Jeb Bush and the Environment

At a recent meeting in Tallahassee, the governor of Florida boasted of his “devious plan” to thwart the class size amendment. What kind of governor boasts about being devious? One who has gotten away with it before.

Take the governor’s policies on suburban sprawl; linking environmental issues like habitat destruction, loss of wetlands, with traffic congestion, inadequate infrastructure, and overcrowded schools.

In 1998 Jeb campaigned on a promise to reform policies that influence the sensible growth of our communities and protections for our environment. From the governor’s mansion, he promoted an internet survey on public attitudes on sprawl. But the results were not what the governor wanted to hear. A strong majority of those who completed the survey asked for more state involvement in controlling sprawl, not less.

Governor Bush junked the survey claiming it represented the views of only a small fraction of Floridians. He then appointed a blue ribbon panel to recommend “real” reforms. But his appointments were stacked with special interests, and its recommendations withered in the legislature under pressure from lobbyists.

Today, the wagon wheels on Florida’s effort to control sprawl, wobbly under Jeb’s predecessor, have fallen off. Jeb continues to maintain that state regulatory authority should be diminished in favor of local government, and that local officials can protect the interests of people better than state agencies in Tallahassee. It is strange, because Jeb continues to reverse his principles in practice.

The most controversial legislation of the 2002 session was a bill that galvanized the protest of one of the largest citizen coalitions in Florida history. The bill provided funding for a portion of Everglades restoration, a worthy goal, but was poisoned by an amendment making it even harder for citizens to challenge bad permitting decisions by state agencies and local officials.

Jeb could have asked the legislature to deliver a clean Everglades bill, but he didn’t. By signing the bill, Jeb made it more difficult for citizens to challenge their own local government. He reversed himself again when he signed into law a measure in favor of billboard owners even when billboards had been constructed in violation of local zoning codes.

In the 2002 redistricting of Congressional and state district boundaries, Jeb had a keen eye for two legislators in particular; Mark Weissman and Cindy Lerner. These were the only two state representatives cut from districts in which they lived.

In successive years, both legislators had ranked first out of 120 members of the Florida House by the Florida League of Conservation Voters Legislative Scorecard. The League tracks voting record and bill/amendment sponsorship of state legislators on the environment. A low rating correlates with bad votes. A high rating correlates with leadership on environmental issues.

Cindy Lerner earned her number #1 ranking by speaking out in defense of Florida’s drinking water quality and against Jeb’s plans to weaken federal rules protecting drinking water quality from risky well drilling.

In forming a new Congressional district in south Florida, Jeb cut the Everglades from its staunchest Congressional defender, Congressman Peter Deutsch. In 2002, Deutsch, a Democrat whose district boundaries used to take in the Everglades and the Florida Keys, had a 100% rating from the national League of Conservation Voters.

The Republican contender for the new district is Mario Diaz Balart. As state representative, Diaz Balart received a rating of 18% by the Florida LCV. His brother, Lincoln, a Congressman from Miami Dade County scarcely rated 14% from the national LCV.

It would be one thing if Jeb’s leadership on redistricting were simply a case of “winners” thrashing political “losers”, but the “losers” in the Bush term are mostly ordinary citizens.

In 2001, Jeb wrote to his brother, the president, urging the relaxation of federal drinking water standards by the EPA. While citizens mounted a grass roots campaign and stopped the governor’s plan to pass new legislation that would have legalized pollution of Florida’s drinking water aquifers, the corporate giant Enron was greasing the skids for a bid to privatize Florida’s water resources, a scheme supported by Jeb’s key environmental aide, David Struhs. Only later, after fraud brought the corporation down-taking hundreds of millions from state pension funds-did the public learn that Enron’s opening night party in Tallahassee, in 1998, was called “Liquid Assets”.

Either Jeb means what he says, or he doesn’t. In Orlando, Jeb said that his remarks about his “devious plan” were sarcastic. Sarcasm is when you say one thing, and mean another. Devious is when you do something completely different from what you said you were going to do.

Environmentalists know the difference, which is a compelling reason to believe it is time for new leadership in Florida.

ALAN FARAGO lives in Coral Gables, Florida. He can be reached at: afarago@bellsouth.net


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Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

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