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Girardi: Welcome end to free-for-all District 13 race

You have to wonder, has there ever been a year when so many people just couldn’t wait for March 11?

Unless it’s your birthday, or maybe an anniversary, there can’t be a more unremarkable day on the calendar. Yes, I know — it’s only four more days ‘til the Ides of March. But toga parties and ancient Roman holidays aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be (soothsayers and wood nymphs notwithstanding).

And yet, thousands of Pinellas County residents, in particular those prone to vote, are eagerly anticipating March 11 with a sense of elation, if not weariness.

That’s because March 11 — tomorrow — is Election Day and, by the grace and mercy of God, the end of the campaign for the District 13 U.S. House of Representatives seat — a two-month free-for-all of name calling and shin kicking not seen anywhere outside of a school yard during second-grade recess.

It has been 43 years since anyone besides C.W. Bill Young has occupied this esteemed office, which became available upon his death in October. If this is what we’ve been missing, another 43 years might be too soon.

In political campaigns, as in wars, the truth often is the first casualty. Reasonable and alert people expect as much. But even that provides no sense as to why this election spat between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly turned into mud wrestling.

And pity poor Lucas Overby, a Libertarian who unexpectedly found himself as the moderate voice of reason. For Libertarians, who run best and happiest as outsiders poking sticks into the government machinery, that’s not where you’re prepared to be.

Sadder still is that Sink and Jolly, two otherwise successful, competent and civil human beings, seemingly lost control of their own campaigns, and of their own voices. They bemoan the lies, accusations and generally bad etiquette of the campaign, along with the absurd amounts of money ($9 million-plus by some counts) that poured in from everywhere, but either could not or chose not to stop it. They were hijacked by national campaigns and political organizations that see this race as some kind of mood ring for the country.

Just for fun, does anyone really think Alex Sink, a serious-minded woman and the former chief financial officer of the whole darn state, is a racist and a bigot? That she supports immigration reform to make sure Florida’s hotels, restaurants and lawn services don’t run out of cheap labor?

Or how about this: Does anyone really think David Jolly, no matter for whom he may or may not have lobbied in Washington, is A-OK with oil drilling platforms off the shores of Treasure Island or Clearwater Beach? That the same man who supports spending millions of federal dollars to pump sand onto eroding tourist beaches would risk, politically if nothing else, turning them into oil fields?

Political campaigns by nature tend to run along the edge of acceptable adult behavior. This one ran right off. Or is there such little regard and expectation for the truth anymore that the old Lyndon Johnson tactic (reportedly) — sure it’s not true, I just want to hear him deny it — is just swell with everybody?

It makes for great theater, of course, in a train-wreck sort of way. Unfortunately, it also cheats voters out of any serious discussion of issues that are more important to them than campaign image-makers believe.

And it cheats the highly-managed and orchestrated candidates out of a chance to show what they stand for, how they would lead, or who they really are. Sheesh, Oscar the Grouch and The Count had more sensible discussions on Sesame Street, and I believe they were puppets, too.

So instead, we get twisted information, whispered smear attacks, veiled promises, and what generally amounts to political debauchery.

Maybe toga parties aren’t dead, after all.

Steven Girardi is the Tribune’s St. Petersburg editor.

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