Christie: 2018 election: Florida’s environment don’t get no respect, no respect at all

Although Florida’s economy is heavily dependent on the environment, most political candidates are loathe to put, and keep those issues out front during a campaign.

The state’s environment could use a little more respect from political candidates this election season.

For the past several weeks, candidates have been trying to figure what issues are most important to voters. With some individual races as tight as they are, every hopeful running — be it for county commission or state senate — knows hitting on that one topic that resonates with voters can move the needle just enough to eke out a win. (Well, that and spending a lot of money on the campaign in the last couple weeks.)

RELATED: Post endorsements for the 2018 primary elections

But what are those hot-button voter issues?

Is it education? We do have a flashpoint issue in school security. There’s is also the much bigger issue of our K-12 public schools being in the bottom fifth in the nation. And Florida’s horrendous teacher pay has actually resulted in a shortage of about 4,000 teachers statewide to begin the 2018-19 school year.

Is it the economy? We do have this issue that, despite all the jobs created the last several years, too many residents complain they need two or three of them to make ends meet. That’s what happens when most of the jobs created are minimum wage. Meanwhile, the cost of housing is going through the roof in many places like, well, Palm Beach County.

Is it the environment? Or as I call it, “the Rodney Dangerfield of primary ballot issues.” Voters are witnessing a red tide causing massive fish kills, and manatee and turtle deaths up and down the Southwest Florida coast. They are watching the ongoing green goo affectionately known as “toxic blue-green algae” find its way into the backyard waterways of Treasure Coast residents. And of course, there’s that long-term, existential threat to our very way of life that everyone fears but few want to talk about: sea level rise. (That’s right, I said it.)

RELATED: The Environmental Issues Facing Florida This Election Season

In a survey released by the USA Today Network and Florida Atlantic University in June, voters said the environment was their No. 3 concern after economy and school safety, respectively. But unlike these first two, environmental issues cannot seem to get and/or maintain traction on the campaign trail.

How can that be, one might ask, when dead manatees are floating into marinas? How can that be when water is submerging roads and parks during King tides? And how can that be when several Martin County beaches — Jensen, Stuart, Bathtub and Hobe Sound  — are the latest to close as blue-green algae and red tide continue to spread throughout the state of Florida.

Venting on social media by irate residents about red tide and blue-green algae has gotten so bad that law enforcement is on edge.

A 250-pound Goliath grouper floats in the water in Sanibel, where red tide is killing millions of fish in Sanibel. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

And on August 13, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the ongoing toxic red tide bloom.

“The red tide, which grows offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, has drifted toward the coast and is being blamed for killing scores of animals, including manatees, turtles, and thousands of fish,” reported Palm Beach Post staff writer Kimberly Miller.

But around that same time, when he had the opportunity to confront Treasure Coast residents about the blue-green goo that’s ruining their fishing and boating, Scott elected to do the equivalent of a boating flyover — leaving residents and their questions hanging.

Algae in the Caloosahatchee River beside the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Alva, Fla. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

The governor-turned-U.S. Senate candidate isn’t much different from his political brethren on this front; though most can seem to muster a bit more face-to-face compassion. Still, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phillip Levine tried to ride his sea-level-rise street cred to the top of the ticket, it didn’t work that well. Sure, voters like that stuff. But who can focus on an environmental threat when another candidate is accusing you of being a supporter of President Donald Trump, and guns are blazing at high school football games?

As a result, the environment gets pushed to the back-burner in a state that built its image off of sunshine and beautiful beaches. The state’s three-legged economy — tourism, agriculture and real estate — is so dependent on the environment that every storm season holds the potential to lay waste to all three. Witness: Hurricane Irma.

But so short is our attention span in this era of breaking news that environmental issues, even when they are staring us in the face daily — again, I mention toxic red tide and green algae — can’t keep a politician’s attention. Today, for example, in the wake of a mass shooting at a gaming tournament on Sunday in Jacksonville, gun control is the topic du jour.

Sigh… maybe it will be different in the general election campaign.

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What do you think?… Should the environment be a higher priority for Florida politicians?

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Goodman: A patriot leaves us, when we need patriots the most

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), then the Republican presidential nominee, arrives onstage for a campaign event in Scranton, Pa., on Sept. 22, 2008.
(Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Of course John McCain would leave words of inspiration.

At this moment in American history when the nation is riven into increasingly warring camps, the heroic former POW, Arizona senator and almost-president said this in his recently published book, The Restless Wave:

“Before I leave, I’d like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations. I would like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different. We are citizens of a republic made of shared ideals forged in a new world to replace the tribal enmities that tormented the old one….

“Whether we think each other right or wrong in our views on the issues of the day, we owe each other our respect, as long as our character merits respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, for all the rancorous debates that enliven and sometimes demean our politics, a mutual devotion to the ideals our nation was conceived to uphold, that all are created equal, and liberty and equal justice are the natural rights of all….

“I want to urge Americans, for as long as I can, to remember that this shared devotion to human rights is our truest heritage and our most important loyalty.”

I didn’t agree with McCain on political positions. But I thought the world of him as a man. And I cherished how he practiced his patriotism.

He grew up with a heightened sense of duty, the son and grandson of U.S. Navy admirals. He bore torture as a POW. Yet after the war he sought common ground with the Vietnamese people and with American dissenters, like his fellow senator, John Kerry, who spoke out as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War while McCain was a captive.

In the Senate, he evolved from uncompromising conservative to a man who looked beyond labels and caricatures to become close friends with liberal lion Ted Kennedy (who died of the same brain cancer exactly nine years before McCain’s passing on Aug. 25) and ally with Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform.

During his 2008 bid for the presidency, he famously defended his opponent Barack Obama when a woman at a campaign event called him “an Arab.”

“No, ma’am,” McCain interrupted. “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

That moment said volumes about McCain’s character. And it shows how far, 10 years later, his Republican Party has veered from that generosity of spirit. Now the party’s leader does all he can to inflame white-identity anxiety and fan fears of the “other.”

Last year he interrupted his treatments for glioblastoma to make that dramatic appearance on the Senate floor and give thumbs-down, literally, on the Republicans’ attempted repeal of Obamacare. With a doctor’s scar prominent over his left eyebrow, he addressed his colleagues and, just for a moment, restored a long-lost dignity to the U.S. Congress.

“I hope we can again rely on humility,” he said, “on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us.

“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.”

In mourning McCain, I’ll be mourning not just a man but a sensibility. A man who exemplified the highest calling of citizenship is gone. Let the rest of us follow his lead.

Christie: Palm Beach County school security rewrites will placate parents, but won’t stop shootings

A Palm Beach County School District resource officer opens the gates to the Palm Beach Central High School parking lot so owners can retrieve their cars after the shooting Friday night, during the football game between Palm Beach Central and Dwyer high schools. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

The Palm Beach County School Board agreed last week to spend up to $372,000 for a political consultant to advertise about the proposed property tax hike on radio, TV and online.

At the risk of sounding cynical, they might have just saved the taxpayer’s money given Friday night’s tragic events. Although the logical argument for the new tax revenue highlight a long-overdue boost in pay of public school teachers, the emotional part of the argument is fueled by the school safety issue.

And over the last few days that emotion has been dialed up to a level we all hoped it never would.

RELATED: Woman: I witnessed shooting at football game in Wellington, ‘couldn’t believe it’

You see, there’s school security, and then there’s school security.

That has become readily apparent in the wake of Friday night’s shooting at a football game between Palm Beach Central and William T. Dwyer high schools in that otherwise safe suburban enclave of Wellington.

The shooting wasn’t technically on campus; but I’m not sure it really matters at this point.

Much like the attendees at that football game, school officials and politicians are running scared of anything that raises doubts in the minds of parents’ and students’ that they can protect kids on a school campus.

Galvano

Even before the shooting last week, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano said he wants state lawmakers to think about expanding the school-safety efforts approved during the 2018 legislative session after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In a series of tweets last Tuesday, the Bradenton Republican implored senators to look more at school safety, according to the News Service of Florida.

“As incoming Senate President of the third-largest state in the nation — a bellwether for others — I am committed to making sure our re-examination of school safety policies does not end here,” Galvano tweeted. “Some issues simply must transcend politics. The safety of our children is one.”

In the 2018 session, lawmakers approved a wide-ranging, $400 million measure (SB 7026) measure that includes requiring schools to have safety officers, bolstering mental-health services and upgrading protections through school campus “hardening” projects.

And that’s kind of the rub here isn’t it? Friday’s shooting, which left two people injured — at least one critically — was barely on the school campus. In fact, Palm Beach County School District Police Chief Frank Kitzerow said it was an act of community violence that “barely spilled” on to the school campus. The shooting happened just outside the seating area — about 50 yards from a main road and outside the “secure” area of the stadium.

Most important, Kitzerow added, “Your children are safe. Come to school on Monday. We will be there.”

On Satuday, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw (R) and Palm Beach School Police Chief Frank Kitzerow (L), brief the media on the shooting that took place at Palm Beach Central High School. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

They were indeed. A couple of extra sheriff’s deputies were stationed outside Palm Beach Central High Monday morning. But more importantly, school district and sheriff’s officials are rewriting the security playbook this week to among other things, incorporate the area outside of a football stadium.

To be sure, it sounds like a knee-jerk over-reaction. But they don’t have much choice. The school board can either make adjustments so that parents and students feel better, or get hammered by those same parents and students for their lack of compassion.

As the Post’s Sonja Isger reported, those adjustments include morning kickoffs for some of the biggest games of the season and an hour earlier starts at 6 p.m. rather than 7 p.m. for others.

Once fans get to the game, only clear bags — and searched diaper bags — will make it through the gates.

And going forward, security staffing plans for football games and other large events will be devised by school police and paid for out of district accounts rather than pinning those obligations on each school. A group of principals will be putting together a list of protocols to be standard at events countywide.

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But how much is really enough? Especially when you’ve got teachers rethinking whether they support being armed and parents refusing to send their kids to any more football games.

A week ago, if you had mentioned doing either of those things to most Palm Beach County residents, the majority would have looked at you like you’re nuts.

Not today.

Do you think school district officials are going too far changing when games are played?… Vote in our poll and leave a comment here.

Christie: Why our debate over banning plastic straws is really starting to suck

Because of sights like this, more and more people are open to banning plastic straws. (Photo provided by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.)

The debate over single-use plastic straws is building up fast. But what really sucks is that there is any debate at all — especially in coastal counties like Palm Beach.

Do we really need to use plastic straws?

On Sunday, my wife and I ate lunch at one of our favorite spots, the Old Key Lime House in Lantana (two reasons: UF Gators, and shrimp and grits). Our waiter brought us glasses of water, but did not give us straws until we asked.

He explained that the iconic restaurant, which sits on the Intracoastal Waterway, is moving away from using plastic straws because of the environment and potential dangers to marine life — like our beloved sea turtles. Apparently, even if folks don’t intentionally throw straws into the water, many end up there through carelessness or error.

Diane Buhler uses this cup of straws to illustrate plastic pollution on the beaches during her lectures. (Palm Beach Daily News)

For, example, the waiter said straws drop on the floor and are then blown out into the Intracoastal. According to conservationists, sunlight and wave action then break the plastics down into rice-sized bits that are consumed by marine life and become part of the food chain.

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So the Old Key Lime House is phasing the plastic straws out over the next couple of years and going with biodegradable paper straws.

Turns out, they’re not the only local restaurant or resort that environmentally-conscious. Tired of waiting for local government officials to get their act together, outfits like the Breakers and Surfside Diner are taking the matter of purging plastic straws into their own hands.

“We are committed to the environment and sustainability and have been working along these lines for many years now,” said Nick Velardo, the Breakers’ vice president of food and beverage operations, told the Palm Beach Daily News’ William Kelly.

Even corporate behemoth Starbucks has said it will get rid of plastic straws in its 28,000 outlets by 2020.

But local government officials are indeed listening. Palm Beach Town Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay plans to propose at the council’s Wednesday meeting that it refer the issue of banning single-use plastic straws to its Ordinances, Rules and Standards Committee for study.

“There’s no reason why we have to have these things,” Lindsay told the Daily News.

The lunch crowd at Daniel Ponton’s Surfside Diner use paper straws in their beverages. Ponton plans to provide only paper straws this season at Club Colette. (Meghan McCarthy / Daily News)

In Jupiter, the town’s beach committee unanimously recommended on July 23 a resolution to ban plastic straws to the City Council. The committee did not support an ordinance, as some people wanted, which would have fined businesses for using plastic straws. So the council instead unanimously approved a resolution to start a town-wide education campaign — which they hope will allow for a friendlier approach and emphasize education.

RELATED: The final straw: Jupiter council supports education, not plastic ban

The Delray Beach City Commission is considering phasing in a ban on plastic straws as part of a proposed ordinance requiring restaurants, bars and other beverage purveyors to supply plastic straws only upon customers’ request.

Miami Beach. Fort Myers Beach. Sanibel Island. An ever-growing number of Florida municipalities are seeing their role as protectors of the waters and environment that many of their businesses thrive on as something that needs to be taken a bit more seriously.

In St. Petersburg, business owners and elected officials in April unveiled a “No Straws St. Pete” campaign that asks restaurants and residents to voluntarily curb their use of plastic straws and utensils. As of early June, more than 100 businesses were participating.

And it’s not just Florida. The cities of Seattle as well as Oakland and Berkeley in California have all banned the straws, and similar legislation is pending in Hawaii.

So why can’t this be done everywhere; or should it be?… Take our poll and leave a comment here.

Christie: McGlockton shooting pushes limits on ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense

The Rev. Al Sharpton led Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidates in a rally at a Clearwater church on Sunday calling for the repeal of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.

Is it right for someone who initiates a confrontation to then hide behind “Stand Your Ground” as a defense when they shoot and kill the other person?

That’s the basic question that seems to be coming out of the latest high-profile shooting of an unarmed back man in Clearwater, Fla.

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You’ve heard the story or seen the dramatic video by now: On July 19, Michael Drejka, 47, shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, 28, in a convenience store parking lot. According to Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies, Drejka confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, about parking in a handicap space without a permit.

McGlockton went up to Drejka and “slammed him to the ground,” the sheriff’s office said. Drejka, seconds later while still on the ground, pulled out his handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest. The father of three was pronounced dead soon after.

It should come as no surprise, with all of the national attention on such shootings, that debate over the incident has entered the realm of politics. To be sure, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri first lit that debate fire by announcing the day after the shooting that he would not charge Drejka because the changes in the stand your ground law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2017 muddied the waters too much.

But lawmakers and candidates on both sides of the political aisle disagree. Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidates joined the Rev. Al Sharpton at a Clearwater church on Sunday to call for the repeal of the state’s controversial stand your ground law. And on Friday, Democrats in the Florida Legislature reached the 20 percent goal to force a poll of members on the question of an unusual election-year special session to change the “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Meanwhile, the Republican frontrunner for governor, Rep. Ron DeSantis, is joining Democratic and Republican critics alike in believing that Drejka should not have Stand Your Ground immunity: “I support the right of Floridians to defend themselves by standing their ground against aggressors. That said, it doesn’t seem to me that the law is even applicable in the case of Markeis McGlockton, and I don’t think the Pinellas County sheriff analyzed the law properly.”

Markeis MCGlockton

Jacobs, 25, has called McGlockton’s shooting a wrongful death, and has hired civil rights attorney Benjamin L. Crump Jr., who also represented the family of Travyon Martin after he was shot and killed by wanna-be cop George Zimmerman.

While Zimmerman didn’t end up using stand your ground as a defense, police didn’t arrest him at first because of it.

At a recent news conference, Crump pointed out that, like Drejka, whom he labeled a “self-appointed, wannabe cop,” Zimmerman pursued Martin instead of letting law enforcement take over.

“It’s still ludicrous how you can claim that you have fear of your life but yet you approach and start the confrontation with the individual,” he told reporters.

Closer to home, you may remember that Crump also represents the family of Corey Jones Jr., the Delray Beach drummer who was gunned down in October 2015 by then-undercover Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja. Raja has been charged in Jones death, and is attempting to use a stand your ground defense.

Jacobs says McGlockton was her high-school sweetheart. The pair had been together since 2009, when she met him at a friend’s house while attending Dunedin High School.

They stopped at the Circle A Food Store at 1201 Sunset Point Road on the way home from picking Jacobs up from her job as a certified nursing assistant to grab chips and drinks. Jacobs parked in the handicap spot, she said, because the parking lot was busy and they were just stopping for a minute.

The couple’s 4-month-old and 3-year-old were in the car. Their 5-year-old, named after McGlockton, was in the store.

Drejka then shot McGlockton, later telling Pinellas deputies he was in fear of further attack.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri discuss the controversial shooting of Markeis McGlockton during a news conference discussing the Stand Your Ground Law at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Administration Building in Largo on July 31. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

According to legal experts, it generally doesn’t apply when the confrontation is just verbal, barring any threats of violence.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who again has said the stand your ground law precludes his agency from arresting Drejka, has taken a similar stance. At a recent news conference, the sheriff, who is a lawyer, said what was “merely a discussion about why she’s parked there … didn’t provoke the attack.” His agency has forwarded the case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to decide whether to press charges.

Tell us what you think by leaving a comment and taking our poll.