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Reality Check

Gubernatorial candidate Michael Arth thought he could play politics by his own rules. He’s learning it’s not so easy.

Photo: Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A, Created: 2010:10:14 01:09:00

Carlos Amoedo

Rage Against the Machine: After he was shut out by the Democratic Party, Michael Arth (pictured in his office) decided to wage an independent campaign for governor of Florida

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2010:07:27 01:01:36

On a recent sunny afternoon in downtown Winter Park, a bespectacled man with an athletic build stands atop a plastic milk crate and treats passersby to an impromptu political speech. It’s the city’s autumn arts festival, and the brick-lined streets are abuzz with activity, but few stop to hear what the man has to say.

“We’re not going to be able to change the system until we attack it at its roots,” he declares, while being filmed by a well-dressed young man to his right.

On this particular afternoon, he was supposed to speak at a forum for the Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform (FLIER), but the local event organizer never showed to open up the building. So the man and his colleagues decided to make the best of their trip to Orlando by bringing the discussion to the street.

If you stick around long enough to listen, you’ll find that this man is running for governor of Florida, and his name is Michael E. Arth.

Arth, a 57-year-old from DeLand, is running without any party affiliation, direct political experience or substantial funding. He threw his hat in the ring in May 2009, he says, to “turn the bullshit of politics into compost” and reform a political machine beholden to special interests. He’s an idealist and an optimist who speaks not only of changing Florida, but the entire world.

But like Ralph Nader and countless others who’ve run anti-establishment campaigns as write-ins or candidates for outsider parties, Arth is learning that the field of politics is a rough place for an idealist – especially one without the support of a mainstream political party. It’s a place where televised debate gets you attention but street-corner oratory gets you ignored.

“I know you guys walking past are more concerned with getting to that next store or listening to music, but this is something that concerns all of us, on a fundamental level,” Arth says, calling out to a group of young people walking past him. “Because if you don’t have representative democracy, your future is going to be determined by other people.”

An older man responds to Arth’s challenge without even breaking his stride: “That’s what democracy’s all about. You hire somebody and they run the show.”

Arth replies that it’s supposed to work that way, but by then he’s already speaking to the back of the man’s head, leaving him once more with his audience of four – his three colleagues and myself – all of whom have heard Arth’s positions already.

After 15 more minutes of speaking, mostly for the benefit of two recording devices, Arth steps down from the makeshift podium. “Standing on your soapbox doesn’t work anymore, unless that soapbox is being televised,” he says with a 
tight smile.

After dedicating more than a year of his life to the governor’s race, Arth is realizing one can only get so far in politics on ideas alone.

With every political season comes a curious club of outsiders – those who, through some strange blend of idealism and foolhardiness, dedicate themselves to the endeavor of running for public office without the backing of either of the two major parties.

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