Americans are sending a message to politicians from Hillsborough County all the way to Oklahoma City. They're fed up with the feuding, the deadlock, and they're convinced that inefficiency is government's middle name. They blame Congress for the budget deficit, the billion-dollar savings and loan bailout, Pentagon boondoggles and the Department of Housing and Urban Development scandal, and they blame local politicians for deficits, poor roads, poor schools and high taxes.
The frustration and exasperation with elected officials have boiled over at the gates of national monuments and parks, in the midst of the government shutdown and at the polls.
From tourist to voter, the theme is the same: Throw the rascals out.
Voters in Hillsborough did it in October, when they sent pink slips to two incumbents on the County Commission. Voters in Massachusetts and Oklahoma did it in September, when they dumped established political figures.
Darryl Paulson, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, watches skeptically as this grass-roots trend sweeps across America.
If the primary results in Hillsborough weren't proof enough of that trend locally, then, he says, how about the Tampa man who has drawn enough money to buy ads in more than 100 newspapers across the country urging people to oust every member of Congress?
That man is Jack Gargan, and he gets letters and money pouring into his office for his campaign called Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out (THRO).
Paulson calls that "a stupid approach," which targets the good along with the bad. But, he acknowledges that it's born of deep-seated political frustration.
Voters hunger for change, and the Gargan approach is as tempting as a chocolate dessert and as unhealthy as one, too.
Kicking the rascals out may bring gratification, but is there any guarantee that it will do any good? Not if voters aren't just voting against someone but voting for someone who stands for something better.
The fact is, there are plenty of cases where voters could do better _ and could do worse.
The parade of candidates into the Times seeking editorial endorsements has included a couple of career politicians who are short on new ideas but long on PAC money, as well as their fresh-faced challengers, some of whom are barely out of political diapers.
Some of these political babies come with poorly conceived, sometimes even frightening, ideas on how to solve the perplexing problems of this state.
Chris Corr, the 27-year-old who is challenging Rep. S.L. "Spud" Clements Jr. in District 62, advocates cutting waste in government. That sounds great, but I doubt it will cure a $263-million deficit, as Corr thinks.
Andy Steingold, a 29-year-old prosecutor, is running against Rep. Elvin Martinez, beloved in District 65 despite a conviction for failing to file timely federal income tax returns.
Abortion isn't a major plank in Steingold's platform, but he is against it. If the law were changed to make abortion illegal except in the case of rape or incest or the health of the mother, what did he think should happen to the woman who didn't fall into those categories yet had an abortion? He guessed the charge would have to be murder _ or, he added hastily, maybe a third-degree felony.
Both young men no doubt are sincere, and they are campaigning hard on the time-for-a-change theme. Steingold insists District 65 needs "a new face."
"There's a need to restore faith in our government through honest and sincere representation," he told Times editors. Says Corr, "We need to simplify government."
Their words no doubt are music to voters' ears.
Incumbents, as USF's Paulson suggests, have reason to look over their shoulders.
And voters, I say, have reason to pause before they vote the rascals out and make sure they're not voting some more in.