Florida’s Republican Ultras

The Wall Street Journal reports that the same Republican forces who attempted a putsch on a safe GOP seat in the NY 23 Congressional District against an incumbent deemed to be too moderate, Dede Scozzafava are now planning to turn to the US Senate primary race in Florida. Their plan: to purge Gov. Charlie Crist who is running in the GOP primary against Marco Rubio, a telegenic former House majority leader from Miami who is a stand-in for former Governor Jeb Bush. What are Gov. Crist’s sins? Last February he stood with President Obama and supported the $787 billion federal stimulus plan. But what really is the nature of that sin?

Gov. Charlie Crist came to office, after two terms of Jeb Bush in Tallahassee, and began to take off the sharp edges of the Jeb Bush legacy. On the surface, it is all swell between the Crist and Bush camps. Crist’s amiability occludes roiling GOP politics beneath the surface. The June 5 Washington Times opinion page (June 5, “Florida needs a little Sunshine”) ?signaled a new chapter in a civil war within the GOP, extending beyond the borders of this swing state. So far, there is more more heat than light. “Jeb Bush recently said that the party needs to stop looking back to Reagan and ?start looking toward the future. Marco Rubio is that future.”

So, what are the sins of Gov. Charlie Crist?

One; that he supported President Obama’s stimulus package. It seems not to matter that the $787 billion fiscal stimulus plan sprung from a three-page document hastily drawn up by former US Treasury Secretary under President Bush, Henry Paulson, within hours of what experts believed was a near meltdown of the financial system. So, are the conservative Republicans who support Rubio/Jeb Bush repudiating President Bush, too?

The question needs to be answered by the radical wing of the GOP that is obsessed with purging moderates from within its midst: does the party also oppose the trillions of taxpayer dollars that have been thrown into the nation’s banking system– mainly benefiting Republican bankers skimming bonuses– in order to maintain the illusion of capital ratios to prevent the federal government from having to shut them down? Do the conservatives also oppose the $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers, that is propping up production homebuilders who are also, for the most part, Republicans?

In the last session of the Florida legislature, Governor Crist handed big-money Republicans–from the Growth Machine– their most important prize: a significant change is state law giving relief to developers from regulations governing growth management in Florida. These special interests argued, without challenge by Democrats, that the collapse of housing values was caused by land use regulations developed in the 1980’s and implemented by state Republicans. Since Jeb Bush was elected governor, the state GOP had targeted state regulatory authority impacting development. Finally Crist gave them what they wanted: an opportunity to loose the wolves on Florida’s remaining natural landscape. In return, Crist’s campaign warchest rapidly filled with millions of dollars. Now what?

Two terms of a Bush presidency and of Jeb Bush’s governorship in Florida poured gasoline on the flames whipped up against regulation. That blaze gave cover for Wall Street lunatics to take over the asylum and foxes into henhouses everywhere, from toxics and pollution, the environment and public health. Still, the size of government exploded. Even former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan now repudiates a career built on the myth that self-interest and the profit motive can better protect from market excess than regulations.

The US Senate primary race in Florida is about the thwarted competition for leadership of the GOP that began in 1994 when Jeb was being primed by Karl Rove and Grover Norquist Republicans for party leadership and perhaps a presidential run. Jeb unexpectedly tripped on a loss to former US Senator Lawton Chiles in the governor’s race. Gingrich, then US Congressman from Georgia, stepped into the breach in 1994 and led a Republican minority to control of Congress through a mid-term election. Another Bush, George in Texas, was slotted against the Gingrich wing of the GOP.

Jeb was finally elected governor in 1998, but too late to be the candidate for the 2000 presidential run. Instead, Florida became the test-tube for GOP strategists determined to advance the components of the culture war, the war against the environment, including tactics like suppressing science and intimidating regulatory agencies that would come, also, to define the Bush White House.

The Jeb Bush election in 1998 was a masterful accomplishment for Miami-based production homebuilders who had already perfected the Miracle Gro formula for instant suburbs: Wall Street derivatives finance, home builders and their trade associations, cement manufacturers, mortgage brokers, and local zoning councils masquerading cheap platted subdivisions and condos as what the public wanted, all delivering housing products through hidden subsidies and the lazy eye of regulators. It was also the year that R. Allen Stanford, a big GOP contributor, started his multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme in Miami, shuffling bags of cash to offshore banking safe havens.

The Miami crew shows up on Rubio’s early campaign finance reports, raising over $4 million: Caesar Alvarez, CEO of Greenberg, Traurig the Miami-based law firm specializing in the dark arts of local zoning for sprawl in farmland and wetlands (and whose attorneys then helped Stanford set up Miami shop). $2400, Alan Becker, Becker and Poliakoff, a Miami-based law firm with an extensive zoning and land use permitting practice, $2300, Ronald Book, $2400, Silvio Cardoso, former president of the Latin Builders Association, $2400, Santiago Echemendia, Tew and Cardenas, the law firm mostly closely associated with Jeb Bush, $1000, Herman Echevarria, a political consultant close to former Miami Dade mayor Alex Penelas and the Latin Builders, $2400, Ann Herberger, Bush family loyalist, $1400, Miami-Dade lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez, $1000, Miami-Dade political consultants Marin and Son, total of $7200, Mestre family interests in Redland garbage and land development, total $12,200, Milton family interests, Miami?s major developer campaign contributors, total $4800, Miami sprawl developer Stanley Tate and family, $4800. Early contributions to Rubio from Florida Crystals/Big Sugar total $11,200: (Cantens, $1000, Dominicis, $2400, Oscar Hernandez, $1000, Albert Recio, $1000, Armando Tabernilla, $1000, Jose ?Pepe? Fanjul Sr., $2400, Jose Fanjul Jr., $2400). The Fanjul interests have taken on Crist for his initiatives– against the grain of Jeb Bush environmentalism– to acquire more land for restoring the Everglades; badly damaged by Big Sugar’s pollution and other farming interests.

The Washington Times gushes: “Leading a strong conservative House majority, (Rubio) battled a moderate Republican Senate president as well as Mr. Crist. To prepare for this challenge, he surrounded himself with former Jeb Bush advisers. While Mr. Crist hosted global warming “summits” proposing big-government solutions to a debatable problem, Mr. Rubio wrote op-eds in the Miami Herald advocating free-market solutions to environmental concerns.” But what are those “free market” solutions?

This is exactly the place Jeb rooted after his defeat in 1994. His drawing board quickly filled up with the catchy politics of free market environmentalism; a borderless world where the profit principle and self interest does a better job than regulations in protecting the nation’s air, water, and natural resources. In response, Florida Democrats made a full-bore retreat, lacking any serious plan of their own; a flaw that dogged Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign in Florida and continues, unbroken, to this day. The enemy of progress: regulations containing suburban sprawl, especially at the margin of the Everglades where powerful campaign contributors agitate successfully for new zoning and state approval of massive new communities and related infrastructure. (For detail, read the 2009 excellent book by St. Pete Times writers Matthew Waite and Craig Pittman, “Paving Paradise: Florida’s vanishing wetlands”.)

To block out Marco Rubio, Charlie Crist sold Florida down the river. Jeb Bush chased him there. Will this story emerge in the GOP primary for US Senate? It is a story that will need to be told if Congressman Kendrick Meek, the Democratic candidate for US Senate, will be competitive in November, 2010. When he was state representative, Meek and a colleague, state representative Tony Hill, sat in the dark in the anteroom of Governor Jeb Bush’s office all night long, with the TV cameras rolling bad news of the fuming governor until Poppy told his son to turn the lights back on. So far, what passes for insight is being waged as a battle of conservatives, not unlike medieval monks arguing proofs of the number of angels who fit on the head of a pin.

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

More articles by:

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

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