There’s a diseased perception in Florida today and it’s pervasive. It’s the idea that commerce and jobs are all that Florida needs to forever prosper and remain one of the most desired destinations in the world. It’s diseased because it’s unhealthy for the future of the state and, if allowed to persist, it will undermine it’s very heart.
This unfortunate perception is fostered by the popular view that America is the home of competitive free enterprise which offers anyone, through hard work and a determined entrepreneurial spirit, the opportunity to rise, theoretically at least, from poverty to any level of prosperity possible in the world. All Americans are proud of this idea, as they should be. It is the bedrock of the American way of life – socially, philosophically, governmentally, economically and, in some minds, even spiritually.
We all consider opportunity to be the foundation of the American Ideal, the opportunity to work hard without unnecessary constraint by government . We all believe in the opportunity to compete in an open market, to become singularly, according to our own devices and capacities, rich with “things” and to have the ability to enjoy the rewards of our success. We all cherish at least the opportunity, if not always the reality, of being able to live what has globally become “The American Dream.”
Unfortunately, the insidious malady found in today’s Tallahassee machinations where this dream is touted in practically every spoken word is that absolutely nothing is of higher importance than the pursuit of free enterprise and that all government regulation is antithetical and destructive to that American Ideal. The thought has become that any and all regulation is bad for America and its people because anything that constrains free enterprise is a constraint upon all Americans, and it is free enterprise that makes America what it is.
Thus it is almost heresy to suggest that there may be some constraints and limitations which need to be placed upon the methods and activities of business to protect public interests and that doing so is consistent with the American Ideal. In support of this heresy are endless horror stories where businesses have presumed their purposes were more important than the interests of the public and the results have been disastrous in terms of losses in human health, safety and welfare. (The tragedy of the Commons, the BP oil disaster, The Exxon Valdes oil spill, the Levee failure of Lake Okeechobee in 1928, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, the 2007 Global Great Recession, Wall Street Crash of 1929, Plumbing of the Everglades, Destruction of the Kissimmee River, Destruction of Kissengen Springs, Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank, Adena Springs Ranch Slaughter House, Silver Springs, etc., etc.)
Yet, the notion that all regulation is heinous, no matter what the greater purpose, persists. It is particularly bothersome that it continues to be held as gospel by many young otherwise seemingly bright legislators who refuse to appreciate that the idea is not pure. They refuse to accept the thought that there can never be a true and total Laissez Faire relationship between commerce and government particularly as populations grow and interaction among humans becomes more complex as it has in Florida.
What seems to be missing in the conversations out of Tallahassee is the understanding of the very real actuality that any pursuit of economic success that encroaches upon the interests of the public can and will erode the very underpinnings that make that success possible. It cannot be sustained and any gain resulting from it, i.e. short term profits, will be equally short lived.
It is odd the way this notion has taken hold most prevalently in the youngest and most ambitious of Tallahassee’s brightest, who, paradoxically, were put there by the public whose interests they seem to have abandoned. And, since it is primarily the young legislators who are holding all the extant political power, the older members of the legislature who should otherwise know better– at least, theoretically - find themselves bleating with feigned enthusiasm as they scramble for crumbs of relevance that might offer significance for them being there in the first place.
The young fiscal conservatives in the legislature have drifted so far to the right they have lost sight of all but the most basic concerns for the interests of the greater public. Business and the right to market such things as electricity, phosphate, spring water, and sugar, for example, now, clearly outweigh the greater interests of the people in the minds of our Tallahassee leaders. It has become a them vs. us scenario. Anything that supports the interests of business is moral and right, while anything that suggests serving the greater public good is socialism.
Even as you read this, I suspect you are saying that regulation IS antithetical to the idea that business and commerce must not be constrained if it is to flourish. Free enterprise must remain just that, free to be creative and progressive in developing new ideas and economic synergies. This concept, you say, is the very idea that has made America the greatest economic power the world has ever seen. And if you are saying that, you would be right.
The thing is, however, there must be limits when the greater public good is at risk. Otherwise, everything that makes Florida what it is will be consumed and lost in the interest of short term profits for a few. Somehow, Tallahassee has got to return to the idea that regulation - wise, efficient and purposeful regulation - is needed in order to serve those public interests which are higher in priority than any short term profit for a privileged few. This is not space math. It is a fundamental axiom that speaks plainly to the future of our country and state.
|Jimmy Petronis (right)|
Feb. 14, 2013
Take, for example, Jimmy Petronis (won’t somebody, please, take him?). He exemplifies the Nouveau Legislative Lemming mentality of fiscal conservatism that says handouts are good but only when it’s business that gets them. He arrived in Tallahassee a few years ago proud that he was only 35 or so when elected to the Florida House, the son of a wealthy seafood restaurateur, and bragging that he was sent there not to take naps – implying, not too subtlely, that all others were there to do just that.
This is the dude who in a tsunami of sophomoric immaturity declared in a Tampa Bay Times report that he also came to shake up regulators. He compares it to defrosting a refrigerator and tossing out bad and old food, like at the Department of Environmental Protection, thereby clearly establishing that he is one who knows all about environmental protection and what it means to Florida’s future.
This is why he files so-called “train” bills, bills that have been labeled dangerous to the state’s economic future by practically every organization concerned about the importance of healthy, attractive and flourishing natural systems to Florida and its millions of residents, not to mention the 85 million-plus tourists who visit here annually from around the world.
As former Florida State Senator Lee Constantine is fond of saying, “These people don’t come to Florida to see malls. They come to see and enjoy our lakes, rivers and beaches. And, when they’re gone, so will be the tourists and their dollars that sustain the economy of this state.”
Petronis has introduced this session the ugliest of the ugliest bills floating through the T-Town process right now, House Bill 999.
“…the provisions are toxic. They would prevent local governments from regulating the destruction of wetlands by small, independent drainage districts that oversee more than 1 million acres across the state. They would give legal cover to a no-bid, 30-year sweetheart deal that Scott and the Cabinet gave to two farming operations to continue polluting the Everglades. The bill also would fast-track permitting for natural gas pipelines, and big water users would have every incentive to continue pumping groundwater even after new technologies offer a more sustainable water source.”
Petronis is the human personification of the spreading Tallahassee sickness gripping the state. Almost as a game of chance being played by drunken gamblers cheerfully unaware of what they are about to lose, he plays with the hinges that hold the future of the state together, pulling at the stays of the tent that protects the very characteristics that give Florida the beauty and sustainability it needs to survive. He plays a dangerous and arrogant game with the powers of the people who, inexplicably, seem to have sipped some of the same elixir.
The thing that makes Jimmy Petronis so dangerous is that he may also be smart. If this is true, intelligence mixed with hubris, ignorance, and power makes him exponentially more dangerous than your average unthinking lemming-like legislator … and the Petronis portfolio is bloated with all three of these endearing characteristics.
The Florida Conservation Coalition, most other Florida environmental organizations, and a host of editorials in responsible newspapers around the state are pleading for the public to weigh in on Petronis’ HB 999, as well its sorry companion bill in the Senate, SB 1684 (Sen. Thad Altman), by letting Tallahassee know how bad these bills smell and are rotten to the core.
Referring to two editorials published in the Tampa Bay Times and the Ocala Star Banner opposing these two bills, the FCC said today in a “Legislative Alert:
“Please read Assault on environment unabated and Special interests vs . public interests, then send an email to your Senator (listed below) with links to these articles and your own comments. Make sure your Senator knows that you, and thousands of other Floridians, are watching their vote on SB 1684.
HB 999 passed in the House last week. SB 1684 is still awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
It is not comforting that one of Tallahassee’s most successful advocates for business activities antithetical to a healthy natural Florida and other greater public interests has commented that Petronis, coming from a family that runs a successful restaurant, believes “the customer is always right.”
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Frank Mathews, lobbyist for developers, phosphate miners, boat manufacturers, sugar growers, power companies and garbage companies, said, “That’s (Petronis) everybody’s dream sponsor… He couldn’t be more accommodating.”
Such may be appealing to Mathews but not to others, it is all part of the growing sickness infecting Tallahassee … and Florida’s future is at risk like it’s not been in years.
You will find the phone numbers and email addresses of every Senator in Tallahassee at the FCC’s website including Thad Altman's: http://floridaconservationcoalition.org/emails/348782?s=284bf9f4.
Let them hear your voice loud, clear and often, now.