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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

Further, Handberg says, money does indeed play a role in running a successful campaign – despite a strong stance on the issues, a candidate needs to have money to spend to get noticed. “It can be about issues,” he says, “but it’s going to have to be tied 
to money.”

And money is not Arth’s strong point, to say the least. It may have been if his DeLand properties were still worth $1.5 million, as they were at the peak of the real estate market, but all of his eggs were in the Garden District basket when the recession hit. He’s only managed to sell half the properties he owns there.

“Now, if you gave me a check for a quarter million dollars,” Arth says, “I’d only be back up to broke.”

As of this writing, Arth has only raised $8,072 for his campaign and spent $36,199 of his own money. Placing a PayPal link on his website is about as far as he’ll go to fundraise. “I just can’t do it,” he says. “The process of begging for money – I just find it degrading.”

Handberg suggests that a third-party candidate like Arth, with no name recognition and little to no financial resources, would have a better chance getting into office at a lower-level election. But Arth is too old and too ambitious to start at the bottom of the ladder. Furthermore, he says, he doesn’t even really want a career in politics.

“I’m interested in the governor’s office as a bully pulpit,” Arth says. “To shame legislators into looking at rational policies.”

Which begs the question: Can a man who mostly wants to preach be an effective governor?

“Most politicians ride the waves, they don’t make them,” Arth replies. “To start telling the truth about our dysfunctional system will make waves, and I intend to do that whether in office or not.”

There are other things about Arth that lend weight to the argument that he has no business running for governor, let alone any other political office. He doesn’t want to do the difficult work of fundraising, has no political connections and would rather write books than film campaign ads. He knows how modern electoral politics work but refuses to play the game. When asked how he would operate as governor with no allies whatsoever, he says he doesn’t know. He says he figures that since most politicians are “sycophantic suck-ups,” holding the title of governor would be enough to turn most of the people who once ignored him into deferential yes-men.

After a meeting with Arth in DeLand earlier this month, it was evident that he recognized defeat on the horizon. “[I’d run again] if my wife went along with it,” he said while we walked along Woodland Boule-vard, the town’s main thoroughfare. “And it’d have to be under a different set of circumstances, not where I’d have close to no chance 
of winning.”

But this race isn’t over yet, and so Arth soldiers on, holding public debates with cardboard cutouts of Alex Sink and Rick Scott with his trademark dry humor, despite his estimate that only 5 percent of voters in Florida know who he is. Like a well-trained baseball batter, he sprints towards the goal regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

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