Howard Troxler wants to emphasize that he's not leaving the St. Petersburg Times next month after a brilliant 29-year career in Tampa Bay area journalism because he's disgusted with the state of affairs in the Rick Scott era.
The three-times-a-week columnist stunned his readers (though not all of his colleagues) when he announced in April that he'd be publishing his last column on Sunday, June 12. But it's not every day that the most popular political columnist for the most popular daily newspaper in Florida calls it quits, and at 52, isn't it a little early to call it a career?
Perhaps, but Troxler has been reporting and writing about politics professionally for more than 30 years, beginning while he was still in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For him, it's a matter of going home.
"Some of my friends have joked with me that the Legislature finally has got to me, or 'you finally got fed up' — this is not true at all." Troxler insists that he would love to stick around and churn up material on our elected officials and the nefarious and absurd things they do, but says, "It just really seemed like a good time in my life to do this."
"This" is moving with his wife to the Asheville area of North Carolina, the state where both have deep roots. Lynn Casey Troxler is CFO of a financial services company and can work from anywhere, but her corporate headquarters are in nearby Raleigh, North Carolina, and more importantly, so are her family members.
Nevertheless, some of his readers have reached the inescapable conclusion that the proceedings in Florida have gotten to him. Pinellas County Sierra Club member Cathy Harrelson, who calls Troxler the sublime essayist of our lives, says she noticed a less optimistic columnist after observing a speech he gave at a Pinellas library last year.
"Before and during this year's legislative session, as I read Howard's columns, they became more strident, filled with genuine outrage," she told CL in an email. "It seemed that the wise and funny man who fit so naturally in the center of the maelstrom, who could see it from all sides, who treated issues fairly, just couldn't do that anymore."
Over the past year, Troxler has been more relentless than ever on certain issues, like the leadership funds the Legislature brought back after 23 years ("campaign slush funds," he calls them) and the lavish $48 million "Taj Mahal" built for the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, initially reported upon by his Times colleague Lucy Morgan.
In a column written last September, Troxler wrote no fewer than six times a variation of the sentence "Make them move," imploring readers to contact their legislators to demand that the entire court move out of its opulent new quarters. It didn't happen.
Was this kind of rhetoric reflective of an increased frustration with the system? No, Troxler says. In a conversation with CL at Ybor City's Green Iguana, he pointed out that in both cases the issues demonstrated the need for repetition in writing, which he makes no apologies for. In fact, he says there needs to be more of it.
"Every time I write a column in the newspaper, somebody is reading it who never has read a column of mine before," he says, describing how editors will stop a reporter or columnist from revisiting a subject because "we've already said that."
"And, I don't care how many times we've said that," he counters. Since newspapers are no longer the dominant media voice in the culture, they should repeat themselves more frequently on important subjects, he feels, citing as an example the Florida Legislature's repeal of 25 years of growth management laws. He says this should be a banner headline "every day" in the paper, until everyone is aware of it.
One of Troxler's bosses, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, says he was always aware of his ace columnist's deep love for his native state. But even he admits to being a bit surprised by the timing of his announcement.
What also surprises some of Troxler's fans is that he doesn't have any immediate plans. But he says after working 33 years for newspapers and 23 years writing columns, it will be a relief not to say anything anymore, at least for now.
It all started for him in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. While attending UNC, he also began reporting for the News & Observer in nearby Raleigh, in the state capitol. After graduating, he said he felt he had to move somewhere, because if he didn't leave the area that he loved, he never would. The Tampa Tribune soon hired him in March of 1982, when he had just turned 23.
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