I returned Sunday from Hollywood, Florida. The drive took about four and a half hours and covered nearly 280 miles.
Florida’s geographic size is mind-boggling at times. I would have had to drive another 270 miles to exit the state and enter Georgia.
Or I could have headed toward the other pole and driven 180 miles before I would have needed a boat.
That’s not even considering the distance I could travel if I exited I-75 on my northward journey and headed west on I-10.
Truly a huge state.
Which is why it seems strange that something as small as a mosquito in the southeastern corner of the state can grab headlines, set the teeth of the hospitality and tourist professionals on edge, and prompt elected officials to cross partisan lines in favor of cooperative action.
Thank you, Zika.
When I arrived in Hollywood, there was one small area of Miami-Dade that had been identified as a place with an active Zika-bearing mosquito population. By the time I left, there were two, and the bug and disease professionals were acknowledging a degree of uncertainty about just how widespread the threat really might be.
I had friends at the conference who were taking precautions, even though the identified active sites were more than 20 miles away, even though the blood suckers consider a couple hundred yards to be an epic journey. They were using bug spray the way smart Floridians use sunscreen. Coverage trumps economy and the preference for a different perfume or cologne. The occasional stain on a blouse or shirt is simply the mark of wisdom.
Many of the conference sidebar conversations, and not a few of the speakers and moderators, also had Zika on their minds. It was (sorry) the buzz at the conference, as it has been in the media.
At the Florida League of Cities Annual Conference, it is normal to see people working across the political and ideological aisle. We are determinedly nonpartisan, whatever our personal political preferences might be. We are all about serving our constituents. Right now, serving up something toxic for our Aedes “friends” is definitely on everyone’s mind.
What’s pleasing is the extent, limited as it may be, to which Zika is fostering reaches across the aisle elsewhere. It’s being used as a political weapon, to be sure, but almost no one is saying we don’t need to act.
One might debate the actual severity of the threat of Zika relative to other health threats. I won’t; I’m all in on this, for reasons I wrote about previously.
What it seems unreasonable to debate is the question of whether or not there is a threat. Our active sites have proven that the answer is “yes.”
This isn’t about ideology. This isn’t about which party’s ideas sound best. This is about solving a real-world problem, a problem individuals cannot effectively address on their own. I can clear my yard of every last drop of stagnant water, but if my neighbor has a deflated beach ball in the backyard, I’m still in range. And even if my neighbor and I, and everyone else in my neighborhood, agree that we need to find a way to kill off or sterilize these mosquitoes, or to render Zika itself harmless, or to vaccinate people against it, we’re going to need more than our resources and our connections and our knowledge to make any of those things happen.
That’s why we have government. To mobilize our collective capacity to achieve public goods.
The fundamental difference between city politics and state or federal politics really comes down to this idea of service. Service is what cities provide, what we were built for. We can’t hide from the needs; we can’t just point fingers or pass sweeping legislation that will require even more sweeping rule-making.
We have to act. We have to provide service. And we have to do it right away.
So most of us bury the partisan hatchet in the Florida sand when the issue before us is service.
There may be a way of fighting Zika preferred by Republicans, and another that is preferred by Democrats. That creative tension can help us fashion the best policy, rather than falling victim to group think on either side.
But there’s at least one thing, on this critical issue, on which Republicans and Democrats firmly agree: it’s time to squash this bug.