Leesburg, Florida area is very Republican. All of Lake County is very Republican. The towns in Lake County have quaint names: Howie In The Hills, Chain O'Lakes, Okahumpka, and The Villages, to name a few. Most of the homes built in Lake County over the last 15 years have been in planned communities. Emphasis on planned.
How much "planning? A lot. Think of the X Files episode where Mulder and Scully go under cover as a married couple in a planned community....Yes, pink flamingo lawn ornaments can be banned from Lake County yards especially if they feature flapping wings activated by a breeze. Mailboxes do not clutter up the streets, they reside in their designated gazebos near the community's common areas. People are restricted to painting the exteriors of their homes to an exciting palette of 280 shades of grey and/or beige with the occasional, lightest shade of sky blue sneaking onto the palette. This town could be/should be called Scooterville. Many homes have a golf cart parked beside their cars so they can scoot around their community to the various pools, private marinas, ball courts, classes, or golf courses.
The Hawthorne in Leesburg is a development of about 3,000 triple wide and quadruple wide "manufactured homes" formerly referred to as trailers. Don't. Call. These. Homes. Trailers. The Hawthorne has a private marina, nature trail, putting green, club house, a heated pool, community vegetable garden, exercise room and an abandoned shuffleboard court. This glorified
trailer manufactured home park is fairly typical of the area. Most developments in this area have at least this much or more.
I must admit that most of the people I encounter here are very nice. It's their politics that I object to. These are people who love the Tea Party and despise "big government". They are staunchly anti-abortion, pro-church and mourn the loss of the simpler times where June Cleaver was a celebrated domestic goddess. Kids here have fewer tattoos and piercings, but they are just as addicted to texting as the rest of the teen populations elsewhere.
It's a highly regulated environment that appeals to old white people that used to live in your neighborhood where they yelled at the kids for walking on their lawns. Although these communities are 95% white and over the age of 55, a few younger people and people of color are sprinkled into the communities for reasons beyond my ken (meaning, why anyone younger and/or hipper would want to live there is beyond me). It's not the amenities, which are many, but the highly regulated and obtrusive rules that bug me.
Yes, this is Republicanism at it's most stifling. Although the entire area is not a Stepford development, sometimes I feel like I've stepped into the embodiment of a Rockwell nostalgia that never existed. Those who live without repressive home owner's associations tend to be a conservative as their counterparts who safely ensconce themselves behind their community's gates.
Those gates are about as secure as a sieve. One homeless, shoeless person, pushed a grocery cart filled with all their worldly possessions across that development's nature trail into the community where she started stopping at every home asking for assistance. Rather than doing something faith based like clothing and feeding her, the "good" people of this community called their front gatehouse and complained. Rather than help her, security unceremoniously ejected this poor woman from their picture perfect world.
The Huffington Post did a piece on this area of Florida and despite some of the gripes in the comment thread, I have to say it is a fair representation of the people and attitudes that prevail in the Leesburg area. The Villages Sun is a fluff piece of a newspaper. This superficial community doesn't like reality based news. It doesn't fit their world view bias.
My mother-in-law lives in this area and due to her illness, I've spent some weeks here leading up to the election. This was a Romney town and I was was fairly outspoken in my support for President Obama. It didn't win me many friends. One of the more notable exchanges I had was over the repressive aspects of these home owner associations which I will tell you on the other side of the squiggle.
The person I was
talking listening to went on and on about how much they hate Obamacare, big government and how much a tragedy it was that Romney didn't win and finished with a tirade over how "awful" a newly painted sky blue house "clashed" with the rest of the homes in their development.
I was feeling sassy. I skipped over the politics and said, "I think it's pretty and looks nice with all those pink flowers they have in the front yard."
They weren't agreeing with me, "It's awful! It doesn't match the rest of our homes! I'm going to the next association meeting and going to demand the color palette be amended to exclude blue!"
I couldn't resist. "I guess they wanted to show they are part of the Democratic Party. They can't have an Obama sign in their yard, so they painted their house blue. Maybe you should amend the palette to include pink, so you can show your solidarity with the Republican Party and Romney like that guy who got the tattoo on his head."
The poor guy choked and spluttered, "I will never live in a PINK house!" Then he looked at me, saw my amusement, and narrowed his eyes, "Ha ha". I bet you thought that was funny.
I can't lie, "Sure do." Then I shrugged, "It's just I don't like the idea of anybody telling me what color I can paint my house. It strikes me as too big brother. Too intrusive into my private business."
He switched up a notch, "You don't understand. The homeowner's association helps us keep our property values up and keeps the place looking nice."
I shook my head, "To me, it's a private government. One you willingly sign up for and agree to abide by. It's fine if you want to live here. It's just not for me. I don't want to have to check and see if the paint I buy is going to match some palette."
He tried again, "It's not like that. They don't require anything you wouldn't do anyway."
It was my turn to narrow my eyes, "Like painting my house light blue?"
I switched up a notch, "Can the home owner's association levy a financial penalty on you if you break one of the rules?"
I didn't give him a chance, "Can the Association place a lien on your property if you don't pay it?"
He started to squirm, "Yes, but...."
I kept going, "If you don't satisfy that lien, can the Association foreclose on your home?"
He tried to be reasonable, "Yes, but it almost never comes to that..."
"Ok, so if someone insists on keeping a pink flamingo that flaps its wings in the wind against the Homeowner's Association rules; it can get to the ridiculous point where the fines per day such that the HOA can foreclose on a house over said Pink Flamingo?"
He spluttered again, "No one would do that!"
I relented a little, "OK, I get you, no one in their right mind would let it get to that point; but to me the HOA is another layer of government. One that intrudes on my private decisions. One that can fine me and take my house if I don't comply. Do you know the main difference between your house and mine really is?"
He suspiciously asked, "What?"
"My property taxes are tax deductible. You pay property taxes. Then you pay another, larger fee to a private regulator who's main purpose in life is to keep the neighborhood looking pretty and that one is not tax deductible. It seems to me, that you are getting ripped off. Why don't you get rid of the Homeowner's Association and petition your local government to have the same rules that would cost the same as your Homeowner's Association charges to enforce them, and it would then be totally tax deductible."
It was like I woke up a giant, "That's a horrible idea! I don't want my government telling me what color to paint my house. This isn't the same at all!" I don't want big government like that!" He got up and said, "Well, I gotta get back to the house."
I wisely decided to wave bye, "Ok, see ya."
I heard him mutter as he walked away, "Damn right...."
Mr. Wolverton looked at me, "That was incorrigible".
I didn't apologize, "Yep, it was".
He leaned back into his lawn chair, "You didn't change his mind".
"Nope, I suspect not." I leaned back too.
Mr. Wolverton looked over at me cocked his eyebrow and asked, "Then, why'd you do that?"
I started to peel the label off my beer, "I like the blue house, it's pretty".
Mr. Wolverton seemed to accept that. He chuckled, "Suggesting he paint his house pink was a nice touch".
I chuckled, too, "Yeah."
He closed his eyes, "I was getting tried of his BS, too".