It is rare that a dedicated party member speaks out when what they have to say isn't exactly the party line. It is also a repugnant sign of our times when a good person and a talented political leader as Paula Dockery has to wait until her last legislative session of her last year in the Senate to be able to speak her mind.
Our legislative system is so fraught with power mongering egoists and silent rivers of money that flood the coffers of those who kiss the boot, that he or she who dares to speak out of turn is certain to be ostracized and assigned the dreaded basement office where the only light is incandescent and there is no Wifi.
In a recent piece published by the new-media internet news service, “Florida Voices”, Paula Dockery speaks out about how the State’s water resource management system and the critical policies that have guided it successfully for decades have been under siege. She speaks about how policies and institutions have been decimated and that Florida’s future is in danger, but is coy about who is responsible probably because she still has the 2012 legislative session fully ahead of her and isn’t ready to flame the bridge just yet.
Perhaps sending a mixed message, maybe a last salute to errant party leaders who have designated her persona non-grata, she suggests, after listing much of the damage over the last year, maybe not all is lost. She points to recent pronouncements by the CEO-governor that hint there is hope, that maybe he is changing his ways, wising up, as it were.
She does not mention the historic low approval ratings of the governor and his need to do something, anything, different from what he’s been doing, lest he find himself booted from office after only one term. So, I am not convinced that we will see anything substantially new from the myopic and narrow minded state CEO than we’ve seen already. Any words of his at this point are pure political pabulum unless there are significant, clear actions that will quickly follow his words.
No, I am not convinced. I don’t believe he is capable.
Here’s what the good Senator had to say:
After Body Blows to Water Policy, Some Encouraging Words
Wednesday, January 11, 2012 — Paula Dockery
Water is our most vital natural resource and should not be a partisan issue. But after a decade of beneficial policies to protect Florida's water supply, partisan politics is rearing its ugly head and threatening our quality of life.
With 18 million residents, 80 million annual tourists and the demands of agriculture, development and industry, Florida is a thirsty state, yet faces drought conditions most of the year. If we don’t do something to protect our water supply, we threaten our quality of life and our ability to grow businesses. Remember, businesses consistently list “quality of life” as a deciding factor in relocations or expansions.
But in Tallahassee, the move for less regulation has mostly meant cuts to environmental protections. Budget shortfalls have hit environmental programs disproportionately hard. Some legislators are even trying to micro-manage the state’s five water-management districts to help powerful special interests.
Since 2007, funding to assure a safe and adequate water supply has faced withering attacks. In 2009, lawmakers went so far as to eliminate funds for Florida Forever, the lands-acquisition program that preserved unique natural resources; Water Sustainability, which helped fund alternative water supplies; and Everglades restoration, a project that traditional Republicans have long supported.
Decision-makers seem to ignore that actions have consequences: over-pumping can lead to sinkholes, dry lakes, ruined springs and saltwater intrusion. The discharge of treated sewage has an impact on our estuaries. The lack of regulation leads to polluted water bodies.
So far, unfortunately, Gov. Rick Scott has not been kind to the environment and our water resources. And those of us who have toiled for decades to improve Florida’s quality of life anguish over his decisions to dismantle growth-management laws, abolish the Department of Community Affairs and zero-fund premiere environmental programs.
Perhaps the water-management districts had become bloated, but the governor’s recent cuts didn’t simply target administrative costs, they jeopardized the much-needed water-supply projects these agencies fund.
Still, recent comments by the governor offer a glimmer of hope. In November, he said: “As governor, I understand a healthy economy is dependent upon a healthy environment. Florida's residents and businesses rely on clean water, clean air and open spaces for tourism, commerce, agriculture and recreation."
He finished by saying, “Our state's natural resources are unparalleled. It's why people choose to live here, vacation here and bring their businesses here. In Florida, we don't have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. The two are inextricably linked, and as governor, I am working to ensure our resources are dedicated to the improvement of both.”
Florida is fortunate to have had governors from both parties who have left strong environmental legacies. Gov. Bob Graham is known as the leader of growth management and comprehensive planning. Gov. Bob Martinez is the father of the environmental land-acquisition program Preservation 2000. And Gov. Jeb Bush helped craft Florida Forever, fund growth-management protections and promote the Water Sustainability Act.
Gov. Scott should help take the politics out of water management. For starters, he should quash the move to form a statewide water board. Water should be managed on a regional basis, keeping in place the long-standing policy of “local sources first,” which discourages water pipelines. And when it convenes in two weeks, the legislature should first do no further harm. Then, reverse the detrimental direction of the past few years.
It's not too late for the governor to undo what will otherwise become his lasting legacy -- a return of the water wars, where no one wins, but Florida is the clear loser.