Some environmental groups have more money than they do brains. Meet the Everglades Trust.
They don't learn.
First, as the legislative session began in March, this "501(c)(4) corporation of non-elected board appointees" -- "committed to keeping Florida's water flowing clean and safe" -- launched a fact-twisted, six-figure TV, radio and online campaign to buy U.S. Sugar Corp. land.
It did nothing for them but make new enemies.
By muscling up and demanding the first and largest share of Amendment 1 cash, the Trust created not a sense of shared common treasures but an unhealthy atmosphere of competing environmental priorities.
Then, into the special session -- when they didn't get their way, when the South Florida Water Management District voted to go forward with the Everglades restoration projects already planned rather than continue trying to spend $500 million of Amendment 1 proceeds on 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land, the group's braintrust decided to trash a few legislators.
Not just any legislators. And here's the bizarre part. They singled out three of the most proactive members of the Florida House in the quest to solve water problems in South Florida and promote Everglades restoration:
Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers; Kristin Jacobs, D-Pompano Beach; and Katie Edwards, D-Plantation.
Don't ask me why. A fit of pique? An object lesson for all legislators? It reminded me of an old World War II movie about the French occupation when the Germans, in an effort to ferret out the collaborators, lined up every 10th man in the town square and shot them while the townsfolk watched. Scared the pants off the survivors.
Apparently -- if you look at the angry attack mailers (“Political Paybacks or Clean Drinking Water?”) circulated in each of the condemned three's districts -- they stand accused of taking campaign contributions from Big Sugar, pretending to care about water problems and the Everglades, but ... "BIG SUGAR is calling in their favors and pressuring our legislators to turn their backs on the will of the voters.” The Palm Beach Post had the whole story.
I tried Friday to reach President Mary Barley, widow of Everglades Trust's founder, George Barley, to find out why just the three targeted representatives? I wanted to find out what lawmaker -- name one in the Florida House, just one name -- who did more to further the Everglades Trust's agenda. Anyone.
And wasn't it the South Florida Water Management District -- not the Legislature, not even Big Sugar -- that threw cold water on the Trust's objectives when its board voted to go no further with the U.S. Sugar land purchase?
And wasn't it the House -- yes, the Fitzenhagen-Jacobs-Edwards House -- that opted for bonding to make a BIG land purchase this year? Until the bond-unfriendly Senate prevailed.
When the Trust announced the attack-ad campaign, Barley issued this statement: “The Everglades and our drinking water are at risk while Florida legislators refuse to act. As toxic algae and pollution threaten our waterways, we draw attention to the hypocrisy of politicians who claim to care about our environment, but instead protect the corporate interests, like Big Sugar, that contribute tens of thousands of dollars to their campaigns.”
Let's see what the three targeted legislators did and what they have to say for themselves:
* In 2013, during the massive discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and the subsequent algae blooms, Heather Fitzenhagen showed up everywhere, circulating a petition in Southwest Florida "to demonstrate to the Legislature how much support we have for creating a plan to handle this problem." She spent hours in the House Office Building, leaning on lawmakers, educating them on the plight of counties victimized by polluted water. "If people understand how passionate we are with addressing this problem, then we'll be able to get something done." In fact, she did put together a team to start reviewing options. Alas, she chose to go with the Restoration Strategies in place and failed to adopt the Everglades Trust agenda which, the Everglades Trust tells us, puts her in Big Sugar's pocket.
* Katie Edwards, a conscientious and fastidious researcher who spent hours on social media getting opinion from her constituents on how best to spend Amendment 1 money, posted this on Facebook: “I suppose working to make sure that our existing public lands are maintained, our existing (Everglades restoration) projects are completed and our backlog of deferred operations and maintenance of water infrastructure makes me a target for out-of-state billionaires and their Gucci loafer-wearing lobbyists. My constituents should not be misled by these recent attacks on me by these special interests.” Doubtful her constituents were misled for a minute. I think they know their representative.
* The resume of Kristin Jacobs, former mayor of Broward County, is a study in environmental service to South Florida. In fact, so associated is Jacobs with addressing environmental challenges, she was invited to accompany President Obama on his Everglades tour on the 45th annual Earth Day celebration. She told Sunshine State News, "It makes me sad that with their hit pieces the Everglades Trust could write off my 17 years of environmental activism working for clean water and Everglades restoration. I'm sad because I'm going to keep on doing what I do for the environment but now my voice is lost to them. The only thing they've done is make the Everglades more vulnerable. ... That 75 percent of voters weren't voting for one piece of land, they were voting for Florida Forever. They were voting to protect our coasts, our beaches, our springs. ..."
These attack mailers, this choice of target -- three smart, assertive woman lawmakers who can't be bullied or fooled, whose constituents know the measure of their resolve on environmental issues -- turned into the biggest backfire since Jimmie Johnson curled off the track at Indy in the first turn. It's called making enemies of the people you desperately need to be your friends. And it's won the Everglades Trust the session's "Most Botched Lobbying Job" award.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith