Driving to Florida's Left Coast recently, I was struck by the duality of our Sunshine State.
Some folks tooling along two-lane stretches of State Road 60 fume, "Why isn't this a divided highway?"
Others, seeing sprawl encroaching on agricultural lands, mourn the relentless loss of green space.
Upon reaching my destination — Indian Rocks Beach — I basked in the buttery sunshine and sugary sand of the gulf coast. It put me in a glass-is-half-full mood.
Indeed, things could be worse.
Florida remains paradise for millions of people, including vacationers, snowbirds and transplants from less salubrious climes. The beauty of this state's beaches and lush landscape sounds a siren song to anyone sick of shoveling snow.
But beyond mere meteorology, Florida maintains a special appeal to me.
As a native Californian living in Vero Beach since 2003, I often say that life in Florida is like going back 50 years. Political "progressives" assume this is meant as an insult. It's anything but.
While California wrestles with a ballooning $42 billion deficit and its benighted citizens strain under an ever-increasing tax load, Floridians can at least take solace that their legislators aren't digging a bottomless money pit.
As a state that arrogantly claims to be "where the future happens first," California has set an abysmal example. Controlled by public-employee unions that play politicians like marionettes, the California Legislature has become a one-party joke. When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to rein in spending, the unions handed the Terminator his head. Tax-and-spend Gray Davis has given way to a borrow-and-spend Kindergarten Cop.
Florida has its own budget challenges, of course. Who doesn't these days? But Tallahassee's approach has been to — gasp! — cut spending. This has been done through privatization, competition, accountability, sunsetting of duplicative or nonperforming programs, and a healthy dose of common sense.
That contrast came to me at Indian Rocks Beach.
Where hordes of beachgoers in the Golden State scramble for a patch of Pacific sand, Indian Rocks opens its swath of the gulf coast to everyone via dozens of free and easy public entrances. It didn't take a mandate from Tallahassee; the modest enclave just did it. For residents and tourists alike, life is good … and affordable.
Floridians can (and do) debate the proper balance of growth vs. conservation, public spending vs. private entrepreneurship, yet most at least grasp the overarching concept of liberty. Centralized government may not always be the problem, but it's seldom the solution.
Florida has shifted from a conservative Democratic state to a generally GOP enclave of fiscal and social moderation (obvious holdouts like South Beach and Key West excepted).
"In the same way that Florida's families make tough decisions about where to best spend their household income, House Republicans are focused on crafting a responsibly balanced budget, knowing that we must spend less because we have less to spend," says House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach.
How California and Florida fare in the years ahead will be interesting to watch. This third-generation Californian is grateful to ride it out right here.
Kenric Ward is an editorial writer for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Vero Beach. He can be reached at [email protected]