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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

To describe their attempts to get noticed as an uphill battle would be an understatement: They’re routinely excluded from official debates, omitted from polls and derided as “spoilers” for even daring to run. On Oct. 12, California Green party gubernatorial candidate Karen Wells was arrested for trespassing after entering a debate from which she was shut out. On Oct. 6, Florida Libertarian Senate candidate Alex Snitker was protesting his own exclusion from a debate on a street corner opposite the WFTV studio here in Orlando. He told Orlando Weekly about the Catch-22 he faced: Pollsters told him he needed more media attention to be listed in their candidate polls, but the media told him he needed more presence in the polls to 
be covered.

According to Christina Tobin, ballot-access coordinator for Ralph Nader during his 2008 presidential campaign as an independent candidate, the two main political parties actively collaborate to exclude outsiders. Because the presidential debates are organized by former chairs of both the Democratic and Republican national committees, she says, third-party candidates are usually not invited to take part. “They’re absolutely terrified for the voters to have more voices and choices,” she says.

But Arth is a man who thrives on long odds. Ten years ago he bought 30 homes and businesses for a pittance in a run-down neighborhood in DeLand, then known as “Cracktown.” In 2001, he and his wife Maya left their picturesque home in Santa Barbara, Calif., and moved into one of the buildings. After arriving, Arth immediately started planting trees, remodeling homes and nudging out the drug peddlers in the neighborhood.

Only a year later, what was formerly a crime-ridden nest of drug dealers had been largely converted into a quaint neighborhood lined with white-picket fences and palm trees. Arth named it the “Garden District,” and for his work both the city of DeLand and Volusia County named Nov. 12, 2002, “Michael Arth Day.” A documentary of Arth’s accomplishments, New Urban Cowboy, was released by an independent filmmaker in April 2008.

Because Arth is running for governor, neither DeLand police nor city officials will comment on his work in the city. But an Orlando Sentinel article published in February 2002 implies that Arth had broad public support for his project: “DeLand Police Cmdr. Randel Henderson, who calls Arth a visionary … described his work with Arth as a one-two punch: Arth cleaned up the neighborhood, and police cleaned up the crime.”

Yet Arth realized that his overhaul of Cracktown didn’t address the larger cycle of drugs and crime. “I went through hell rebuilding one little, tiny four-square-block area, when just a little tweaking of the policies could change the whole world,” he says. Not one disposed to just talking, Arth, then a Democrat, decided that he would make a run for governor. “I felt an ethical obligation to do something,” he says.

Ideologically speaking, Arth is a progressive liberal who has a stance on everything. Compared to the Democratic candidate Alex Sink, he may as well be a Molotov cocktail-throwing anarchist. He wants to legalize, regulate and tax drugs (but ban all drug advertisements), end the death penalty, abolish private campaign financing, create a state bank, cut the military budget in half, consolidate homeless agencies into “pedestrian homeless villages,” adopt a single-payer health care system and change the voting process to a ranked-choice method used by most European countries. His ideology is utilitarian with flourishes of modernity: “The goal of politics should be to bring the greatest good to the greatest number in the most efficient manner possible, to this and future generations,” he says.

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