Hey, look at that! We’ve almost made it through another tough year. Take that, 2023! We beat you!
You know what comes next: Preparing to do a better job with 2024. To that end, we all make resolutions about eating right, exercising more, cutting back on the things we rely on to help us make it through the night.
I myself plan to cut back on fried foods, such as fried mullet, fried chicken, fried okra—wait, let me wipe all the slobber off my keyboard. OK, we can continue now.
Some folks here in Florida may be hesitant to make the resolutions needed to do better in the new year. Fear not! I am here to provide a gentle suggestion or two that will prod them in the right direction.
Let’s Start With the Easiest One
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue: Repeat after me: “I resolve that if the federal government ever again offers me millions of dollars to pay for cutting pollution, I will TAKE IT.”
Florida, you may have heard, was the only state in the nation to reject millions from the feds that was aimed at reducing tailpipe emissions that contribute to climate change. We were in line to receive $320 million, the third most of any state.
Instead, thanks to Perdue, here’s what we got: Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada. The money’s going to people in Texas, California, New York—everywhere but here.
Perdue, in a letter to the feds, claimed this money was an example of “the continued politicization of our roadways.”
Seems to me it was Perdue doing the politicization. He was clearly trying to score points with his boss, who’s always quick to condemn the federal government—but also quick to take federal emergency aid.
The millions Perdue turned down came from us Florida taxpayers to begin with. And it would have gone for such items as electric buses, more parking for truckers so they wouldn’t have to be on the road for so long and, last but not least, more roundabouts, which are better for the environment than stop lights.
The DOT had plans for all of this, and all those plans had to be scrapped because Perdue rejected the handout.
Turning all that money down made it seem as if it’s Perdue who’s been puffing on some dirty pipe, if you catch my meaning.
So the next time some fed offers you money to clean up pollution, Jared, here’s what you say: “Yes, please—and thank you!”
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton, here’s your resolution: “I hereby resolve to take the name of my department seriously for a change and stop handing out wetlands destruction permits like candy on Halloween.”
Three years ago, when a certain citrus-complexioned Palm Beach club owner was about to be tossed out of the White House, his administration okayed Florida taking over from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the issuance of federal wetland permits.
Since then, according to Earthjustice, the DEP has not turned down a single permit application. The DEP says yes to every destructive development to come down the pike, no matter how egregious it may be.
As a result, wetlands all over the state are under assault, being filled in to become houses, roads and commercial structures. The water they once absorbed usually winds up flooding the neighbors.
When wetlands are lost, we lose flood control, groundwater recharge and pollution filtration—chores that the wetlands do for us for free. Asphalt doesn’t do anything like that.
This anti-wetland attitude is no surprise from an agency already notorious for the declining enforcement of pollution rules, instances of obvious political interference, and overly permissive permitting in other areas.
Nevertheless, it would be nice if the DEP started valuing those important wetland virtues instead of genuflecting to whatever the developers want. Constantly saying yes is like being a traffic light that’s always green. It doesn’t really control traffic, does it?
Otherwise, Hamilton ought to resolve to change the name of his agency to “the Department of Environmental Do-nothings,” just for honesty’s sake.
Our Florida Panther
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s resolution is short and simple: “We hereby promise to actually take steps to save the Florida panther.”
That’s our state animal, you know. Although the federal agency is supposed to be in charge of protecting it as an endangered species, it has yet to block any development in the places where panthers live.
In fact, the agency even decided to kill one panther, which fortunately fled the area before anyone could carry out that deadly decision.
So it would be nice to see the feds finally classify some of Southwest Florida as official panther habitat Experts have already told them what needs to be saved—assuming it hasn’t all been developed already.
How about it, USFWS? We’d sure like to see this one in the W column instead of the usual L for Florida’s endangered species.
Florida Speaker of the House Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, here’s your resolution: “In the regular legislative session that starts Jan. 9, 2024, we will focus on what’s important to Floridians, and not some silliness aimed at assisting a certain faltering presidential candidate.”
The Orlando Sentinel reported this week that Renner and Passidomo said their top priority for this session is helping all Floridians with their skyrocketing insurance rates—ha ha, just kidding! Not really.
These politicos don’t give two hoots about whether insurance costs will drive people out of their homes and into a large cardboard box by the side of the road.
This is what the Sentinel said: The GOP leaders are already moving ahead on bills that would “deregulate public schools, weaken decades of child labor protections, eliminate local minimum wage laws, and prohibit government contractors from letting their workers use gender-identifying pronouns or conduct LGBTQ sensitivity training.” I’m surprised they didn’t also call for building more Confederate monuments to replace the ones that were torn down.
I don’t know about you folks, but not one of those things will improve my life or aid my bottom line. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Renner and Passidomo remembered they work for Floridians? Not for that fellow who wants more culture war victories that he can yak about for 30 seconds on Fox News?
Hence my suggestion for their New Year’s resolution. It would be nice if they’d add, “We’ve already given developers almost all the advantages in legal challenges, so we resolve not to try to eliminate every last avenue for protest.”
But I am not holding my breath for them to go for that one. If I did, I’d soon be as blue in the face as one of the Na’vi from “Avatar.”
Zoning and Developers
Local government officials all across Florida, here’s your resolution: “The next time a big-money developer shows up wanting to alter our zoning and comprehensive plan for growth in a quiet rural community, I resolve to tell them NO. And in the immortal words of Tom Petty, I won’t back down.”
Over and over, developers keep applying for a change in local zoning and comprehensive growth plans. Sometimes they even try to sneak the change past the neighbors.
Over and over, you local government officials tremble in fear and say yes. Why?
Your community spent a lot of time and energy coming up with those maps. People who live in those areas have invested in property based on what those rules say. Why change it, especially for someone who’s planning to rake in a profit and then skedaddle?
You may think, “But the buyers have property rights.” So do the neighbors—let’s not forget about them. Besides, if someone buys land that’s zoned to stay rural, that buyer should have no expectation of being able to change it to something different.
It’s like buying a four-cylinder Kia and then complaining that what you really need is an eight-cylinder Corvette. You should have bought the right kind of parcel to begin with.
Waterfront landowners, your resolution is this: “I hereby resolve that I will not cut any of the mangroves, even if they block my view of the water.”
Earlier this year the owners of a Port St. Lucie resort called Sandpiper Bay chopped down nearly 1,000 mangroves, many of them 24 feet high. That’s illegal. State law protects mangroves because they provide habitat for fish, they build shorelines and they protect the land from big storms.
The owners first claimed a tornado tore down the mangroves (there was no tornado). Then admitted they did it but claimed they didn’t know about the plants being protected, because ignorance of the law is SUCH a great legal defense.
The DEP wants the resort to pay a $110,395 fine, replant 2,780 trees and maintain an 80 percent survival rate for five years. A lot of people would like the fine to be much, much larger, if only to serve as a deterrent to other waterfront owners tempted to make the same “mistake.”
For now, though, all we can do is hope the other waterfront property owners see all the unflattering publicity raining down on Sandpiper Resort and make this resolution to avoid harming a single mangrove. That better view is soooooo not worth the damage done.
Our Political Ashley Moody
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, here’s yours: “I hereby resolve to go back to my original pledge in 2018 to keep politics out of my office.”
Moody promised to be apolitical, yet she’s been jumping on every right wing Krusade of Krazy possible. Every time she’s heard some Koch Brothers devotee holler the Warren Zevon line, “Send lawyers, guns and money!” she’s replied in the affirmative—even when it hurts Florida.
She backed a suit to overturn Obamacare even though Florida residents routinely lead the nation in Obamacare sign-ups. She pushed for including a citizenship question in the Census, despite warnings it would ruin the Florida headcount. She even supported a longshot bid (that her own staff called “bats—t insane”) to keep that Palm Beach club owner in office, even though that’s not what a majority of the voters wanted.
Particularly disturbing was her decision to join in a lawsuit to make it easier for developers and major agricultural operations to destroy wetlands. Take a wild guess which state is already losing more wetlands than any other.
There are rumors that she wants to run for governor once her current term as the state’s top lawyer expires. If she plans to do that, then she’d better hurry up and reclaim the apolitical vow she promised us back in 2018. Maybe she’ll even mean it this time.
Our Governor and Presidential Candidate
Gov. Ron “I Only Ran for President So I Could Avoid Flying Coach ” DeSantis: Whoo-eee, where to start with you?
How about, “I resolve to travel to all 67 Florida counties the way I visited all 99 Iowa counties”?
Or “I resolve to visit the victims of a Florida disaster even in places that didn’t vote for me”?
Or maybe just, “I hereby resolve to avoid ever again mentioning the cliché term ‘woke’ unless I mean the opposite of ‘asleep.’”
Yeah, that’s probably as likely as him saying, “I resolve to trade in my $700 high-heel cowboy boots for a pair of comfy Birkenstocks.”
Still, we need to come up with something he could promise to do to better himself—I mean, besides promising to give up treating chocolate pudding as a finger food.
How about this? “I hereby resolve to take my family camping in Florida’s award-winning state parks”?
In case you hadn’t heard his wife Casey repeatedly mention it, the DeSantises have three kids ages 7, 5 and 3. This is the perfect time to introduce them to the wonder and majesty of Florida’s rich natural environment.
Take them to see the manatees (that are starving to death because of their dad’s failure to fix our pollution woes). Let them splash in our springs (which his DEP has been dragging its feet about protecting). Maybe take them fishing in one of our dozen estuaries (where toxic algae blooms have proliferated thanks to polluters that their dad won’t stop).
Yep, the kids would sure learn a lot from such an excursion! Maybe the guv would learn some lessons as well—lessons that would benefit us all.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have go to eat some more fried chicken and fried okra before the calendar changes. Happy New Year!
The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.