Discover more from Public Enemy Number 1
Polk's timid titans of Political Capital clap for Jeb Bush's failures in their shrinking safe space
An open letter to them: You and Jeb killed your own order. Now you can either collaborate as equals with your community's decent people; or back MAGA's "retribution." You'll choose MAGA, yet again.
This article may truncate in email. So click through to the actual website if you need to. You’ll want to read to the end; it’s a banger, if I do say so myself.
Dear Polk County/Lakeland Political Capital community:
You’re hosting/sponsoring a “celebration of Polk County schools” starring Jeb Bush on April 18th for the 2.0 version of the “Lakeland Leads” group.
This is a bit like inviting the Big Bad Wolf to “celebrate” the three little pigs; but you can fete whomever you want with your prodigious capital. You don’t need my permission or approval.
One of your own, Brian Philpot, will “fireside chat” with Jeb, who is also his business partner in AgAmerica Lending. I would find a discussion of their lending and revenue model far more interesting and useful than their discussion of education.
The questions you should, but won’t, ask Jeb
By contrast, If I were fireside chatting with Jeb about education, I’d ask him the following questions:
Jeb, why do you think your test-obsessed school model produced America’s worst state learning rate on state tests and worst collapse between 4th and 8th grade on the NAEP test? Why have you ignored both for two decades? Why does Florida over-testing kill test scores?
Jeb, have you read the detailed, state-funded 2017 study that then Rep. Colleen Burton and Sen. Kelli Stargel, both R-Lakeland, commissioned — then buried? It explains why the school systems in “lib” states are so much better than the system you built.
Jeb, are you aware of how badly voucher kids perform on tests at private schools? Did you know that 75 percent of Polk’s “best” private schools saw voucher kids go backwards?
Jeb, why are you buddies with convicted felon Ralph Arza and the rest of the gangster crew that failed so miserably in Jefferson County and then ran away in Florida’s worst ever charter school privatization scandal?
Jeb, teachers don’t want to work for the model of education you built. Why is that? Do you have any idea, at all, for fixing it?
Jeb, why was Donald Trump able to pummel and humiliate you with your own education record in 2016?
Jeb, your AgAmerica Advisory board colleague Adam Putnam said in 2018: “For the last 20 years our technical centers have been treated like a second class citizen. And that's going to stop." Why did your administration “stigmatize” vocational and career education? Why are you “celebrating” it now?
Brian Philpot will not ask Jeb Bush any of these questions. I know this with the certainty of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. To confront Jeb is to confront yourselves. Doing so would create mild, but intolerable, personal discomfort — for Jeb and Brian alike. And you all must have safe spaces at all times.
Remind yourselves to clap
None of Jeb’s manifold education failures could exist without you, my dear, politically-inclined owners and servants of capital.
For all your longstanding efforts to blame teachers and kids and parents, Jeb’s education and governing failures are your failures more than anyone else’s. You’ve dominated the political life of your communities for a long time. The willful damage Florida’s government does to your communities and vital public systems reflects your will. You’ve never cared about anyone else’s — except maybe mine.
Moreover, Trump, who knew only two education words — “Common Core” — beat Jeb to death in 2016 with the very education record you’re celebrating — and his predator’s sense of Jeb’s safe space weakness.
Then Jeb, the voice of Political Capital everywhere, obediently and meekly lined up behind Trump, forsaking his own legacy. So did you. It was the safe thing for you all to do, even after he made fools of you and mocked your guy Jeb as a “low energy” loser. You all became blander, weaker versions of MAGA.
So make no mistake: you also own every MAGA stupidity and fake Christian cruelty DeSantis and his lying campaign clerks like Jennifer Canady are raining on women and children and anyone else MAGA enjoys hurting. You own Florida’s systemic attacks on its own people and quality of life.
You will not reflect on this, not even to consider its impact on your own futures. You certainly won’t ask Jeb about any of it. It’s much safer to simply “celebrate” what you killed with the guy you helped kill it.
That sounds like a helluva party.
Mild discomfort is not a fatal condition
Owning enough economic capital to exert social and political power with it means you only leave the comfort of your safe space if you choose to.
And I have never seen any of you choose to leave the emotional safety of self-flattery and unearned self-congratulation, with two exceptions: Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz (who probably doesn’t not belong in this category) and Publix scion Wesley Barnett (who certainly does). I’m excluding them from this open letter. I’m also excluding Dr. Melody Ryder, the well-meaning and hard-working new staff director for Lakeland Leads 2.0, who replaced fail-daughter heiress Kate Wallace. I hope Melody’s bosses listen to her.
The rest of you need and demand safe spaces far more intensely than the wokest, most trigger-warning-happy gender studies professor of your fantasies.
That’s why I want to get these unasked questions on record before Jeb shows up in Lakeland. I want to create some mild discomfort for you — and for anyone who attends. Don’t worry. I’m not going to this event. I won’t crash it or cause any really uncomfortable scenes. Ya’ll can bore yourselves. I have no plans to entertain you.
But maybe, if you are going, if you’re a wealthy Lakeland Christian or All Saints parent, you’ll feel some discomfort about the fact that Ron DeSantis — with Jeb’s blessing — is now letting you swipe $8,000 from kids who have nothing at zoned public neighborhood schools. Those zoned schools, despite all the abuse piled upon them from a dead state system, still serve their kids far better than your mediocre — at best — private school does.
And maybe, if you read this, you’ll write a slightly bigger check to Polk’s career education programs as a penance.
You’re going to put us all through this again. So go ahead and blame me for it now.
I also want to express some sympathy with the Political Capital community today. You’re waking up to two unpleasant, but familiar, realities — both of which will shrink your safe space further:
Your great Great White unTrump Hope — Ron DeSantis — has already lost to Trump. That’s because DeSantis is just “T.I.T.S.” Nolte with ill-fitting suits and some gross wish-casting billionaires behind him. I tried to tell you. He’s a weirder, colder version of Trump’s worst civic instincts more conventionally organized into government thuggery by his wife. He is utterly without charm and charisma. And, like Jeb, he’s far too personally weak to defend himself against Trump. That personal weakness and inability to defend himself is the only way he resembles your image of Jeb, which has always been a nonsense image. Trump squashed DeSantis like a bug — even faster than he did Jeb in 2016 — with one post from Truth Social about the “Florida Blueprint” (including education). His minions may well have lifted the content from “Public Enemy Number 1,” which I would find hilarious. Even if DeSantis resurrects himself somehow, it will be as the full-blown MAGA freak he is, not your fantasy fake Jeb.
DeSantis’ flameout as a fake version of a fake Jeb means you’re already working yourselves up — yet again — to line up meekly behind MAGA and make common cause with “Grab ‘em by the pussy,” the Capitol Lynch Mob, and the gross, book-banning Saga Stevins and James Dunns and Matt Gaetzes and brutal forced birthers of the world. You’re going to make common cause with all that — yet again. It’s the only “safe” thing for you to do. You won’t enjoy it. People do not enjoy their own weakness. You didn’t really enjoy it in 2016 or 2020, either — with a few exceptions. But you will do it, yet again.
I know, from past experience, you will not take any personal responsibility for this character flaw. You will need someone to blame for your weakness and your alliance-to-come with T.I.T.S. Nolte and James Dunn.
You will find me — or at least your wider archetypes of me: the lib, the trans, the gay, the black, the brown, the immigrant, the disabled, the RINO, the historian, the principled critic, the pregnant woman, the union member, the teacher, the police officer who protects everyone, the seeker of honest policy and civic engagement within a community of equals. That’s all “me.” I try to protect and welcome all of those archetypes and more within an expansive vision of shared, productive American citizenship.
And no matter what we do, when you write your check to Trump — or any less compelling MAGA facsimile of him that might emerge — you will blame me/us for it. You will quietly blame the best American ideals of equal protection and shared freedom for making you go MAGA. Then you’ll pretend it’s about my tone.
You made me do it, Billy. You’re soooooo mean and disrespectful of our awesomeness.
So I’m writing this today to give you an actual reason — to make it easier for you, because I’m kind that way.
What and who is “Political Capital?”
When I say “Political Capital,” I don’t mean “rich people.”
I mean the owners of substantial capital/assets/land (mostly inherited or married into) who seek political and social dominance of others through the economic power and leverage that capital affords them. Political capital is a behavior, not an income level.
This sponsor list for Lakeland Leads’ low energy Jeb celebration provides a decent representation of “Political Capital” in Lakeland and Polk County. Add in J.D. Alexander, the Cassidy family, and the Story family in East Polk and you’d have a well-stocked roster of politically-active generational wealth around here.
[You might also point to the Fancellis; but their massive capital hasn’t translated into power in the same way. They’re not really one of you. Here’s my very detailed take on my relationship with them. It’s hard to imagine they won’t both choose MAGA again considering Julie’s connections to the Capitol Lynch Mob rally. But they also chose me before; so, it’s confusing. Gregory is perhaps the Joker of Lakeland political wealth.]
Modern Political Capital often sees government as its personal investment bank, for which lending rules should not really apply. J.D. Alexander has been a particularly robust beneficiary of the people’s capital over the years, from Jeb’s CSX deal to his school-building thing now.
Indeed, most of you Political Capital folks support a regressive sales tax for school construction because you can profit by building schools or enhance the value of your inherited land with them or meet development concurrency rules. But you balk hard (Alice Hunt once yelled at me about it) when we suggest property tax (or God forbid a state income or wealth tax) to help fill the school buildings with teachers and meaningful developmental human experiences.
Political Capital — unintentionally and intentionally — tends to neglect or destroy the systems of civic good and self-government that exist independent of it. It replaces them with static landmarks slathered in its names.
Political capital socializes community risk and privatizes asset value and return. It bills you and your community for your existence — and then demands your thanks for it. And yes, it sometimes builds nice amenities to say “you’re welcome.” I enjoy those amenities very much.
None of you will live under what you inflict on other people
With the exception of the Harrells, Cassidys, and J.D Alexander, who I think are basically MAGA true believers, I doubt any of you folks in Polk’s Political Capital community really want to impose the “Grab ‘em by the pussy” public policy and civic engagement hellscape you’ve let your “leaders” make of Florida and its communities.
I don’t think you really want to:
Eliminate local government in all but name.
Drown young people in the cost of renting or owning a house in a crumbling insurance market.
Let everybody run around with school-slaughtering AR-15s, unregulated concealed carry, and easy-to-steal unsecured handguns.
Pay incompetent, widely disliked Kelli Stargel six figures to manage “strategic relationships” for the university you claim to treasure — and begged local tax money to support. This is a person literally best known for how bad her relationships are.
Submit to a state dictator as weak and petty and afraid as Ron DeSantis.
Again, I don’t think that’s the vision you had for your community a decade ago. But you’ve tolerated all of that quietly as your state government imposed it. Why?
It’s the safe thing for you to do.
And what’s the only real alternative?
Embrace meaningful collaboration with the public — as equals — for the sake of the public good.
That’s a non-starter for you. You fear the consequences of that collaboration — for your pocketbooks and your egos — far more than submitting to a tiny dictator like TrumpSantis. You fear a union far more than a mafia.
Moreover, your capital — like mine to a lesser degree — lets you opt out of the worst human impacts of your weakness. Public policy consequences are for other people. Consequences are for poorer, more vulnerable people. Even the true MAGA-heads among you have no intention of actually living with the stupidities and cruelties your MAGA government imposes on others.
You, Political Capital community, will absolutely fly your daughters and granddaughters and mistresses to blue states to avoid brutal forced birth when/if the power behind Jennifer Canady gets its 6-week ban. Without compunction. And Grady Judd’s abortion-hunting unit will let you — but not the rest of us. Believe that.
On the other hand, a corrupt, rogue T.I.T.S. Nolte judge in Texas just overruled 20 years of FDA approval for much-safer-than-birth abortion pills anywhere in the country. Clarence Thomas will probably uphold that from his favorite forced birth billionaire’s Hitler garden or superyacht in the Maldives. So maybe your daughters, granddaughters, and mistresses will end up in the same predicament as everybody else. Funny how that sometimes can happen, even to morally lazy political capital.
Cowardice is the only “middle” today
“I am your warrior, I am your justice,” Trump said in a nearly 90-minute speech, most of it focused on perceived political enemies and slights. “... For those who have been wronged and betrayed … I am your retribution.”
Political Capital may fear and resent good government’s civic and taxation expectations of you. But you’re terrified of Trump’s hold on his bloodthirsty cultists.
You fear confronting that force far more than you fear confronting your archetypes of me. I am not as scary as MAGA is to you. I admit that completely. You’ve proven it repeatedly. And I don’t possess the broken nature to become scarier. I know my limitations of intimidation.
Thus, today, Political Capital community, you occupy a tiny, tiny “middle” between two American civic forces: 1) Decency: pluralism/good government/national regeneration/anti-corruption supporters and 2) Retribution: a vicious, nihilistic mob of T.I.T.S. Noltes and Ed Shoemakers and frothing fake Christian forced-birthers and AR-15 fetishists who you often whine about in private to the first group.
You don’t want either civic force — decency or retribution — to take your dwindling power from you.
But if you openly help the decent side take power and face down MAGA retribution, you know that you’ll have to collaborate seriously with the people who are your best employees and most productive fellow citizens. And you know the “retribution” side will come for you as “retribution” more than it will come us — perhaps even physically.
By contrast, if you quietly help retribution hold state power and take national power, you can turn them against decency. And then we’ll end up protecting you as we protect ourselves. That’s been the story of the last two years — and even before, really — in Polk County.
Fear of the MAGA cult’s “retribution” is the reason you let my civic allies and I do all the dirty, arduous work of killing off, with your cowardly blessing, your worst GOP frenemies as a competing force for your status and political power over the last two years.
We took down Saga Stevin; re-took public space from the GOP/CCDF and its ridiculous, criminal and criminal-adjacent menagerie of candidates and freakish hangers-on; neutralized Grady Judd’s book-banning and gross showboatery; and protected the school superintendent that I gave you, who you seem to like very much.
You couldn’t or wouldn’t do any of that unpleasant and confrontational work yourselves.
And now, somewhere down deep, I know you’re hoping the decent, brave people you look down on will protect you from yourselves, yet again, while you blame us for having to do it, and while you let TrumpSantis (or whomever) act as your “retribution” against us.
It’s a rational — if morally repulsive — calculation. And it’s a laughably chickenshit approach to civic life. But that’s what the “center” is today. Cowardice.
And it’s why you, Political Capital community, who still have the most power to break MAGA if you’re willing to sacrifice anything at all, will put your community, your state, and your country through all of this yet again.
To actually draw an American line against MAGA and fake Christian dictatorship and AR-15 fetishists will blow your Republican party coalition apart in a right wing civil war. That’s a big risk to what’s left of your power; and you’ll choose your power over your community every time.
That’s why you will turn on us, your decent civic “allies,” in the next 18 months. Some public risk of private sacrifice is the only other choice; and we all know that won’t happen.
Come take your “retribution” in person. Don’t outsource it to Captain Porn Star Payoff
Knowing that you’re going to quietly join Team Retribution, I want to personalize that word for a second.
It’s funny — and this goes beyond the Political Capital community to the general MAGA and GOP and “conservative” and fake Christian dictatorship community — when ya’ll see me working a civic event, coaching your kids, or hanging out at a bar, or you need my help to fight some gross selfish act of power that hurts you, or tackle some very difficult civic challenge, you never act like you want “retribution” against me and my family and all the rest of us.
Why is that?
I stole your election. I’m woke. I’m destroying your country. Why not punch me? Or berate me? Sic your Proud Boy allies on me. Do whatever you feel like you need to do to get payback for whatever you imagine you want payback for. Bring some violent retribution if you’re serious — let’s see if Grady Judd and Brian Haas keep failing moral and legal tests.
If it’s too hard to punch me, imagine I’m a trans kid or a pregnant girl or a black protestor to make it easier. Take your retribution against what I seek to represent in person. Don’t outsource it to Trump or T.I.T.S. DeSantis.
Lock me up. I’m right here. I don’t hide like you.
In fact, I respect Melony Bell and Gow Fields quite a bit more than the rest of you. At least they pursued their own petty retribution against me openly — took some consequences for it — and then mobilized all of you in the Political Capital community around it. They worked at it — and cared about it. Their loathing was real, not a cynical calculation. It was worth humiliating themselves to imagine they hurt me. Good for them.
No approval without condition
The rest of you, when you see me, you just thank me for my work, or try to explain how much you actually like me, how we really agree about most things, or try to get me to help solve your really hard problem.
When you’re one-on-one with me, in private, none of ya’ll want the “retribution” you’re going to yell for yet again from far away in your safe spaces. Not even the full MAGAs, not even the J6ers want it. I’ve talked more public shit to J6ers — from my neighbor to the Pollack cell — than anybody in Florida, I suspect, and all I get back is silence and whining.
You all want to explain yourselves to me without any consequence. You want me to think you’re right — or at least that we’re somehow equally principled. You want comfortable conversation, respectful debate, without any personal responsibility or action. You want my approval without condition.
We’re all just part of same caring community, you say — whose representatives you chose are trying to erase history and ban books and terrorize its LGBT citizens and forcing young women to give birth to dead fetuses in pain and anguish. You’re letting the Kelli Stargels and Colleen Burtons and T.I.T.S. DeSantises systematically destroy Florida’s civic life; and you want my absolution for it.
It is impossible to overstate how little respect I have for that. If internal eyerolls could kill, I would be long dead.
But I’m a very nice and reasonable and fair person.
Just about everybody who ever dealt with me, except maybe Gow and Melony, will agree with that, I suspect, if they’re honest. (And I’ve actually helped Gow and Melony, too, over the years, at their request.)
So I will always smile at any of you and engage politely and honestly when you tell me these things (except maybe for J6ers and the worst fake Christian forced birthers). I do this because I never want to foreclose the possibility of collaboration and reconciliation.
But I want you to understand what’s going on in my head behind that smile. You’ve willfully taken your community from tragedy to farce to whatever the hell this is in the name of “retribution” against the very existence of the good people you were more or less pleasantly sharing a community with eight years ago.
Hope it was worth it.
Confessions of an unsafe space
One of my very first meetings as an unexpected and successful candidate for Polk County School Board in 2016 was with Brian Philpot and Steve Scruggs, president of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, which is essentially the clubhouse for the Political Capital community in Lakeland.
At the time, Steve and the LEDC were complaining quite loudly about the quality of public education in Polk County. They did not complain at all about the quality of Jeb Bush’s public education in Florida as a state. And they did not complain at all about the appalling quality of Polk’s private schools, which JebTrumpSantis wants to herd kids into so they can be profit widgets for grifters.
I’m sure Steve and Brian thought I was asking them to support me in that meeting. But I was actually offering them collaboration. I would take on, aggressively, whatever local leadership and quality issues I could, which I did. In return, I hoped they — and you, Political Capital community, would help me take on Jebism and the vast failures of the state with your capital. I don’t think Brian and Steve fully processed that part of the offer. And I did not know Jeb and Brian were in business together when I made it.
Steve couldn’t take any official side. But I think it’s safe to say he liked my commitment to act assertively, at least at the local level. You can ask him.
Brian actually contributed $1,000 to my winning primary campaign, which we put to very good use. He then took a mountain of shit for that from all of you in the Political Capital community, from what I understand. He also, at some point, must have come to realize that I was going to spend my entire political term destroying his business partner’s mythology so we could build something better. Thus, we drifted apart. All of that put Steve in a tough position, made worse when all of you — his bosses and funders and favored politicians — collaborated with Gow and Melony to try to shut me up in 2020.
But this first, pretty successful meeting illustrates a prime, failed ambition of my campaign and term in office: I wanted to convince you, Political Capital community, that your raw personal and monetary interests (not to mention the well-being of your communities) are badly served by allowing Jeb Bush and the state government mafia to destroy the state public school system/teacher supply and replace it with nothing.
Your kids need teachers, too. Your businesses need employees and the mass government-funded child care that public education provides. We had a narrow window in which we might save the Florida education system from collapse, if we collaborated. That was my pitch, as an equal.
I didn’t think there was much chance you would do it; but I wanted to try. So I called your bluff on what you always said you wanted from an elected education official. You were bluffing.
Although none of you really disagree with me, you all backed the state education establishment and DeSantis in 2018, which probably assured the death of the Florida system. Then you sent the previous superintendent to a luxury week in San Diego at a Jeb Bush grifter conference, forcing me to publicly confront you and her.
You all backed my rather passive opponent in 2020 because you claimed to think I was too mean to important people. [The new-ish guy is doing fine, by the way. He’s a non-entity letting Superintendent Fred Heid run what he can of the local operational show with minimal input. I’m fully content to let that continue without interference. But understand this: even his “supporters,” dudes who wrote him big checks, still come to me if they need anything explained or have any hard education questions to tackle. I can’t stop them, William. It happened yet again on Friday. “Billy, how do we fix graduation rates?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯]
I “lost” re-election in 2020 because I was an unsafe space for your fragile egos, Political Capital community. None of you could stand accurate, public critique of your political/civic behavior and ignorance of how Florida’s education system works and fails. Forcing you to reveal that fact in public was useful information for the future. And you didn’t really stop the public critique, did you?
Indeed, rarely has somebody won as big as I did by losing. It set me free to savage DeSantism and its local minions in 2021 and 2022. My allies and I protected our community from grossness better than most, if not all, other communities in our state. Imagine where we could be if you had helped — at all.
The state government’s education gangster racket — which you will be celebrating with Jeb — has now fully killed the state K-12 system and is working hard on killing the higher education system. The window we had to save what was left of a state education system, together, is closed. See article below.
A spent force in a new era
So today, your capital is little more than a defensive trench around a lousy status quo that no longer exists. Your cowardice burned to the ground a social and civic order you could dominate while pretending to be benevolent. You can’t do that anymore. You torched your own keep.
The fight to rebuild a future, where I’m entirely focused, is the fight to seize the charred rubble of your civic order and create something new and better from it. MAGA wants that rubble, too — to party on it, to decadently rule it as rubble and nothing more.
So your last stand in your tiny safe space is under assault from both retribution and decency. You haven’t taken a side — which means you’ve taken a side.
But one day, because retribution can’t build, you may find that even you can’t tolerate your civic failures anymore. You may find there are no safe spaces — and the archetypes of me might be the closest thing to it you can find. If that day ever comes, call me. I will still offer my sincere and honest collaboration.
I will always offer it — as will the many talented and civically-minded people you generally avoid or exploit.
Until then, while the rest of us shoulder the community burdens you impose as best we can, you’re left celebrating the wasteland with Jeb.
Make sure you remind each other to clap.