The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Key West is not Florida

So, you live in Florida, right? Nope. Key West is not Florida

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


Random stranger: So, you live in Florida?

Me: No. We live in Key West.

Everyone: (Nods head. Understands.)

Twenty years ago when Ranger Ed and I told folks we were going to live in Key West, the response was some variation of “Oh. I didn’t know you liked Florida. Will you be near Naples?” The Naples thing was because upper Midwest retirees tend to gravitate to western Florida. So much so that back in the go-go days a locally-owned Rockford, IL, bank opened a couple of branches to serve its “local” customers.

Key West is not Florida. Never has been for that matter. Closer to Cuba than Miami, much less Naples, Orlando and, heaven forbid, Tallahassee. Isolated, even now despite highways, bridges, airports, ferry terminals and, heck, bike lanes down most of the Overseas Highway.

Different weather patterns from South Florida and certainly from the rest of the peninsula. I used to tell my mom to watch the weather in Havana, not Miami or Tampa. And, those national media types during Hurricane Irma? Crikey, they had absolutely no clue that Big Pine and Cudjoe were nowhere close, so to speak, to Key West. I mean, folks, it’s almost 30 miles to BPK. With a hurricane, 30 miles matter. That’s why so many early headlines in September 2017, talked about Key West taking a direct hit from Irma, our most recent Cat 4-Cat 5 blowhard. Even after I offered up my “where is Key West” map, they remained bollixed up.

Key West is not Florida

Nah. Key West is not Florida — and that’s before we dabble in politics. Doesn’t take a genius to know that Key West’s politics have always been rooted firmly in libertarian ideals. (Let’s not confuse libertarian with liberal, much less Democrat or Republican.)

Those who espouse the libertarian approach, says, make liberty “… the most important political value. Liberty means being free to make your own choices about your own life, that what you do with your body and your property ought to be up to you. Other people must not forcibly interfere with your liberty, and you must not forcibly interfere with theirs.” And, for sure, the government at all levels needs to govern with an exceedingly light hand.

Libertarian is One Human Family. It’s Key West during the Civil War when this Confederacy-supporting town opted to go along to get along with its Union occupiers and get down to the business of making money rather than fighting divisive political agendas. It’s Key West’s decades-long “you do you; I’ll do me. Just don’t be a jerk” approach to sharing this tiny island with a complex stew of demographics.

I find it fascinating that folks, including many of us who live here, think Key West is a liberal Democrat kind of place. I guess our past pattern of voting for Democratic candidates in state and national elections gave rise to that particular branding. Locally? Definitely not so much and we tend to adore non-partisan elections because, well, we don’t have to argue red versus blue. We can just vote for the folks most likely to keep Key West free of interference and let us go about whatever it is that works.

No. Key West is not Florida.

If there’s anything that keeps Key West weird, so to speak, it’s odd alliances that crop up from time to time. And, nothing discombobulated our libertarian bedrock more than the Covid-19 mask mandates. A committed libertarian would be expected to forego the mask as an infringement on personal liberty by the government. The same libertarian would want to do no harm, while leaving others to find their own paths. How could one refuse to protect others by wearing a mask without bowing to government’s infringement on individual liberty?

So what did Key West do? Well, exactly what all good libertarians do: We let the local political oh-so-awares snarl at each other, while everyone else slapped on a mask and figured out how to make money by taking advantage of a vastly changed market and working (mostly) inside the rules and getting on with life.

I might not be thrilled with our island’s changes over the past two years, especially as we, like the greater elsewhere, are increasingly likely to frame our arguments as liberal versus conservative, Democrat or Republican. But, I remain confident that our libertarian ideals, perhaps a bit tattered, remain One Human Family. And that means Key West (still) is not Florida. Thank heaven.

Key West is not Florida | More from

  • For a libertarian, a cooperative society, and moreover a moral one, is a society in which people rely on the economic means of acquiring wealth. In the market nexus, we are able to come together to find others who share our interests and cooperate with them to achieve gains we could not alone by undertaking enterprises together or engaging in trade.
  • Libertarians envision a pluralist, cosmopolitan society united by commerce and travel, not divided by nationalistic antagonisms. They envision a world where people are free to experiment with different ways of living, free to try new ideas that might just be crazy enough to work. A world driven by the entrepreneurial spirit that is always asking questions like “How could this be better?” and “Can I make something entirely new?” Such a society may have a patchwork messiness about it, but it would also be vibrant and humane.
  • Because all people are moral equals, each possessing a wide domain of rightful autonomy, libertarians believe that claims of special authority—like those claims made by governments throughout history—require special justification. In other words, people claiming the right to infringe upon our liberty carry the burden of explaining why they’re entitled to do so.
  • Furthermore, libertarians tend to believe that most (if not all) of the claims to special authority made by the various governments around the world are unjustifiable. Governments assert wide‐​reaching powers to control people’s day‐​to‐​day conduct, take their belongings, and even conscript them into fighting wars. If they offer any justification for these powers, it’s only as an afterthought.
  • When ordinary people aren’t careful to respect their neighbors’ privacy, or presume to boss other people about or physically interfere with them, those of us concerned with justice and civility object. We might say: “Stop that. Mind your own business.” But the agents of the state act like the same rules don’t apply to them. Once they decide they want to do a thing, they generally don’t stop to consider whether doing it is any of their business in the first place, or whether they’re going about doing it in a way that disrespects the dignity or autonomy of their fellows. Legislators, bureaucrats, police, and other agents who enforce the state’s commands treat other people as pawns on a chessboard to be maneuvered into whatever configuration they deem best. Too many fail to see people as independent agents with their own desires and plans. That’s true even in relatively free societies.


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