The ignorance of panhandle legislator, Jimmy Patronis once again proves how badly Tallahassee has lost its way. This guy is the personification of arrogance and ignorance gone awry.
Not only did he proudly sponsor the most environmentally toxic bill of the 2013 legislative session, HB 999, but he’s now accusing a respected former Florida Governor and United States Senator, Bob Graham, of something that simply isn’t true. It shows how pervasively the Florida legislature has adopted obfuscation and disingenuity as acceptable behavior for elected state government officials.
The Tallahassee strategy typically used in defense of the indefensible is to stuff veracity down a rat hole and become as personally offensive as one possibly can. This is what Patronis chose to do when Senator Graham expressed concern over the negative impacts Patronis’ bill would have on Florida’s sensitive natural systems.
However, one articulate and unafraid person, former secretary of the Department of Environmental Regulation Vicky Tschinkel, has called Patronis out for his uninformed and puerile allegations. She served in the Askew and Graham administrations as assistant secretary of the department and as its secretary from 1977 to 1987, so she knows the factual history that Patronis clearly does not.
With her permission, here is her very on-point, recently-written “letter to the editor.” It has been published as a guest column in newspapers around the state.
I am astonished by state Rep. Jimmy Patronis' portrayal of the Bob Graham governorship as bringing "dramatic negative changes to environmental law" and his claim that Graham "has had a change of heart now."
These comments appeared in The Panama City News Herald May 26 ("Patronis: Scott will sign bill on well permitting") in response to Graham's vehement opposition to H.B. 999, the 40-page behemoth presented by Tallahassee lobbyist Frank Matthews, to Patronis for his sponsorship.
Graham is chairman of the Florida Conservation Coalition, with Nathaniel Reed and former state Sen. Lee Constantine serving as vice chairs.
Bob Graham was part of the Florida Legislature's group of daring young members who, during the "Golden Age of Florida Politics," threw themselves wholeheartedly into establishing the bedrock of Florida's environmental laws.
Gov. Reubin Askew proudly signed laws protecting air, water quality and land use, all of which were more advanced than anything at the federal level and all of which enjoyed bipartisan support. Our water-use law, which was adopted during this same intense time, derives from the internationally acclaimed model water code developed at the University of Florida.
It is true that Graham was business-friendly and that he cared about jobs. During his tenure, the state added 1.2 million jobs, and for the first time the per capita income of Floridians exceeded the U.S. average. Florida was rated by the consulting firm Grant Thornton as having the best business climate of all the states for three of his eight years in office.
The difference between the "new politicians" such as Patronis and Gov. Rick Scott on the one hand, and Graham on the other, is that Graham has always known that our prosperity is absolutely linked to the health and sustainability of our natural resources.
A state dependent on beautiful beaches that protect us and invite tourists is a successful one. A state where water is clean and plentiful protects our health and allows for industrial and residential development. A state where natural areas are valued as gifts from nature has its ethics right and its future assured.
So, Graham was the one who established the Save Our Rivers program in 1981 (now part of Florida Forever), which protected 1.7 million acres of floodplains and recharge areas, including those of North Florida great rivers. Panama's City's water supply is protected by the Save Our Rivers program.
Patronis is a proud fisherman and his family's restaurant depends on plentiful and healthy local seafood. He should be thanking Graham every time he leaves the dock, because the clean, clear, productive bays and offshore are fed by the protected Choctawhatchee and Apalachicola rivers.
Another program was the historic Save Our Coast program, established in 1981, which purchased 73 miles of shoreline, also benefiting beaches which are visited by tourists from all over the world who delight in them.
Protecting water sources
Gov. Graham began the Save our Everglades Program and started it with a bang, by setting in motion the restoration of the channelized Kissimmee River into a free-flowing river once again.
Hundreds of thousands of acres of beach property, river property, Everglades and natural areas throughout our state are now in public ownership, thanks to Bob Graham. At least these natural treasures are forever protected for all of us, and will never be damaged from special interests and such environmentally destructive legislation as H.B. 999.
From hazardous-waste cleanup and banning of dangerous pesticides, to establishing the first rules in the country protecting ground water from contamination, to forcefully supporting the state's first law protecting wetlands, to establishing modern growth management practices, Gov. Graham's record has universally been lauded, never challenged. Until Rep. Patronis presented his, yes, astonishing alternate view.
History, for those who take it seriously, will not look kindly upon the Legislature of 2011, which razed much of 40 years' worth of bipartisan efforts to conserve our environment. It will not look kindly upon the fact that those land acquisition efforts I described went from being bipartisan programs, with a $300 million per year budget, to being programs whose budgets were virtually obliterated for the previous two years, with only $10 million of new money (much of it restricted) allocated this year.
Nor will it look upon Rep. Patronis' self-described bills, containing "Christmas tree(s)" of privileges bestowed upon special interests, as anything but a thumb in the eye of the future generations of our state.