Environmental groups expressed indignation this week after the Everglades Trust endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis.
But the support from the Everglade Trust, which backed DeSantis and Democrat Gwen Graham in their respective gubernatorial primaries, shouldn’t really have been that shocking.
DeSantis successfully used his opposition to Big Sugar --- refusing to directly take money from sugar companies operating around Lake Okeechobee --- against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Aug. 28 Republican primary.
With residents on both coasts long casting blame on sugar growers for toxic algae in waterways because of polluted releases from Lake Okeechobee --- allegations the industry disputes --- the anti-Big Sugar stance was highlighted by Everglades Trust Executive Director Kimberly Mitchell in a statement backing DeSantis.
“Ron understands the critical infrastructure projects that must be undertaken and expedited, with the ability to make them a top priority, and already has a track record of standing up to an industry that is physically and politically blocking the reconnection of Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades --- Big Sugar,” said Mitchell, a former West Palm Beach city commissioner whose family has deep Republican roots.
Also, a majority of the group’s board of directors has GOP ties.
The Everglades Trust is chaired by Mary Barley, who also chairs the Save Our Everglades PAC, which gave DeSantis’ political committee $50,000 in August.
Another director is Kirk Fordham, who spent 18 years working for three Republican congressmen.
The third board member is former state House Speaker Jon Mills, a Gainesville Democrat who is also a dean emeritus and professor of the University of Florida College of Law.
Mills told the Gainesville Sun this week he disagreed with the other board members on the endorsement.
Still, conservation groups quickly expressed outrage that an organization claiming to support the environment could back a candidate who touts his “unique relationship” with President Donald Trump and has an environmental platform that offers few details about the causes of water pollution and doesn’t mention climate change.
DeSantis’ platform opposes oil drilling off the state’s coasts, pushes lawmakers to ban fracking, seeks to re-establish a task force on red-tide outbreaks and backs Everglades-related issues such as completing a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief said the endorsement is a further attempt to “greenwash” DeSantis, a former congressman whose lifetime voting score from the League of Conservation Voters stands at 2 percent.
“On every environmental issue, from protecting our waters and wetlands to acting on climate, he sides with polluters over people every time,” Moncrief said.
Members of the Sierra Club’s Loxahatchee Group and Calusa Group reacted by calling DeSantis a “sham environmentalist.”
“Instead of offering solutions, DeSantis has simply praised Rick Scott, whose horrible environmental policies and rollback of clean water protections have contributed to the current crisis,” said Drew Martin, conservation chair for the Loxahatchee Group of the Sierra Club, which represents Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties.
Both groups earlier endorsed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, and the Florida Democratic Party sent out an “FYI” on the spat, highlighting the comments from the Florida Conservation Voters and members of the Sierra clubs.
DEBATING A CANCELED DEBATE
As CNN pulled the plug Wednesday on getting Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson to reschedule a U.S. Senate debate that was scrubbed because of Hurricane Michael, the candidates quickly blamed each other.
“For those covering the CNN debate cancellation due to Sen. Nelson backing out, please also note that Gov. Scott accepted a total of four debates --- long before anyone started voting, either in person or absentee --- Telemundo, CNN, WJCT and Fox News,” the Scott campaign said in a news release.
In language emulating missives from the White House, a tweet from the campaign also said, “Bill Nelson ducks CNN debate. Refuses to reschedule after Hurricane Michael delay. Sad but not surprising.”
Nelson’s campaign tweeted: “Rick Scott refused to debate before early voting starts en masse Oct. 22. But we still intend to hold him accountable for the poor job he’s done and for stuffing his pockets in office.”
The pair had originally been scheduled to debate this week, but Scott’s campaign said the Republican governor needed to remain focused on Hurricane Michael, which caused devastation in Northwest Florida after making landfall Oct. 10 in Mexico Beach.
Nelson campaign spokesman Dan McLaughlin said at the time that Scott was using the storm as cover. McLaughlin noted the governor has faced protests over red-tide and toxic-algae outbreaks, as well as questions about “how he’s enriched himself in public office” while on the campaign trail.
“We’re not going to let Rick Scott hide from voters in the last three weeks of a major election --- especially while he’s significantly increasing his negative TV attack ads against Sen. Nelson,” wrote McLaughlin, who also called for the CNN debate to be moved from a 10 p.m. scheduled start to a town-hall format.
Nelson favored rescheduling the debate for Sunday, but Scott pitched next Thursday.
Amid the disagreement, CNN tweeted Wednesday that it was scrapping the debate.
Nelson and Scott did give voters a chance to see them spar together for an hour on Oct. 2 on Telemundo. That event included Nelson being described as a “partisan politician” with no accomplishments in 40 years of service and Scott being told he can’t “tell the truth.”
SUPREME COURT IN POLITICAL CROSSHAIRS
The Florida Supreme Court on Monday resolved a long-running legal dispute by saying the next governor --- and not Scott --- will have the power to appoint three new justices in January.
Republicans quickly seized on the news to elevate the rhetoric about the importance of the governor’s race. DeSantis or Gillum will be able to appoint replacements for retiring justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who are widely viewed as part of a liberal majority on the court.
“The stakes in this election can't get higher for Florida! If you want a Supreme Court that will follow the rule of law, and NOT political ideaology, the choice is clear. Vote @RonDeSantisFL for Florida Governor!” tweeted state Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican.
However, the decision doesn’t alter the makeup of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which will recommend candidates for the court. And the commission is stocked with members who have Republican ties.
Scott appointed five members on his own and the other four came from lists provided by The Florida Bar's Board of Governors.
As part of Monday’s ruling, the court will hear oral arguments Nov. 8 on when the commission can send its recommendations to the governor.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Rick can’t be on the campaign trail because he needs to be there for the families devastated by Hurricane Michael. I’ll be hitting the campaign trail to help him out and posting updates here. --- Ann.” --- Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign account (@ScottforFlorida) announcing Monday that First Lady Ann Scott would take his place at campaign events.