Michael E. Arth has worked with a wide range of media; from rock concert posters in the early 1970s, to original prints like etchings, serigraphs, and lithographs, to paintings, and photography. A large format book of his work, Michael E. Arth: Introspective 1972-1982, was published in 1983. He shifted focus in 1986 to home and urban design.
In 2007, in collaboration with filmmaker Blake Wiers, he produced his first feature-length documentary. This was followed by two other feature documentaries in 2012. Gov'nor: A Man on a Bicycle, With no Money, Takes on the Fat Cats, Special Interests (and His Wife) to Run for Governor of Florida is about his run for governor.
Out of the Woods: Life and Death in Dirty Dave's Homeless Camp follows the life and death struggles of homeless people living in a camp in the woods for four years. Arth directed, shot and edited Out of the Woods by himself.
At least two more films are forthcoming, Midwives, and The Labors of Hercules: Modern Solutions to 12 Herculean Problems. Midwives follow Arth's two midwife sisters, one of whom was apprenticing under the other. The Labors of Hercules will compare the mythological labors of Hercules to 12 modern problems and offers solutions.
Arth designed, built, and landscaped a small number of private residences in Southern California from 1986 to 2000, most notably "Casa de Lila," a seven-story Spanish style villa integrated into a mountain ridge in the Hollywood Hills.
In 1999, Arth founded a more pedestrian and ecology-oriented version of New urbanism called New pedestrianism. His new approach calls for very compact new towns and neighborhoods where tree-shaded, pedestrian and bike lanes are in front of all residences and businesses, with tree-lined automobile streets at the rear. While the pedestrian lane idea is not entirely original (examples of rear loading garages with front sidewalks that replace streets were built in Venice, California, as early as 1910), his fervent emphasis on this as a panacea makes his work distinctive.
Arth asserts that living in what he calls a pedestrian village, coupled with a compact, mixed-use neighborhood or village center, will ameliorate a wide range of problems related to urban living. Having such a development built near a downtown area or newly created village center reduces the amount of travel time that would normally be spent in an automobile, thus increasing the physical activity of the homeowner and saving energy. In more densely built new towns or developments, he claims that this new form of housing would greatly reduce the dependency on the automobile and the resulting village-like towns would vastly increase both aesthetics and quality of life. He also promotes the creation of similar pedestrian amenities that can be retrofitted to existing towns. Arth's design and development company, Pedestrian Villages Inc., develops projects that follow the principles of New pedestrianism.
In 2000, while working on a book and documentary, The Labors of Hercules: Modern Solutions to 12 Herculean Problems, Arth found a small slum in DeLand, Florida, where he could try out some of his ideas. Subsequently, he purchased 32 dilapidated homes and businesses, which he restored over a seven-year period. Running out the drug dealers and rebuilding the downtown neighborhood won him the support of the community and a number of awards. He changed the name of "Crack Town" to Downtown DeLand's Historic Garden District. Arth enhanced the existing infrastructure by planting trees and by building pedestrian lanes, gardens, courtyards, and bike facilities in the district.
In 2007 Arth proposed a national solution for homelessness that would involve building nearly car-free Pedestrian Villages in place of what he terms "the current band-aid approach to the problem." A prototype, Tiger Bay Village, was proposed for near Daytona Beach. He claims that this would be superior for treating the psychological as well as psychiatric needs of homeless adults, and would cost less than the current approach. It would also provide a lower cost alternative to jail, and provide a half-way station for those getting out of prison. It could also provide a community for those in drug treatment and the non-violent mentally ill who are either incarcerated or living on the street. Work opportunities, including construction and maintenance of the villages, as well as the creation of work force agencies would help make the villages financially and socially viable. An extensive website explains the village concept in detail.
New Urban Cowboy: Toward a New Pedestrianism, a feature-length documentary, was released in April 2008. The film chronicles Arth's rehabilitation of DeLand's Garden District and explains the philosophy behind New Pedestrianism.
Democracy and the Common Wealth: Breaking the Stranglehold of the Special Interests is a wide-ranging, 480 page book published in 2010 that exposes what Arth calls the “dirty secrets” of America’s electoral system. Arth proposes solutions to fix the electoral system, and then gives a long list of solutions to failed policies that could result from having a truly representative democracy led by effective, trustworthy leaders, who would be elected by a majority, and who would not have to spend their time raising campaign funds, or catering to paid lobbyists.
It also tells the story of the first year of Florida’s 2010 gubernatorial race. In the main text, and in the postscript, Arth writes about how he became an independent candidate for governor after being “frozen out” of the "undemocratic" Florida Democratic Party for not having millions of dollars, and for suggesting that campaigns be about issues instead of money.
The first sixteen chapters are about how to break up the oligarchy and make "a more perfect union" that creates what Abraham Lincoln called a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." To do this would require trading the winner-takes-all voting system for ranked choice voting in single member elections, and replacing single-member congressional districts for multi-member congressional districts, which would use proportional representation and a form of ranked choice voting called single transferable voting. It would also require doing away with private campaign financing, paid lobbyists, and most campaign advertising; and replacing influence-buying and propaganda with highly regulated public campaign financing that would cost a tiny fraction of what is spent now. "Pre-voting," by the electorate, with publicly financed micro-payments during the campaign, would determine both placement and ranking on the ballot in order to simplify the process and get voters more involved in thinking about the issues.
He writes that the use of shared driverless cars, combined with the increased use of virtual reality for work, travel, and pleasure, could reduce the world's 800,000,000 cars to a tiny fraction of that number within a few decades. Arth believes it should be the aim of public policy for various environmental, safety, and economic reasons.
Arth sees most of mankind's problems as being severely impacted by the 220,000 people being added to the planet every day. He proposes a "marketable birth-license plan" or birth credits that would protect both individual choice and the rights held in common to both allow people to have as many children as they want while still establishing sustainable population levels in all countries.
Arth began running for Florida Governor as a Democrat in June 2009. According to various press releases and blogs, the Democratic Party Chair Karen L. Thurman personally barred Michael E. Arth from speaking at the 2009 Democratic Conference, reportedly telling him that she wasn't going to let him speak and that she "wanted to concentrate on one candidate." This was despite the primary still being 10 months away. On the first day of the conference, held at the Disney Yacht Club and Resort October 9–11, Arth had an ideally situated table rented from the Florida Democratic Party for $500. When he and his entourage showed up the next day, all of his material had been put in storage by party staffers and his table had been assigned to someone else. His newly assigned table was in a distant and nearly empty room on the opposite side of the convention building from the other candidates. With the help of Disney employees, and under the supervision of documentary film cameras, the table was moved back to near the same location. As soon as the camera was put away, a Democratic Party staffer tried to get Arth to move his table and also tried to prevent Arth and his volunteers from hanging his banner. Again, Disney staff intervened and Arth was allowed to stay and put up his banner. As a result of being frozen out of the Democratic Party, and believing that reform would have to come from outside the two-party system, Arth switched to independent status, or "no party affiliation".
His campaign emphasized the importance of radical transparency and better representation through voting rights reform. He disdained the private campaign financing system which he says elects fundraisers in the place of good leaders and marginalizes the issues. He wanted to do away with the winner-take-all voting scheme and replace it with Instant Runoff Voting and Proportional Representation. He called the War on Drugs "a war on the poor," and pointed out that Florida's incarceration is 8 times higher than Canada's. He said that Florida prisons are growing faster than any other state because of deinstitutionalization of the mentally disabled, drug prohibition, and minimum sentencing laws.
On his candidate Facebook site, and on Twitter, Arth wrote that a top official in the state Democratic Party had tried to talk him out of running. Arth said that he was told the newspapers and other major media outlets would not write about him because campaigns were about money and not ideas. Arth quoted the official as saying, "If you don't have $3 million you cannot even get started. You will need $1.3 million a week to win it." He wrote that he asked the editors of several newspapers if it was true they would not write about his campaign. The Daytona News-Journal, a major Florida newspaper, answered his question with a front-page news article with four pictures on June 23, 2009. The article was both above and below the fold, plus a second page, and included four photographs.
Immediately after the article appeared, Arth rose from no listing in the polls to 4% in a Mason-Dixon poll asking Democratic voters who they would vote for in the primary. His name recognition among Democrats at this point was 9%. Apparently 45% of the Democrats who recognized his name were already saying they would vote for him. A column written the next week by Pamela Hasterok in the same newspaper asked "why couldn't a novice with as many good ideas as Arth become governor?" The same theme was picked up by the Washington Independent in a story titled, "Michael E. Arth, Dark Horse of the Week," which suggested keeping an eye on Arth.
More media coverage followed, including a front page article about Arth in the West Volusia Beacon. The subtitle to the headline was "Can a Renaissance man with no money be Governor?" The article mentioned that the Florida Democratic Party leadership was snubbing Arth and, on August 6, 2009, Arth's campaign released a press release and candidate's statement. The release stated that numerous attempts by Arth and his campaign to make contact with the party's leaders had been fruitless and that the leadership was systematically favoring one candidate over the other—more than a year in advance of the primary—even while requiring neutrality on the part of its members.
In late November 2009, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Arth would be taking his grassroots campaign on the road, and touring the state by bicycle beginning in Spring 2010. This is a nod to former Florida governor, Lawton Chiles, who walked the state of Florida in 1970 in successful pursuit of a U.S. Senate Seat. It is also a nod to Arth's interest in solar energy, electric vehicles, and his New Pedestrianism movement. Regarding this trip, from Key West to Pensacola, he said, "There are always creative ways to get around the power elite, for justice and democracy to persist." In fact, Arth was delayed getting started because he wanted to finish the book. His "Biking Mike" tour started with the Pridefest event in Key West on June 12, 2010, followed by the parade. Arth expected to cycle for two months. He rode in the Lake Helen, Florida July 4 parade, and almost ran into a small tornado near the half-way point in Jacksonville. He finished the 800-mile ride mid-day on July 28, just in time to attend a town hall meeting in Pensacola where a BP representative and other officials were discussing the BP Oil Spill. Arth spoke about this and other spills, and the dominance of energy policy by the oil industry. His blog, at his gubernatorial web site, gives a running day-by-day account of his adventures.
Arth praised the Democratic Executive Committees (DECs) and rank and file members, with whom he met and gave talks to, but confronted the leadership of the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) over their endorsement of a rival candidate. He wrote in a statement that accompanied a press release:
"This attempt by a few members of the FDP to choose the candidate for the rest of the party is also done by the Florida Republican Party and others. One almost expects this sort of behavior in the Republican Party, but it is especially painful to see it in my own party. The term “Democratic Party” should not be an oxymoron. There must be electoral reform both within and outside the party. Combined with a winner-take-all system that narrows voters’ choices by marginalizing third party challengers, a tiny cadre of officials within the two parties further narrows that choice by often anointing candidates in statewide elections. This is only a small part of what is wrong with our electoral system. We should reform our electoral system by requiring party neutrality until the primary, while also instituting minimal public campaign financing, instant runoff voting, direct voting, and proportional representation. This would bring dignity to politics, stop the vote-buying, help keep good people honest, eliminate spoilers and vote strategizing, make gerrymanders extinct, and bring out the best candidates. Voters often complain about not being properly represented, but they usually do not blame the real culprit—our electoral system. Instead they tend to blame the politicians who they see as venal, superficial, power-hungry, mendacious, and preoccupied with non-stop fundraising. Only by reforming the electoral system can we get the leaders we both need and deserve."
At least a few other Democrats agreed. An anonymous DEC chair was quoted as saying, "The primary should be an election, not a coronation." A Democrat from Gainesville, Luis Cuevas, with Progressive Push (a Political Action Committee) said, “It’s like the old Soviet Union. The party leaders choose the candidates and you get to vote for the people they chose.” Hilliary A. Martin, a Democratic official in Volusia County, wrote:
"The Florida Democratic Party bylaws tell me that our Democratic Executive Committee has to remain neutral while a few party leaders select, promote, and fundraise for a candidate who is far less suitable than Mr. Arth. It’s outrageously undemocratic, both for us and for the voters. The party bylaws need to be rewritten so it that it is clear that both the DECs and the FDP stay neutral before the primary. In compensation, Mr. Arth should immediately receive the same number of ads that were already given to the other candidate. Anything less would be a disgrace."
Pat Hatfield of the West Volusia Beacon, an admitted Democrat, wrote an impassioned opinion piece on the subject titled "This Means War!" She wrote: "DeLand’s own gubernatorial candidate Michael Arth is fighting the good fight to get his party’s nomination. He’s run into the true party system at work.... When you go to the polls, you have a choice between two hand-picked candidates... regardless of party, it's the party cheeses who choose the candidates."
On August 25, 2009, Michael E. Arth filed a grievance and proposals with the Florida Democratic Party titled "The Democratic Party is not being Democratic." The grievances were about his being "frozen out" of the party and the proposals included suggestions for how the party (and the nation) could become more democratic through electoral reform. The Miami Herald's Naked Politics Blog printed the entire four-page grievance.
Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell wrote a column on September 2, 2009 titled "Politicos are Hacking Away at Our Choices." Maxwell wrote that party hacks—whom he defined as "those who put personal and party agendas ahead of the public"—from both Republican and Democratic Parties, have forgotten their place.
"Next up, we have the Democrats, who have crowned their chosen candidate for governor—and don't want other Democrats getting in the way. Highlighting the party elitism is Volusia Democrat Michael Arth, an urban designer who made headlines about seven years ago for helping transform a crime-ridden area in downtown DeLand into a trendy neighborhood known as the DeLand Garden District. Arth decided to run for governor—and had this silly idea that the Democratic Party would welcome another Democrat to the race. Boy, was he wrong...."
Michael E. Arth invited Florida's top three leaders, the Governor, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Attorney General to an informal debate on August 6, 2009 at a Democratic Club in Deltona, Florida. Charlie Crist, the current governor, is running for Senate in 2010, and the other two, Alex Sink and Bill McCollum are running for the governor's seat. Only Arth showed up, but the "debate" went on anyway. Arth's entourage brought life-size, standup cutouts of the three leaders. Arth said, "Whether they are here or not doesn't matter because they won't debate the serious issues affecting Floridians." Arth said that the leaders would not discuss the soaring prison population, electoral reform, or how to properly manage growth to prevent a wide range of problems. He also said that politicians will usually only talk about things that people agree about and gave these examples:
"Sink's site has five issues, but it's really the same issue repeated 5 times. She proposes trimming some fat from current programs. Elsewhere, on ads paid for by taxpayers, McCollum has talked about going after sexual predators. Of course we need to go after criminals and trim government waste – these are issues that require no debate. Instead of talking about things everyone agrees on, let's get to the bottom of how these three leaders, the trustees of Florida's nest egg, could lose $61 billion in 18 months, even after more than a dozen critical reports warned them that the Florida State Board of Administration was engaging in questionable investment practices".
In a written commentary to an article by Aaron Wiener in The Washington Independent titled "Florida Gubernatorial Debate: Three Cardboard Cutouts and One Real Live Arth," Arth wrote:
"Having mute, life-size cutouts of Florida's leaders on stage with me is not a joke. It's a serious commentary on the sad state of our electoral system and the kind of leaders it produces. Not all politicians are bad, but our flawed electoral system tends to select for venality and other undesirable traits. Our leaders avoid the real issues, prevaricate when forced to talk, and spend much of their time raising money from interests highly invested in the status quo....If voting really worked it would be illegal. As George Carlin once said, "I haven't voted since I stopped taking drugs. That was in the late '70s, and the delusional thinking stopped immediately on both fronts."
DeLand's Stetson University invited Arth and Florida's top three leaders to an event titled, "The Next Governor of Florida," on April 26, 2010. Only Arth showed up, but he brought the cardboard cutouts with him again.
During the primary, Arth confronted Rick Scott at a rally with questions about how Scott would handle the soaring incarceration rate and the War on Drugs. In the filmed encounter, Arth compared Scott's rambling and evasive "non-answer" to something Sarah Palin would say. Arth staged a photo opportunity after Scott's speech and flummoxed Scott by informing him that he (Arth) was also a gubernatorial candidate. Scott quickly ducked out of the building. Scott later won the Republican primary after spending an estimated $50 million of his own money.
After the primaries, Alex Sink challenged Rick Scott to a series of five debates but, at an Orlando rally on August 28, brushed off a direct face-to-face challenge from Arth to debate. Eric Jotkoff, the Florida Democratic Party communications director, who had orchestrated attempts to freeze Arth out of the race, had Arth escorted out of the rally by a security guard. Rick Scott, for his part, ignored requests to debate from both candidates. Arth was so frustrated by the unwillingness of the major candidates to face off for the sake of public scrutiny that he proposed that debates among all candidates should be a condition of running for office.
By the October 25, 2010 Tampa debate between Scott and Sink, Scott had spent $60 million of his own money on the campaign compared to Sink's $28 million. At the same debate, Arth and his running mate, Al Krulick, posed with standup cutouts of Alex Sink and Rick Scott that had wads of cash protruding from their clothes and hands. Both Arth and Krulick complained on microphone that they had been frozen out because of a corrupt electoral system that was all about money and the preservation of a financial elite. A show of hands requested by the moderator indicated that neither of the two-party candidates were acceptable to many of the people in attendance. Arth wrote after the event that he was dressed as Robin Hood "to represent the demand of the people for return of the common wealth that was taken from us by the robber barons and their two-party sycophants." This echoed the theme of a front page story on Arth in the Orlando Weekly, which was circulated at the debate.
In the November election, Arth received 18,644 votes, or .35% of the total votes cast, behind Republican Rick Scott, Democrat Alex Sink, and Independent Peter Allen.Introspective: 1972-1982 (1983) Linnaea Graphics, ISBN 0912467002
Democracy and the Common Wealth: Breaking the Stranglehold of the Special Interests (2010) Golden Apples Media Inc., ISBN 0912467126