Family values crusader David Caton now takes on light rail

When we last saw anti-smut, pro-family values crusader David Caton, he was exactly where you would expect him to be: criticizing the University of South Florida for a course called "queer theory" and speaking out against protections for transgender people in Tampa.

Caton has made a career, not to mention a conservative name for himself, out of such stuff. Gay Days at Disney, city benefits for same-sex couples, dirty magazines at convenience stores, high school clubs to support gay students, raunchy radio, lap dancing, T-backs, strip clubs, a gay candidate for office — you knew David Caton would be there to rail against it.

Did I say rail?

Because here is the oddest place to find a former porn addict turned crusader: as a local hit man against the push for big transportation improvements, including light rail.

Excuse me, Mr. Caton —you realize they said transportation not transgender, right?

For the record, his decades of work have not been all about sex. He will tell you that over the years he worked to lower the indigent health care tax, pushed for oil drilling and encouraged the attorney general to fight the health care plan. These are good things to know about him.

But on that odd marriage of rail and the right side of God: "I think it is immoral," Caton says of the rail issue. "I believe it's immoral to tax, to take more away from the poor to give money to the special interests."

On this subject, Caton can talk Hillsborough County foreclosure, bankruptcy and unemployment statistics. What rail proponents call "riders" he calls merely "boarders," and you can bet their numbers will differ significantly in terms of justifying the project.

Caton likes to say it would be cheaper for the county to buy each daily rail rider two Ferraris than to build light rail. He brings a remote control car to meetings to illustrate his point. Some 60,000 e-mails will be sent out on that Ferrari assertion. This is the Caton way.

"This is basic attack 101," says Mark Sharpe, a Hillsborough commissioner who supports rail. "It's just a way of playing with statistics."

But it would be a mistake to dismiss such opposition and the accompanying we-can't-afford-it message. Given the slogging economy, selling Hills­borough voters on a November referendum for a penny sales tax for transportation including rail will be a tough haul. The trick will be getting voters who are frustrated with how we do (and don't) get around to understand how rail can improve our region's future, to talk jobs and bus and road improvements that also are part of the package.

All of which begs the question: What is David Caton doing here? Shouldn't he be trading barbs with strip club king Joe Redner or mass e-mailing the school board or trying to get racy programs kicked off cable?

Turns out times are tough all over. Caton, who is executive director of the Florida Family Association, echoes my question: "Why is Mr. Morality going after this?"

"We've lost a lot of supporters who can no longer afford to donate," he says.

So the focus changes to issues like taxes and "excessive spending."

I guess even a moral crusader has to make a living. And as it turns out, economics and politics can make, you'll pardon the expression, interesting bedfellows.

Family values crusader David Caton now takes on light rail 02/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2010 8:54pm]

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