So last week, I raised a question that was on the minds of an increasing number of Democratic voters I was running into: Are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s former Democratic primary rivals going to get out on the campaign trail and stump for him?
It seemed like a rather basic question; but also a strange one given the stakes in this election. A state Democratic party energized by the charismatic Gillum has most supporters — and political observers — truly believing they have a strong chance of retaking the Governor’s Mansion after a 20-year drought. Not only that, of electing the first African-American to statewide office.
I observed that neither former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, West Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene nor former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine had been seen out stumping for Gillum since the early days following his stunning Aug. 28 primary win.
I did mention that Levine stepped up with a press release in defense of Gillum running-mate, Orlando businessman Chris King, over accusations of being anti-Semitic.
Afterwards, former Levine campaign operative Christian Ulvert reached out to let me know that Levine’s done more, and shouldn’t be “lumped in” with the others. Ulvert said that in addition to two private fundraisers, Levine has allowed Gillum’s campaign the use of a few of his former campaign offices around the state.
Noted. Financial support is important to political campaigns these days. Especially when it comes getting the message out via pricey advertising. Very important.
Arguably more important, however, is motivating people to actually vote. (After all, that is how Gillum managed to beat three more well-financed opponents in the primary.)
That’s why we asked in a poll last week: “Should Andrew Gillum’s Democratic primary opponents campaign for him in the general election?”
As of today (Monday), out of some 200 reader votes, about 72 percent gave a resounding “yes.” The post also received nearly 370 Likes on Facebook.
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One of Levine’s private fundraisers for Gillum was with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But Bloomberg went further, and actually stumped with Gillum. Following an Oct. 5 event in Coral Springs on behalf of his Everytown for Gun Safety, the possible 2020 presidential candidate appeared in West Palm Beach Oct. 6 at a Democratic Party fundraiser and then with Gillum Oct. 7 at a Century Village Jewish center in Pembroke Pines.
Voters are fickle. That’s why turnout is so crucial. Maybe it won’t matter to Democratic loyalists and crucial No-Party Affiliation (NPA) voters when they don’t see Gillum’s former rivals out on the stump with him, and they will show up at the polls anyway. Maybe.
And if you haven’t taken our poll yet, you can get to it here.
Every Florida primary election, thousands of voters from Milton to Marathon vent frustration about heading to the polls (or filling out a mail-in ballot) and once again not being able to vote for the major party candidate.
I understand their frustration. As a registered independent or No Party Affiliation (NPA) voter myself, it’s a little rough feeling like a player who keeps getting left out of the game. But that’s the system we all signed up for here in the Sunshine State.
Florida is one of just 11 states that have strictly “closed primaries” — that is, primaries in which only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary, and only registered Democrats in the Democratic primary.
A growing number of Floridians believe state lawmakers should think seriously about joining the 11 states that allow open primaries, in which any voter can cast a ballot in either party’s primary. Or the 24 states that have a mix of rules, with some allowing voters to cross party lines to vote, others that allow unaffiliated voters to participate.
Thought Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam would be the best gubernatorial candidate for the Republican Party? Tough.
Thought former Congresswoman Gwen Graham would be the best standard-bearer for the Democrats in the same gubernatorial contest? Too bad.
Or how about voting for your choice of which Democrat or Republican would best represent you in the state House or Senate? Sorry, you’ll have to wait until November.
Not surprising then that an increasing number of Florida voters are losing patience with this current “closed” system that shuts out some 27 percent of registered voters — read that, taxpayers.
That’s more than a quarter of Florida voters who are now choosing to identify as NPA. Why? Because they are tired of major party politics that produce lawmakers doing a poor job of lawmaking. And that’s a trend that many political observers say needs to be addressed.
A couple other factors: the number of registered voters, both Democrat and Republican, who regularly cross party lines during general elections; and the remaining “Dixiecrats” in the state who haven’t voted for a Democrat since Harry S. Truman but don’t bother to change their party affiliation.
Post readers have weighed in this over the past couple of weeks.
… In a situation where one party has an incumbent running while the other party has four or five folks contending for the right to represent their party, it is possible and very likely that people registered with the established candidate’s party will cross over and vote for the least likely candidate of the opposing party.
In Michigan, where there are open primaries, this cross-party voting has taken place on numerous occasions; when there are a number of candidates running for a position, just a few votes can make the difference in who wins the opportunity to represent the party.
By swaying the election in the primary, the opposing party can assure victory in the general election. This is called political shenanigans and has prevented many good candidates from being the choice of their own party…
I felt the pain of the letter writer who attempted to vote in the recently held primaries. I also attempted to vote 20 years ago, as a newly transplanted Florida resident, as an independent. Such an archaic, nonsensical law.
There is good news, however. The organization Florida Fair and Open Primaries is trying to add a constitutional amendment to the election ballot to change Florida primary elections from a closed political party system to a voter-nominated top-two open primary system.
I suggest that you look them up sign their petition then get everyone you know to do the same.
I highly disagree with the letter “NPA voters shut out of primaries” (Tuesday).
Primary elections are “partisan business matters” conducted by the members of Republican and Democratic parties. This is how the main political parties select their slate of candidates for a general election.
If you choose not to be a member of either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, why do you feel entitled to vote in Republican or Democratic primary elections?
Using religion as an example, why should a rabbi or ordained minister (of any faith) be allowed to have a say as to who will become the next pope of the Roman Catholic Church? The obvious answer is: They can’t; they’re not members of the Roman Catholic Church…
Independent, non-affiliated should not vote in primaries
Many independents and many non-affiliated voters feel they should have the right to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries. Let me tell them why they don’t and shouldn’t have.
These two organizations are semi-private clubs. Anyone can join the club, but you have to join. I live in Palm Beach County. I can not vote in Miami-Dade County. If I wanted to vote in Miami-Dade, I just have to move to Miami-Dade. No one could stop me, but I would have to move.
Move to where you want to vote. New York, California, Florida, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade or Democratic Party or Republican Party.
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Clearly, this debate isn’t going away.
The two major parties are not going to do anything that dilutes their power and influence. But why should they? As mentioned above, opening their primary makes the process susceptible to bad actors.
Still, as the rolls of NPA voters continues to grow, so do their own power and influence — especially as taxpayers.
And it gets harder for state lawmakers to ignore the cries of, “I want in!”
Tell us what you think by taking our poll, and leaving a comment here.
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.)
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.)
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.
Venting on social media by irate residents about red tide and blue-green algae has gotten so bad that law enforcement is on edge.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s the supermarket showdown that we’ve all been waiting for: grocery shoppers versus pets in shopping carts.
And this one could get ugly. I mean fur — and maybe feathers — flying everywhere.
Beloved grocery store giant Publix Supermarkets Inc. appeared to set up this battle royale when over the weekend various news outlets reported the venerable chain was finally laying down the law with regard to service animals in their stores.
Publix has posted new warnings signs at store entrances and exits telling customers which service animals are permitted in the store and where they can be.
“For food safety reasons, only service animals that are specifically trained to aid a person with disabilities are permitted within the store.
“Service animals are not permitted to sit or ride in shopping carts.
“Thank you for your help!”
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That’s right, no more BOGO help from Fido… OK, not exactly.
But let’s be honest, too many folks have been taking this “service” or “emotional support” animal thing too far selfishly infringing on other folks’ space. They abuse federal laws and company policies that seek to help others living with disabilities. And that’s just wrong.
Publix obviously does allow legitimate service animals in their stores. It would be foolish, for example, to ban seeing-eye dogs or a canine providing support to a U.S. military veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
And that’s not at all what the popular Lakeland-based chain seems to be aiming for with the new signs.
In fact, company spokesman Dwaine Stevens told the Orlando Sentinel on Friday that Publix has always had the policy about service animals, but the signs are for awareness. But the signage — which includes an encircled paw print with a slash through it next to type set off in bold that gives a no-no to let your dog ride in a shopping cart — is by design.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows individuals with disabilities to take service dogs into many public businesses, including restaurants, hotels and stores. It also stops businesses from requiring certification to let animals in.
But a growing number of customers have tormented eateries, airlines, condo boards, et.al by calling all sorts of “pets” — like peacocks, squirrels, pigs and hamsters — “service” or “emotional support” animals. As a result, several states — including Florida — have moved to crack down on people potentially abusing federal disability laws to take their pets into businesses.
Earlier this year Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines tightened restrictions on emotional support animals, banning animals such as goats, salamanders and hedgehogs.
American Disability Rights seemed to champion Publix’s new signs in a tweet it posted that read “Four on the floor! and had among its hashtags, #stopdisabilityfraud.
Another group on Twitter, StairStepDogTraining, also praised the initiative in a tweet directed at Fox 35’s reporting on the Publix signs in Lake Mary, Fla, stores.
“Real service dogs don’t ride in carts,” the tweet read. “They cannot do their job if they are confined in a basket. Emotional support animals are NOT service dogs. People need to quit being frauds with their dogs.”
Still, this isn’t likely to end here as folks tend to really be attached to their pets, no matter the critter’s species. That means, we can expect that some shoppers will push the envelope, despite the new signs warning about an old store policy.
After all, pet owners can still purchase a “service animal” vest online. What’s to stop a customer from doing that and wrapping their little Teacup Yorkie in a pink vest and cradling it in her arms while strolling up and down the store aisles.
There is still a question of whether a Publix store manager can ask the owner whether the dog is a legit service animal. That’s apparently still forbidden under federal law…. so what then?
Basically, that was the assessment in my editorial following Hurricane Irma last year. The massive storm looked like it was going to swallow the entire state as it approached us from the south after beating the snot out of Puerto Rico and Cuba in the Caribbean.
That’s not to say Irma didn’t leave a mark here, of course. Power and cellular service outages, tens of thousands of folks in shelters, tons of debris and hundreds of non-functioning traffic lights made life miserable for a lot of us for a while. Enough so, as the Post’s Kimberly Miller recounts today, that many residents still “believe they survived much worse during the September tempest, and aren’t keen to hear otherwise.”
Hurricane Irma, after taunting us for days with its record-breaking size and power, spared us its worst.
It may not seem that way to some. Not if you’re one of the roughly 300,000 residents still without power. Not if you’re one of the thousands of residents of Delray Beach and unincorporated county who still can’t flush their toilets. And not if you’re the parent of one of the School District’s 193,000 students who won’t return to school until Monday — at the earliest.
But we were.
You see, dozens of people here weren’t left dead in Irma’s wake as in the Caribbean. A quarter of our homes here weren’t made uninhabitable as they were in the Florida Keys. There was no 10- or 15-foot storm surge here as was seen in tiny Goodland on Marco Island.
We are instead left with some trees down, spot flooding, long gas station lines and a chance to show some gratitude.
There are, of course, those who, ready to hurl the asinine “fake news” moniker, complaining that the media over-hyped the storm. Really? Yes, we should be skeptical of hype — especially from dubious sources. But when the National Weather Service says the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean is headed in your direction, the prudent thing is to shutter the house, grab the kids and get the hell out of the way.
No less than Gov. Rick Scott, himself no fan of the media, wasted no time in taking this monster of a storm seriously and pleading with us daily to do the same.
As The Post’s Kimberly Miller reported, “Mother Nature stepped in to tweak Irma’s plan” to deliver a worst-case scenario for our county.
“By the grace of Cuba’s northern coast, which was abraded by Irma before the strong Cat 4 hurricane reached the Florida Straits, and a tongue of dry air sucked into its massive, state-swallowing wind field, the storm weakened slightly and couldn’t regain strength before making its first landfall Sunday morning at Cudjoe Key,” Miller wrote.
And according to Jonathan Erdman, a senior digital meteorologist at Weather.com: “There are just so many little subtle things that can make all the difference. After it hit the Keys, it took a more due north path instead of north-northwest and that drove the eye wall ashore near Marco Island, which started weakening it.”
Weakened, but not inconsequential. In its wake, Irma left billions of dollars in damage and thousands of people across the Florida Peninsula who could use a hand — in shelters, in nursing homes, and yes, even next door.
Yes, the vast majority of us were damn lucky.
As good a time as any to show some gratitude, and volunteer to help those that weren’t.
UPDATE: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday night gave preliminary approval to Proposal 67, which would phase out commercial greyhound racing in the state by 2020. The proposal will now go to the Style and Drafting Committee before returning to the full CRC for a final vote. If approved, it will appear on the November ballot.
Would Florida voters ban greyhound racing if a proposed constitutional amendment appeared on the November ballot?
According to a new survey released by animal rights group GREY2K USA, the answer is a solid “maybe” … that is, if the question focuses on animal welfare instead of anti-gambling.
The poll, which was shared and reported on by POLITICO Florida on Tuesday, showed a sampling of likely voters supported the measure, 65–27 percent. But POLITICO also reported that overall opposition remained flat. Support appeared to increase to about 70 percent after respondents were asked three questions in support and three questions in opposition to the proposed amendment.
Of course, supporters of ending Florida’s controversial tradition of tying gambling (pari-mutuel wagering) to greyhound racing are heartened by the poll results. At the same, opponents — such as our own Palm Beach Kennel Club — are somewhat dismissive.
The two sides have been warring over the issue for years, as wagering on greyhound racing has been declining. But supporters of a ban have been out-maneuvered largely by the fact that 12 tracks still operating in the state are concerned about being shut out of other, more profitable forms of gambling — like card games and slots — if they lose the dogs.
Efforts at “decoupling” the two issues, championed by lawmakers from Okaloosa to Palm Beach counties over the years have died during the legislative session as Florida struggles with its “gambling-versus-family” image.
But animal rights groups may have finally found a way to tip the scales in their favor. Everyday folks really do care passionately about dogs.
“Floridians are deeply concerned about the humane issues including confinement, greyhound deaths and injuries,” said Carey M. Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA, told POLITICO Florida. “By contrast, roughly two-thirds of Florida voters are not moved at all by opposition arguments, including job claims. We gain support when it’s clear this is an animal welfare issue.”
Although commercial greyhound racing is banned in 40 states, Florida has been a particularly tough nut to crack with a majority of the nation’s 18 operational tracks located in the Sunshine State.
If the poll numbers hold up, the amendment would easily clear the 60 percent voter-approval threshold to become law in Florida.
That’s not likely to happen without a fight as breeders and kennel operators like Palm Beach Kennel Club, who insist that they take good care of their animals, call the proposed amendment a job-killer and “a backdoor way of expanding gambling” in the state.
The CRC, to avoid voters getting “ballot fatigue” from considering too many amendments, is also looking at combining disparate proposals on the ballot. This could be a good or bad thing depending on what the greyhound racing ban is coupled with, i.e. oil drilling, school board term limits or nursing homes.
Regardless, it’s looking as though voters will get a chance to vote on it. Take our poll here and tell us how you would vote:
As Palm Beach County seems to sink further into an opioid crisis that continues to kill people with impunity, a question arises as to the proper villain in this tragedy.
Operators of sober homes, those treatment centers where many addicts reside to help kick their habit, are increasingly concerned that too much government time — and money — is being spent on cleaning up their industry rather than actual treatment.
That appears to be the gist of Sunday’s “Point of View” op-ed penned by licensed psychologist Rachel Needle.
One could argue that the fact that fentanyl is now killing more people than heroin in Florida bolsters her point that more focus should be on treatment.
POINT OF VIEW: Treatment is vital to addicts’ recovery
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg testified recently to Congress about sober home abuses.
While politicians, prosecutors and many others often speak about the two interchangeably, a sober living facility (aka sober home) is not the same as a substance use disorder treatment center (aka rehab, treatment center).
Sober homes are group homes where people who are in recovery live together. Some sober homes are affiliated with treatment centers, while others are not. Living in a sober home — and paying rent, buying their own food, living by rules, remaining sober — helps a person in recovery take responsibility for their life and regain their independence.
A treatment center is where an individual struggling with abuse of alcohol or drugs goes to get treatment. At treatment centers, there are licensed mental health professionals and physicians involved in treatment. There are different levels of care at treatment centers, including detox, residential, day/night treatment (sometimes referred to as partial hospitalization), intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment.
“The majority of sober homes in South Florida” (which is where I can speak to) are not “flophouses.” As in all industries, there are people who are unethical and take advantage of the system. Luckily, Aronberg and the Sober Home Task Force have made significant progress with that problem in South Florida. They have written and passed new legislation, and arrested those with unethical and illegal practices.
Maybe it is time that we move on to what I see as the biggest issue (besides the societal issue we have), and that is the insurance companies.
Of course, there are negative things in the world of substance use disorder treatment, but we are leaving out a lot of the positives.
In most cases, people are not overdosing and dying because of bad sober homes. They are overdosing and dying because they are abusing substances, their tolerance is lower after being sober for a period of time, the drugs are more potent or synthetic, and because the insurance companies do not give people the time they need in treatment to have the highest chance at success. Research has shown that the longer you are in treatment, the more likely you are to remain sober. It also tells us that the longer you stay abstinent from drugs and alcohol, the more likely you are to continue being abstinent.
Unethical and illegal sober home operators are few and far between. South Florida has many great treatment providers and a lot of individuals who are getting help, changing their lives for the better, and staying sober. We should highlight some of those success stories.
Do your research on a treatment center or sober home before going or sending a loved one to make sure it is a reputable and legitimate place. I assure you, there are incredible treatment centers and sober homes in South Florida that have helped thousands of people. Let’s shift this conversation once and for all.
RACHEL NEEDLE, FORT LAUDERDALE
Editor’s note: Rachel Needle is a licensed psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida and an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University.
Rick Scott as defender of Florida’s lands, air and waters? Seriously?
The Florida governor whose mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs? Who rode to office on a wave of tea party support and has pushed for limiting government and gutting regulations, including those that protect the environment, in the name of giving business a freer rein?
Yet here he was this week, proposing to boost spending on Florida’s natural resources and environmental programs by $220 million.
The $1.7 billion environmental package for lawmakers to consider in 2018 includes funding for the state’s springs, beaches and parks, along with $355 million for Everglades restoration, $50 million to help the federal government speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and $50 million for Florida Forever, the state’s most prominent land-preservation fund. (News Service of Florida)
And on Thursday, he touted news that his good friend President Donald Trump has ordered expedited federal spending on the Herbert Hoover Dike. Although, this might not fall under the category of “environment” so much as “disaster avoidance,” given the life-threatening dangers of a shaky levee in a major hurricane; we’re only a few weeks removed from when it looked like Irma was going to rake the center of the state and roar over Lake Okeechobee.
It’s almost enough to make you forget that Scott launched a thousand late-night TV jokes when his administration scrubbed the words “climate change” and “global warning” from official communications, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Because, you know, Florida doesn’t have much coastline to worry about.
It’s an easy guess why the governor is now making sure that we all know that he cares a great, great deal about our natural resources. The 2018 race for U.S. Senate is warming up. And Scott, his second term coming to an end, is expected to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who has won the statewide office three times already. Current polling shows they’re virtually tied.
Florida voters are as divided as the rest of the country on most issues, but we’re in general accord when it comes to protecting the environment. Just look at 2014’s Amendment 1, which established a huge fund for land and water conservation by setting aside a portion of an existing real-estate tax. It passed with 75 percent of the vote.
In Scott’s two victorious races for governor, by contrast, he couldn’t win 49 percent of the vote.
So painting yourself as an environmentalist is good politics in this state. The trouble is, Scott has a record that looks like this:
With the Legislature’s help, he ordered water management districts to slash their property tax collections soon after taking office. The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees Everglades restoration, had its budget cut by almost half. It operates with less money today than it did in 2008. Experienced scientists and engineers who did solid work for the water district are gone.
In 2011, Scott abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which oversaw development and tried to promote rational growth. To Scott, the department created too much red tape for developers.
That $50 million request he’s now making for Florida Forever land conservation purchases? Big deal. Until the Great Recession, the program got $300 million a year. Since Scott’s reelection in 2014, his requests for the program peaked at $25.1 million. Even after voters passed Amendment 1 in that 2014 landslide, budget allocations haven’t surpassed $15.2 million, and this year Florida Forever was zeroed out. All of these sums look pretty paltry when you consider how much money Amendment 1 generates from the documentary-stamp tax. For next fiscal year, it’s an estimated $862.2 million.
There was another time when Scott talked a lot about the environment. That was 2014, when he was running for re-election.
He campaigned “on a $1 billion, 10-year environmental blueprint that in many aspects mirrored the environmental spending amendment that was also before voters at the time. The platform item included plans to request $150 million a year for Florida Forever.” (News Service of Florida)
Once Scott was returned to office, that $150 million a year never materialized.
There’s a reason that Democratic foes are calling Scott an “election year environmentalist.”
Florida needs leaders who are every-year environmentalists.
President Donald J. Trump is due to arrive in Puerto Rico today to survey and assess the federal government response to damage in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Other than Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who has been resolute as a picture of diplomacy, the president isn’t likely to get the warmest welcome. Certainly, not like he did in Naples when some Hurricane Irma victims there compared Trump’s response to former President Barack Obama’s playing golf in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (By the way, that’s a lie. Obama wasn’t even in office in 2005 when Katrina hit.)
The 3.4 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico, 95 percent of whom still do not have power, will care less about comparisons and more about answers as to why they’ve been made to feel like second-class citizens by their own country.
Of course, most of them can be forgiven for asking. So much has happened since Maria — the second major hurricane to hit the island this season — flattened the place. Trump has repeatedly misstated the size of the hurricane. He has repeatedly talked about what a tough state the island was in to begin with — as if to shift blame. He has talked repeatedly about how Puerto Rico is an island “in the middle of the ocean” — as if to temper expectations. He has even talked about how Puerto Rico might be made to repay the cost of its recovery.
And while taking a weekend at his golf club in New Jersey, even as the scope of the problems in Puerto Rico was still growing, he stopped long enough Saturday morning to take some very personal shots at Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, after she once again criticized The federal response.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
“…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….”
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
“…want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
Not good. Especially given that while Trump was tweeting about her “poor leadership,” Cruz was wading through waste deep, sewage-tainted water helping to rescue people.
With that in mind, here are a few travel tips for the president as he visits hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico today:
Don’t bring up Puerto Rico’s crippling debt load — totaling $73 billion — as that has nothing to do with the problem at hand. Yes, Puerto Rico’s debt “must be dealt with,” as the president pointed out in a dispassionate tweet early last week, but keep the focus on preventing as many of its residents from dying right now.
Do remember that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, not a foreign country — even if it is an island “in the middle of the ocean.” Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens just like those in Key West and Houston. That means they can vote. Ask Gov. Rick Scott, who on Monday ordered a state of emergency in Florida to prepare for evacuees; and Sen. Marco Rubio, who has called for a bipartisan detente to address Puerto Rico’s humanitarian crisis.
Don’t keep pointing out Puerto Rico’s infrastructure issues. (See “debt load” above.) The island was hit by two major hurricanes in the span of three weeks. The second, Hurricane Maria, was a massive Category 5 storm when it swept across the entire island. Any state’s infrastructure — including Florida — would probably have been left paralyzed in that scenario.
Do remember the lesson from the first post-Hurricane Harvey visit to Texas, and mix it up with the citizens. Puerto Ricans are truly suffering, nearly two weeks after the storm. Embrace the role of comforter-in-chief, and show some real in-your-face compassion. Shake a hand, and let the first lady hug a child.
And please, don’t over-sell the federal response. Things still aren’t going “great” if you’re the one having to sleep on your porch just to remain cool at night. Things aren’t “fantastic” if you haven’t been able to get to elderly parents in a remote location. There’s no “good news” when you can’t do something as basic as feed your child.
To be sure, the president will find some less critical, more supportive voices among the territory’s 70-plus other mayors, as well as Puerto Rico’s Republican Congresswoman, Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon. But such sentiment, even with the ramping up of federal aid in recent days, will be hard to come by among the regular folks.
This is not the time for victory lap, because Maria is quickly shaping up to be Trump’s Katrina. It has not been a heckuva job. But it still can be.