Market in the morning/afternoon — which my wife oversees along with downtown as a whole — to the throbbing energy of the Buena Market that night.

It was libs as far the eye could see. And cons too. And mods too. Everybody there was a stakeholder in our shared space. Saga was literally surrounded by masses of people taking part in a downtown event which was “not about what color, race, or religion or anything you are, it’s about just coming together and having a good time.” Self-aware, she is not.

Exactly none of the thousands of downtown-goers Saturday were “shaken” by Saga Stevin. We were too busy having a great time in a city we’ve built together, without her help.

And Saga could take notes from Buena Market’s Stephanie Bernal Gregg on what it means to be a constructive, inclusive, creative recent addition to our community:

Stephanie Bernal Gregg, one of the founders of Bandidas, said it's more about shaping the way Lakeland approaches — and tastes — new adventures. 

"We're really trying to provide new experiences to Lakeland and sort of allow people to be exposed to more cuisines and more cultures and just offer something that's unique here," Bernal Gregg, 34, said. "I just think there's there's a lot of opportunity for a more diverse and multicultural food scene. And since we come from places where we got to experience that, [we're] kind of trying to bring that here." 

Bernal Gregg is from Austin and moved to Lakeland three and a half years ago. She started hosting events on her front porch and that morphed into Buena Market, a pop-up market that blossomed during the pandemic. 

It was through Buena Market that she started collaborating with Bandidas' two other leading women: Giovanna Favilli, 26, and Gabriella Vigoreaux, 31, who recently got engaged. Favilli and Vigoreaux grew up in Polk County but met in New York, where they both attended culinary school and worked in the food scene. 

That’s what civic initiative looks like; and we, the constructive people, have that initiative. One Stephanie Bernal Gregg is worth 1000 Saga Stevins. And that’s why Saga wants to punish us.

We made “her” city — the one she bailed on 40 years ago — far better than her narrow-minded, bigoted imagination can reckon with. And she hates Lakeland and Lakelanders for it.