Master of “The Villages” of the Damned

Via Dave Weigel, Tampa Bay Times reporters Michale Van Sickler and John Martin on the The Villages, its developer, and how it’s been set up to “provide a foundation for Republican candidates“:

… Their playground is a 5-square-mile area about 90 miles northeast of Tampa Bay that once was rolling cow pasture and ripe watermelon fields. Disneyland for Adults or the Bubble is what residents call it now. The grandkids call it Seniors Gone Wild…

Drawing retirees from the Northeast and Midwest, this planned community is one of the most critical — and dependable — voting blocs in the nation. The development’s 61,000 registered voters reside in a battleground region Republicans need to dominate if they are to defeat President Barack Obama in November.

Twice as many Republicans as Democrats live here. Independents tilt rightward, too. With a turnout averaging 80 percent, it has become a fixed stop on the campaign trail for Mitt Romney, who has visited twice in the past year.

One man is credited with molding this constituency.

The creator of the Villages, H. Gary Morse, inherited his father’s development business and turned it into one of the most lucrative residential projects in the United States, ushering him into the ranks of the world’s richest. Morse and his family have contributed $1.8 million to the cause of removing Obama from the White House.

His biggest contribution, however, will be the Villages vote on Election Day. Now 75, Morse controls just about every facet of life here. And that includes politics…

He not only sold the project’s 40,000 homes, but he owns the mortgage company that financed many of them. He owns part of the bank, too. And the hospital, the water and sewer utility, the TV and radio stations, newspaper, monthly magazine, country clubs and commercial center that has lured a T.G.I. Friday’s, Panera Bread Bakery Cafe, Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, and IZOD…

Morse didn’t return phone calls, and his staffers won’t disclose which of the several offices he works at in the Villages. His spokesman, Gary Lester, would not comment. The top lobbyist for the Villages, former state GOP chairman Al Cardenas, hung up on a reporter asking about Morse…

By 1992, the development had about 3,500 acres. Morse lined up further expansion by getting the project approved as a special taxing district. The designation let Morse float tax-free municipal bonds that could be paid back by fees charged to residents.

Morse has since established 12 special taxing districts, which between November 1993 and October 2004 issued a total of $426 million in bond principal — all of it tax exempt, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Of that debt, about $300 million has yet to be paid back….

Morse’s sights are set beyond Central Florida, too. Since 1999, Morse and his family have given at least $6.3 million to state and federal races. He was a Ranger for George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, meaning he helped raise at least $200,000. He has frequently let politicians fly aboard his jets. Jeb Bush and his two sons flew on one of the jets to the 2002 Rose Bowl, reimbursing Morse for the cost of a commercial airline ticket.

This March, Morse and his family contributed $80,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election committee and is a member of Romney’s Florida finance team. He and his family have contributed $1.8 million to Romney and Romney-aligned groups in the most-recent presidential cycle…

Read the whole thing. Property control, local taxation authority, and socially-sanctioned authoritarianism enforced via media domination: The only difference between H. Gary Morse and your average feudal baron is better medical technology and worse public architecture. Sure, the serfs, peasants and petty nobility of The Villages could ‘vote with their feet’ — except the service workers and store owners can’t actually afford to do so, and the lordlings would rather be middling-big fish in their own little castle pond than risk life in wider waters. God bless the Squire and his relations, and keep us all in our proper stations!

34 replies
  1. 1
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    That isn’t feudalism. Feudalism is getting protection from the local war lord in return for a share of your productivity. This is more like Tamny Hall on an industrial scale.

  2. 2
    Mnemosyne says:

    I dunno — “Disneyland for adults” would seem to imply a certain level of innocence that I have not heard exists at the Villages. More like Club Med circa 1982 when it was a haven for swingers.

  3. 3
    NCSteve says:

    By 1992, the development had about 3,500 acres. Morse lined up further expansion by getting the project approved as a special taxing district. The designation let Morse float tax-free municipal bonds that could be paid back by fees charged to residents.

    Morse has since established 12 special taxing districts, which between November 1993 and October 2004 issued a total of $426 million in bond principal — all of it tax exempt, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Of that debt, about $300 million has yet to be paid back….

    But, hey, he totally built that.

  4. 4
    BGinCHI says:

    Want to guess the number of ED prescriptions given there?

  5. 5
    j says:

    Look into that whole Disney tax scam (Disney World is larger than San Francisco) and you will see just how Florida operates.

    They really do buy and sell useless swampland. And the money boys get government subsidies to develop it tax free.

  6. 6
    MonkeyBoy says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Villages has special aids to help the seniors vote. Wouldn’t it be juicy if it turned out that several who can’t remember the day or current president were helped to vote the way they presumably would if they still had all their facilities?

  7. 7
    JPL says:

    @MonkeyBoy: and do they have those special pills for std’s?

  8. 8
    Narcissus says:

    I thought I was reading Neal Stephenson there for a minute.

  9. 9
    Ben Franklin says:

    Boca Raton. ‘Nuff said.

  10. 10
    Woodrowfan says:

    Six Flags Over Medicare…

  11. 11
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Too many people who watched The Prisoner and couldn’t wonder why Patrick McGoohan would ever want to leave such a nice place….

  12. 12
    efgoldman says:

    Of that debt, about $300 million has yet to be paid back….

    What happens if the sumbitch defaults? Is it similar to the Schilling vs. RI scenario?

  13. 13
    Arm The Homeless says:

    Villages = Elephant Graveyard

    I am doing my part to spread the word. I can’t speak for how the rest of the state is seeing things, but up in my liberal corner of FL, it’s decidedly quiet. No signs from either campaign, no stickers. The ads were getting to saturation before the Olympics. Now? Very little.

    If I weren’t so lazy I would track down the ad buy for the florida markets.

  14. 14
    Hal says:

    I just love the idea of people voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket comfortable in the reality that they will never be affected by their choices. Their 54 and under friends won’t be so lucky, but as long as gubmint keeps it’s hands off their larks, all is good.

  15. 15
    azlib says:

    Feudalism R Us.

  16. 16
    bemused says:

    Aside from the politics, I can’t imagine the appeal of a place like this. I’m over 55 and I don’t even know anyone in the 55 to 65 age group that would want to live in a typical retirement village. I guess I hang out with a different sort of crowd.

  17. 17
    maya says:

    There’s a bit of a problem with an upscale 40,000 home senior park – as the current residents die off, and they will, who’s going to buy into it? There has to be an assumption that later generations will be as upscale as they are. Leave it to the children? If not over 54 the Villages will have to change regs and even then….

    You see this same problem with less expensive senior manufactured home and mobile home parks re vacancies. Can’t give them away.

  18. 18
    Maude says:

    @maya:
    They seemed to have failed planning 101.
    The senior housing around here is low income.

  19. 19
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    That isn’t feudalism. Feudalism is getting protection from the local war lord in return for a share of your productivity.

    Repub Villagers pay their local taxes, their mortgages, a percentage of their retail dollars, and their votes — the modern equivalent of the medieval war levy — to Lord Morse. In return, he promises to protect them from ‘crime’, scary new ideas, and any non-white persons not under contract as serfs. The philosophical defence underpinning their obedience has shifted from “God has ordained it so” to wabble between “market forces” and “Founding Fathers”, but (as the broad voting overlap with the Talivangelicals makes clear) in a pinch “God has ordained” would be plenty good enough for most Villagers.

  20. 20
    maya says:

    @Maude: I can see where they will change the rules about age out of necessity as the baby boomers run out their hour upon the stage, but, there will be massive competition with Jesus’s favorite place to recreate – the whole goddam state of Del Webb Arizona!

    Maybe a Hollywood film producer will be around then to destroy the whole efing thing in an epic Doomsday flick.

  21. 21
    efgoldman says:

    @bemused:

    I’m over 55 and I don’t even know anyone in the 55 to 65 age group that would want to live in a typical retirement village.

    My parents, both spry well into their 80s, retired to an over-50 condo complex in the Ft. Lauderdale area in the late 80s. They even had rules about how many grandchildren could visit, for how long, and that the condo association could throw the kids out if they acted like, you know, children!
    I’m 67 now, still working, mrs efgoldman is 58. We could no more live in a place like that than we could live inside a WalMart. The point of living in a neighborhood is hearing and seeing the kids play!
    Plus, I think I’d live in a culvert before I’d move to FL.

  22. 22
    BGinCHI says:

    @efgoldman:

    Plus, I think I’d live in a culvert before I’d move to FL.

    Classic example of a distinction without a difference.

  23. 23
    JenJen says:

    I’m actually stoked to go read this article. My aunt moved to The Villages a few years ago and my parents are considering it. I’ve been there a handful of times. To me it always felt like a creepier Pleasantville for seniors. My aunt would rave about the nightly live music in the “town squares.” After she’d been there awhile, she started skipping the outdoor music social scene for the private party social scene. It was all just so weird to me, for reasons I can’t find the words right now to describe, but she seems to be having the time of her life. Good for her, you know? I can certainly think of worse ways to retire. But…

    She had a lot of money (and I do mean had). Far more than my folks, and that’s just another reason why I need to show them this article. I’ve been loading them down with stuff about The Villages so maybe I’d better pace myself a bit.

  24. 24
    NancyDarling says:

    Being older myself, I’ve got nothing against old folks, but the last thing I want to look at day in and day out is a bunch of gnarly-kneed old geezers. I know a lot of seniors like that kind of retirement, but it sure isn’t for me. I like a lot of age variety in my friends and acquaintances.

  25. 25
    Chris says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    The entire nation used to be like that, not just Tammany in New York. It’s what boss politics are all about: between voter fraud, ethnic politics, spoils you hand out to those who vote for you and hold back from those who don’t, you have an entire county locked up and you might as well be a medieval baron.

  26. 26
    jp7505a says:

    @BGinCHI: I don’t know, might be a step up, some culverts are very nicely appointed….

  27. 27
    Mike G says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Too many people who watched The Prisoner and couldn’t wonder why Patrick McGoohan would ever want to leave such a nice place….

    And I’ll bet they have a large Teatard chapter, where they bloviate endlessly about “freedom” then go home to their feudal corporate conformity pod.

  28. 28
    Linnaeus says:

    It’s not feudalism, but it is neofeudalism.

  29. 29
    MaximusNYC says:

    @JenJen: My dad moved there several years ago with his wife. It is a deeply weird, and to me, disturbing place. Comparisons to “The Prisoner” are completely apt.

    I don’t know if you noticed this, but the “town square” area has historical plaques on various buildings, describing their connections to historical events involving the Spanish explorers, the railroads, etc. All of it is complete fiction.

  30. 30
    Nancy Irving says:

    “The creator of the Villages, H. Gary Morse, inherited his father’s development business…”

    And I’ll bet he thinks he’s a self-made man, pulled up by his bootstraps.

    What really got me though was a private company being allowed to float tax-free municipal bonds. Not much still shocks me, but that did.

  31. 31
    e.a.f. says:

    These “villages” are seperate towns which exclude those who can not afford them & want to be part of a codified community. It gives people a sense of security because most of them are gated, to keep out the riff raff. What happens when you have these types of gated towns is people become much less interested in the areas outside their private towns. This doesnot bode well for society in general.

    The fact they are permitted to float bond issues was really a shock.

    I do wonder what happens when people can no longer afford to live there, i guess they get tossed out into the wilderness with the common folk. One of the dangers of living in these communities is people loose touch with society at large & become more afraid to be part of the real world.

    It was interesting though, I read a report a few yrs ago which said the fasted growing group developing HIV & AIDS was in seniors developments.

    These “villiages” are a continuation of other gated communities & will continue the divide in America. Once this divide is complete you can look forward to a revolution.

  32. 32
    Josh G. says:

    Nancy Irving @ 30: “What really got me though was a private company being allowed to float tax-free municipal bonds. Not much still shocks me, but that did.

    I believe that this process was invented in Florida largely because Disney wanted it. Disney World is basically its own municipal government, called Reedy Creek Improvement District, complete with the right to issue tax-free muni bonds. According to Wikipedia: “The District, as with any municipal corporation, can issue tax-free bonds for internal improvements. This became a point of contention when a 1985 law limited the amount of tax-free bonds in Florida. The eligible bonds were chosen randomly, causing the District to beat out Orange County, which had planned to build low-income housing, in 1989.”

    At least with Disney a plausible claim could be made that the overall benefit to the state – jobs, tourist revenue, state sales taxes collected – outweighs the loss. But the Village is essentially just another subdivision. Other developers manage to build them without having special tax exemptions, so why should this guy be any different?

  33. 33
    Nancy Cadet says:

    Yesterday I clicked on the digital edition of the NY Times, and on the front page above the fold was a photo of a white haired , white woman captioned “Doris, 63 years old,Republican resident of the Villages:” and her quote was something like ” I don’t want my tax money going to ‘entitlement people .'”

    Later I went back to the page, and this had disappeared. Maybe I fantasized the while thing, though digital editions are being constantly updated and changed.

  34. 34
    JenJen says:

    @MaximusNYC: Late to respond, but thanks, Max! Glad we see The Villages the same way.

    I’ve never noticed the plaques. Thanks for creeping me out even more than I already am. :-)

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