BILLBOARDS, POLITICS, AND AN ACT OF GOD

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cover new england

This is an extract of the article, with small photos. You will find the complete article with full-sized photos in my e-book View America: New England

In the travel series View America, South Atlantic - Part 1 covers Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos..

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An Act of the Media

Florida carries some 14,200 billboards. Besides being an attractive commercial investment, billboards can also be deployed for "befriended" politicians at election time, which means that the influence of the larger billboard groups rises beyond the financial aspect, and the political is combined with the practical...

All of these reasons created an unrestrained proliferation of billboards, and for many years they were simply planted everywhere. Eventually the situation became so bad that John Smith finally responded with a request for regulating their construction.

Billboard example 1After several years of discussions, this led to federal and state laws and restrictions, which the big billboard companies simply and completely ignored, therein candidly assisted by the same "befriended" politicians, who thoroughly obstructed any sanctions.

As it happens, in Florida there were 262 completely illegal billboards. Normally these would have to be taken down, but nobody in the administration wanted to walk on this dangerous road - that is, dangerous to their own political career.

Since over the years this unhealthy situation did not change at all and John Smith started to get impatient, the legislative political crowd came up with a bright idea that would save both the cabbage and the goat, and at the same time stun the public with a nice, if meaningless wrapping. So they hatched the following legal egg.

An Act of Politics

If illegal billboards were destroyed for more than 50% by an "Act of God", they would not be allowed to be rebuilt, but instead they would have to be completely taken down.

This new law instantly made everyone happy, the politicians, the billboard companies, the voters, the media and especially John Smith, because how else but to put your trust in God? And all the illegal billboards simply remained standing... Pure genius!

An Act of God

But, but, but... In 2004, four consecutive hurricanes destroyed many of the billboards, both legitimate and "somewhat less" than legitimate. Now, wasn't this an "Act of God"? But even though He himself drove a spoke through the (financial) wheels of the mighty billboard industry, in no time ALL of the billboards were rebuilt, including the illegal ones.

An Act of Secretary Abreu...

Billboard example 2Secretary Abreu negotiated agreements with the three largest billboard companies about rebuilding their billboards. The final agreement was completely overtaken by reality, since the apparently well-informed companies had long since taken steps to rebuild everything.

Such a small detail didn't bother the Secretary overmuch, and besides, a nice "regularization" always looks good in the press. To save appearances, 86 of the 262 illegal panels were dropped, but the others remained where they were or were renewed, and received an official approval to boot.

However, the smaller billboard companies were completely ignored during these "negotiations". They protested against the Secretary's arbitrary decisions, but since their protests didn't produce any results, the incident was "accidentally" leaked to the press.

The media interest proved to be somewhat embarrassing for Governor Jeb Bush's government, and even more so because in recent years it had received quite a few campaign contributions from the same billboard kings.

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