The Greenlight Pinellas debate has grown extremely divisive in the past few weeks, and it's unlikely that divisiveness will end any time before next month's election — certainly not after members of the pro-Greenlight group Connect Tampa Bay today accused the main opposition, No Tax For Tracks, of extremist politics.
“No Tax for tracks is a Tea Party organization that is rebranding itself as No Tax For Tracks to try to make its extremist political views more palatable to the campaign in opposition to Greenlight Pinellas," said Brian Willis, the President of Connect Tampa Bay, which supports the measure, speaking in Williams Park in St. Petersburg this morning. "We know that No Tax For Tracks is a Tea Party group because their organize themselves through Tea Party websites like the South Pinellas 9/12 organization. We also know the membership is largely the same."
No Tax For Tracks head Barb Haselden has refuted those charges in the past. When asked for comment today, she simply emailed the words, "Middle School."
At the press conference, Connect Tampa Bay placed a blown-up graphic on an easel documenting what they claimed were lies and distortions about the transit tax, which would add a penny to the sales tax in the county in exchange for removing the portion that homeowners currently pay to fund the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) through their property taxes. It would greatly enhance the bus system in Pinellas, and begin the construction of a 24-mile light-rail network running from St. Petersburg to Clearwater.
Greenlight opponents Dr. David McKalip and Tom Rask were blasted by pro-Greenlight supporters last month after a mock video of Adolph Hitler addressing Greenlight supporters surfaced briefly posted online before being removed. McKalip promoted the clip on his blog but told CL that Rask produced it. Rask denied involvement. Willis said the parody was "outrageous."
"I'm tired of a small group of extremists that have created fear and have spread half-baked truths to our families here in the county," added Dr. Johnny Johnson, a pediatric dentist based in Palm Harbor. Johnson was active in Pinellas politics in 2011 and 2012 during the great fluoride debate, in which the county voted to remove the additive to the water supply. But a furious reaction by the press and the public ultimately led to two County Commissioners who supported the removal of fluoride (Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock) losing their bids for re-election, and the county commission subsequently added fluoride back into the water supply.
Although No Tax For Tracks' Barb Haselden has said that her group had nothing to do with that fight, Dr. Johnson isn't buying it, accusing NTFT of using the same scare tactics, such as "fear mongering, smear tactics, scaring people with half-baked truths. They cherrypick tidbits from credible literature and mix it up with their own opinions, " he charged. "They're using conspiracy tactics," adding that Hitler was also used in the debates on fluoride, which he said he found "offensive and repulsive."
St. Pete executive Freddy Cueves said that such campaign tactics were essentially ignored by young voters like himself, and said the issue is about whether Greenlight's passage will help the community, which he says it will
"We need to be having a debate about whether this is a good investment," said Connect Tampa Bay's Kevin Thurman. But he said being compared to Al-Qaeda was not moving the conversation forward.
That was in reference to a blog post Dr. McKalip issued this morning, decrying the fact that a No Tax for Tracks sign was defaced by a box cutter, writing, "The sign is being left up now as a testament to those pro-greenlight people who seek to silence opposition through violent intimidation, using the same weapons as were used by Al Qaeda."