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Progressive or not, here we come: policy in the Burg

Demens landing waterfront located in downtown St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Haley Jordan/Connect.

Coasting down Central Avenue, you’ll catch glimpses of rainbow flags and whiffs of toasty coffee beans roasted by the local connoisseur. The clothing shops consist of handmade items, elaborately fitted with organic cotton and upcycled lace. Equality for all and love for the environment encompass the heart of this sustainability-motivated city. In recent months, the city has made a dive into the unknown by becoming the first city in America to eliminate super PACs money from local elections. So, there’s just one question, why does St. Pete go unnoticed by the lens’ of the progressive?

After years of smaller initiatives that contributed to St. Pete becoming what it is, the most recent change made comes from the ordinance that eliminates Super PACs from the local elections in St. Pete.

The website Inside Political Law does a great job of explaining what exactly this means, writing that the city of St. Pete voted to impose “a $5,000 limit on contributions to groups that raise money for or make independent expenditures or electioneering communications in city elections.”

Inside Political Law helps shed some light on what the legislation does. To summarize, this legislation would limit campaign financing contributions from any corporation where five percent or more of ownership lies with one foreign owner, or where a total of 20 percent of the total company is owned by a foreign owner, or where any foreign owner makes decisions pertaining to the company’s political interests in America. The goal of this ordinance is to eliminate foreign investors and foreign interests from local election funds.

Karen Lieberman, who works with social justice organizations in the community, gave some insight on how the removal of Super PACs will impact the inner workings of local politics. She provided an example of how one major corporation, Uber, made its way into many cities, including St. Pete.

“Uber is more than five percent owned by Saudi Arabia government and has donated to many elections around the country because they don’t want to have background checks done on drivers. So, Uber puts as much as they can into people running for office that don’t support background checks,” Lieberman said.

The ordinance is set to go into effect Jan. 1, and as St. Pete is the first city in the country to do something of this nature, we can anticipate attention from states around the nation.

“It will give people who don’t have money more of an opportunity to run for office because they won’t be running against big money,” Lieberman said.

Former St. Pete resident Natalie Torres says that progressive concepts such as the elimination of Super PACs from local elections will likely influence her to move back to the area.

“I have always desired to see how more liberal cities function, but in the past 10 years I have seen a shift in St. Pete that I never anticipated,” said Torres. “From green energy to equality movements, and now this change in legislation – this city is a forerunner in progressive concepts.”

University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) student Michael Hanlon believes that part of what makes St. Pete so valuable is its walkability and love for local commerce. Hanlon, a junior and political science major, works as the director of external affairs for student government on the USFSP campus.

“I can walk everywhere in downtown and don’t have to drive, I also love the fact that we keep St. Pete local,” Hanlon said.

Keep Saint Petersburg Local is an organization that drives to keep the St. Pete area as “locally – owned” as possible. They help consumers and businesses “buy, think, and act locally” by campaigning, connecting, and informing residents about the values of local businesses.

St. Pete is also recognized for its equality movements. For the third consecutive year the Human Rights Campaigns’ annual Municipal Equality Index, St. Pete earned a score of 100. Three other Florida cities received perfect scores as well. The city of Tampa scored an 86 on the same index.

Mayor Rick Kriseman told the Tampa Bay Reporter, a local news outlet, “We are incredibly proud of our perfect score. It is a reflection of our values and policy advancements and serves as a vital message point for us when recruiting people and businesses to our city.”

Year after year, there are articles published laden with titles like “most progressive cities in America.” Year after year, St. Pete is overlooked.

Oregon Live published a snapshot of a study that was done by political scientists Chris Tausanovitch and Christopher Warshaw. The paper tracked popular public policy and ranked cities (of more than 250,000 residents) according to liberal and conservative tendencies. According to this study, St. Pete doesn’t even make the list.

We could not find a single list on the web that listed St. Pete as a progressive city, despite the city’s policies that lead residents to view the city in a progressive light.

“I don’t think a city can be defined politically. There are so many workings inside a city, I think its policies can be defined, but not the city,” Hanlon said.

Torres believes that part of what makes St. Pete so progressive in its policy concepts is its commitment to keeping local elections non-partisan.

“St. Pete’s government does a good job of removing parties from local elections, which is how the ordinance to remove Super PACs in our elections came into existence,” Torres said.

Policy seems to be what connects the progressive title with cities. With the implementation of the new ordinance that bans Super PACs from local elections, there just may be a new city on those lists in the coming months.


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