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“The Emptiest Of Suits”: Florida Gov. Scott Clueless In Lake Crisis

As a devastating deluge of polluted water darkens two coasts of Florida and threatens their tourist economies, Gov. Rick Scott is once again a flaky phantom.

Billions of gallons spiked with agricultural waste is being pumped daily from Lake Okeechobee toward the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, browning the blue coastal waters, choking sea grass beds and crippling small businesses that depend on a healthy marine ecology.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the discharges are necessary because the water in Lake Okeechobee is too high and the old Hoover dike is too weak. Gov. Scott says it’s all President Obama’s fault for not rebuilding the dike, which is absurd.

Scott, who aspires to be a U.S. senator, either has no clue how the appropriations process works, or he’ll simply say any brainless thing to duck responsibility.

A brief civics lesson for Florida’s dim and furtive governor: The president cannot write a check for major capital projects. Congress is in charge of funding, and Congress happens to be controlled by the Republicans.

Being a Republican himself, Scott should fly straight to Washington and persuade his colleagues to rebuild the lake dike and fund a flow-way to the Everglades for the excess water.

Why hasn’t that happened? One reason is that Scott has even less clout with Congress than he does in Tallahassee.

Currently, the state Legislature is gutting or discarding basically all of the governor’s major budget proposals, including a goofball request for a $250 million honey pot to lure private companies to the state.

Scott is the emptiest of suits. He’ll pop up whenever a new business opens, count the jobs and take credit for them. In times of crisis, though, he’s a spectral presence.

Privately, the governor is busy muscling special interests to bankroll his Senate run in 2018. Some of his biggest donors are the worst polluters of Lake O and the Everglades, so you can understand why he’s been hard to find lately.

Scott’s pals in Big Sugar have been back-pumping dirty water from their cane fields into the lake, which through Friday was being emptied into the St. Lucie River at a rate exceeding 2 billion gallons a day. The Army Corps says it will soon drop the daily flow to 1.2 billion gallons.

So far this year, more than 72 billion gallons has been expelled toward the Treasure Coast, ruining the salinity of the St. Lucie Estuary, chasing sea life from the Indian River Lagoon and creating a foul brown plume miles into the Atlantic.

The visual is repelling tourists who might otherwise be interested in fishing, swimming or paddle-boarding. This is also happening along the Gulf coast, where Lake O discharges gush from the Caloosahatchee River.

Under pressure from exasperated business owners and officials, Scott last week declared a state of emergency for St. Lucie, Martin and Lee counties, citing “extensive environmental harm” and “severe economic losses.”

The governor used the opportunity to bash Obama, calling out the president six times in a five-paragraph press release from his feeble Department of Environmental Protection.

Never once did Scott mention the Republican leaders of Congress, who have the power but not the enthusiasm to allocate the $800 million needed to repair the Lake O dike. If they put that item in a budget, Obama would sign it in a heartbeat.

The same is true for Everglades restoration. Showing zero sense of urgency, Congress continues to lag far behind on its commitment to share the costs 50-50 with the state.

Every year when it rains hard, an algae-spawning tide from Lake O is flushed toward the coastal bays and beaches. No president yet has stepped in to stop corporate farms from using the lake as their toilet, or stopped the Army Corps from opening the pump valves.

If Obama tried that, Big Sugar (and Scott) would scream bloody murder.

As for the governor’s “state of emergency,” it’s barely just a piece of paper. The agencies in charge are officially in “observation mode.” I’m not kidding.

TC Palm newspapers reported that the head of the state Division of Emergency Management was attending a conference in New Orleans last week. What better place than Bourbon Street from which to ponder Florida’s coastal pollution crisis?

Scott himself would benefit from spending time at the marinas or waterfront motels in Stuart, meeting the working people whose dreams are drowning in a flood of silt.

But this governor prefers upbeat media opportunities where he can talk about new jobs — not dying jobs. He’d much rather cut a ribbon at a gas station than hear from a boat captain who can no longer find any fish.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 8, 2016

March 9, 2016 Posted by | Environment, Florida Legislature, Rick Scott, Water Pollution | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“New Revelations Pose A Problem For ‘No-Show Rubio'”: A History Of Regularly Failing To Show Up For Work

For pundits, Marco Rubio’s record of not showing up for work has already been dismissed as campaign trivia. For months, the senator’s critics have highlighted Rubio’s history of skipping key votes, important briefings, and committee hearings, and for months, much of the political establishment has been inclined to blow off the issue.

But the Washington Post published a report yesterday that should encourage pundits to take a fresh look at the controversy.

In the anxious weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Florida House hurriedly assembled an elite group of lawmakers to develop plans to keep the state safe.

A spot on the Select Committee on Security was a mark of prominence in Tallahassee. Some of the airplane hijackers had acquired Florida driver’s licenses and trained at flight schools in the state, and legislators lobbied furiously behind the scenes in hopes of being named to the 12-member panel tasked with addressing the state’s newly exposed vulnerabilities.

Among them was a young Republican by the name of Marco Rubio, seen as a rising star in Florida GOP circles at the time, who sought and received one of the coveted slots. It was a rare opportunity for the GOP lawmaker to not only tackle the substance of a major issue, but also earn some credibility.

It really didn’t go well. The Washington Post reported that Rubio “skipped nearly half of the meetings over the first five months of the panel’s existence, more than any of his colleagues.” He also “missed hours of expert testimony and was absent for more than 20 votes.”

In one notable incident, Rubio arrived late for a debate, missed some expert testimony, made a passionate argument against the proposal under consideration, quickly realized his points lacked merit, and then voted for the measure he’d just criticized.

At another point, the article added, Rubio’s indifference to his duties prompted then-State House Speaker Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who agreed to reward Rubio with the sought after assignment, to “express concern.”

Lately, when asked about his poor attendance habits, Rubio routinely points to the busy schedule of a presidential candidate. But in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Rubio was just a regular ol’ state lawmaker, who had far fewer pressures on his schedule. He nevertheless regularly failed to show up for work.

Making matters slightly worse, this article coincides with a new report from the Tampa Bay Times, which noted that Rubio points to his tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as evidence of his White House qualifications, but a closer look suggests that’s probably not a good idea, given that the evidence ”paints a bleak picture of participation in the day-to-day responsibilities of the job.”

Rubio is on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Commerce and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. The Florida Republican has missed 68 percent of hearings, or 407 of 598 for which records were available.

His skipped 80 percent of Commerce hearings and 85 percent of those held by Small Business, records show.

He has missed 60 percent of Foreign Relations hearings since joining the Senate despite making his committee experience a centerpiece of his qualifications for president.

He attended 68 percent of Intelligence Committee meetings, though he has drawn criticism for missing high-profile ones, such as a briefing on the Paris terror attacks.

The argument from Rubio and his supporters is that he’s a presidential candidate, and it’s expected that senators on the national campaign trail are going to have a much lower profile on Capitol Hill. Maybe so. But the Tampa Bay Times’ analysis started with Rubio’s arrival in the Senate five years ago and ends in November 2015 – months before the official launch of his presidential bid.

The picture that emerges is that of a young man in a hurry, who’s eager for a promotion without having done much to deserve one.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 19, 2016

February 20, 2016 Posted by | Florida Legislature, Marco Rubio, Senate | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Polluters Win Again In Florida Legislature”: Plan Allows Big Ag Operators To Supervise Their Own Waste Releases

Touted as an environmental breakthrough, the water policy bill passed last week by the Florida Legislature is actually a major win for polluters and the politicians they own.

Enforcement of clean-water rules is basically being replaced by the honor system. Big Agriculture couldn’t be happier.

Same goes for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, whose dream of one day becoming state agriculture commissioner is closer to reality. The Brevard Republican has been an obedient little soldier for the special interests that divert and exploit the state’s fresh water supplies.

Current Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam was the political shepherd for the user-friendly new law. It was written by lobbyists for mega-farming and land corporations, and rammed through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The Senate passed it with nary a single dissenting vote, reluctant Democrats saying this year’s version was better than last year’s awful bill, which didn’t pass. Even some environmental groups went along with the rewrite, asserting that it was the best they could hope for.

Which is just sad.

David Guest, the longtime managing attorney for Earthjustice in Florida, warned that the damaging effects of the new water bill will “come back to haunt us all.” From now on, farms that send polluted runoff into Lake Okeechobee will only need a permit to restrict the quantity being discharged — not the amount of fertilizer crud in it.

The plan allows Big Ag operators to supervise their own waste releases, which is a fantasy come true for those who pollute, including the sugar barons.

Theoretically, farm companies would work on deadlines to minimize the amount of phosphorus and other harmful substances in their outflow using so-called “best management practices.”

But the guidelines are mostly voluntary, and devised by the agriculture lobby, so you can guess how rigorous they are. Not very.

Sympathetic legislators went even farther, inserting in the law a “cost-share” provision that directs water-management districts to use tax dollars to subside Big Ag’s anti-pollution efforts.

In other words, the public will be paying farm corporations to do something they should pay for themselves — clean up their mess.

Supporters of the final water bill say significant enforcement powers were added to the plan, but that’s mainly on paper. The reality will be different.

At the urging of environmentalists, language was put in allowing the state to inspect farmlands to make sure proper clean-up practices are being followed. However, the law conveniently doesn’t state how or when these inspections would be conducted, or what would constitute a violation.

It doesn’t even say what the fines and penalties would be. And, of course, no money is being appropriated for hiring extra inspectors at the hilariously misnamed Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

So, in truth, the new water bill has no real enforcement mechanism. Another cynical move by GOP lawmakers was placing the Department of Environmental Protection in charge of periodically reviewing the water management practices, to see if pollution is actually being reduced.

It’s no secret that Gov. Rick Scott has made a priority of castrating the DEP. Only a sucker would believe the agency will be re-staffed and re-empowered to take on the task of monitoring corporate polluters.

There’s no denying the water bill is ambitious and far-reaching, and Big Agriculture isn’t the only winner. Developers seeking to tap into rivers and waterways, particularly in Central Florida, should send thank you notes along with their campaign checks to Tallahassee.

A water plan with pollution rules set by the polluters is exactly what you’d expect from the same gang that betrayed the 4 million Floridians who voted for Amendment One.

Some Democrats and environmentalists say they’ll strive to toughen the weak phosphorus rules and expedite cleanup actions. That won’t happen without an epic shift in political power.

Meanwhile the crap being pumped from Lake Okeechobee and surrounding farms continues to imperil the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Gulf Coast beaches and, most critically, the Everglades.

Under the new rules, some farmers and landowners will honestly try to improve the water they flush into Florida’s wetlands and drinking supply. Others won’t, because it’s cheaper and easier to dump unfiltered waste.

If voluntary compliance really worked, we wouldn’t need any pollution laws. Corporations would care as much about clean, safe water as ordinary families do. Unfortunately, that’s not the real world. It’s just a fantasy promoted by industry lobbyists and bought politicians.

And now, in Florida, it’s going to be the law.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 18, 2016

January 20, 2016 Posted by | Florida Legislature, Florida Water Policy, Rick Scott | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Exact Opposite Of Reality”: Rubio’s Principal Talking Point Starts To Crumble

One of the more dramatic flaws in Marco Rubio’s presidential candidacy is a brutal contradiction: he’s a career politician, winning six elections before his 41st birthday, with no real accomplishments to his name.

In the enormous Republican field, voters can choose between established, experienced candidates who’ve done things in public office (Kasich, Bush) or insurgent outsiders with non-governmental records (Trump, Carson), but Rubio is burdened with the worst of both worlds, winning several elections without having done much in the way of meaningful work.

It’s a point about which the Florida senator appears increasingly sensitive. In fact, in October, Rubio tried to take credit for others’ work during his tenure in the state legislature. This week, Rubio’s begun telling voters that he actually has a major federal accomplishment – he helped undermine the American health care system – and his allied super PAC is pushing the line in a commercial:

“On Obamacare, some Republicans gave up. Some talked tough but got nowhere. For all the Republican talk about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, one Republican hopeful has actually done something.”

For some GOP voters and much of the media, this seems compelling – Rubio hasn’t just spun his wheels for five years on Capitol Hill; when he’s bothered to show up for work, he invested real time and energy into interfering with families’ access to medical care.

There are, however, two important flaws in the pitch. The first, of course, is the fact that deliberately trying to undermine the American health care system is not an accomplishment upon which to build a presidential campaign.

The second, as the Washington Post explained today, is that Rubio didn’t do what he claims to have done.

Success always has many fathers, but Rubio goes way too far in claiming credit here. He raised initial concerns about the risk-corridor provision, but the winning legislative strategy was executed by other lawmakers.

The irony is, Rubio has recently tried to take credit for others’ work as a way of differentiating himself from President Obama. “I’m not like that other one-term senator who ran for president,” the Florida Republican has effectively argued, “because I’ve gotten things done in Congress.”

It’s not just a lazy lie; it’s actually the exact opposite of reality.

As we discussed a few months ago, Obama put far more effort into his congressional career than Rubio, and as a result, he had more success. As a senator, Obama developed a reputation as a work horse, being well prepared for briefings and hearings, introducing a lot of bills, and developing an expertise on serious issues like counter-proliferation.

There’s a great story from 2005 in which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a day-long hearing on U.S. policy in Iraq, and then-Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ill.) praised Obama for being the only other senator who was on hand for the entire thing, start to finish. As Salon’s Simon Maloy noted, “It was minor stuff, but it gave Obama a reputation as someone who was willing to do the basic work needed to get things done.”

Rubio has never developed that kind of reputation among his colleagues. On the contrary, he’s seen as a senator who misses a lot of votes, skips a lot of hearings, and fails to show up for a lot of briefings.

Eight years ago, there was a talking point that made the rounds in GOP circles when going after then-candidate Obama: he’d never run a city; he’d never run a state; and he’d never run a business. The trouble is, the exact same talking point can be applied to Rubio, and can even be made a little worse: he’s never built up a legislative record, either.

It’s not fair to say Rubio never passed a bill, but it’s awfully close. According to congress.gov, the far-right Floridian, over the course of five years, took the lead in sponsoring a measure that was signed into law. It’s called the “Girls Count Act,” and it encourages developing countries to register girls’ births. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the policy, but it was a largely symbolic measure that passed both chambers without so much as a vote.

He also helped name September as National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.

That’s about it.

If Rubio and his allied super PAC find that embarrassing, they should probably try to change the subject – because deceptive claims and taking credit for others’ work isn’t generally a recipe for an improved presidential campaign.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 23, 2015

December 26, 2015 Posted by | Florida Legislature, Health Care, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Florida Gov Scott No Help In Time Of Crisis”: When The Going Gets Tough, Rick Scott Heads Straight For The Airport

Florida Gov. Rick Scott removed his Harry Potter invisibility cloak and flew to Washington the other day.

There he begged for billions of federal dollars from a person he is suing, Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. Burwell patiently listened to the governor and, predictably, sent him back to Florida with nothing.

Last summer the feds informed Scott that the government was phasing out a fund that reimburses local hospitals for taking care of low-income patients, basically replacing it with an expanded version of Medicaid.

At first Scott was in favor of the Medicaid move, even though it was a tangent of Obamacare. Then the governor changed his mind. Later, as an afterthought, he sued Burwell and the HHS.

The state Senate supports Medicaid expansion; the House doesn’t. Tallahassee has been paralyzed by the dispute.

In a snit, the House packed up and adjourned the session early, leaving Florida with no budget. Leaders in the Senate were furious.

Remember, these are all Republicans, ripping at each other like addled meerkats.

And where was the newly re-elected Republican governor, leader of the party?

Gone, is where he was — jetting to crucial functions such as the grand opening of a Wawa gas and convenience store in Fort Myers and the debut of a humongous Ferris wheel in Orlando.

It’s impossible to imagine any of the fully functioning governors in Florida’s past — Lawton Chiles, Bob Graham, Jeb Bush, to name a few — vanishing from Tallahassee during a Code Red meltdown of the Legislature.

But Scott isn’t a functioning governor. He is the emptiest of empty suits — no talent for leadership, no muscle for compromise, no sense whatsoever of the big picture.

When the going gets tough, Scott heads straight for the airport. This is what happens when you elect a guy with his own private jet.

Last week’s trip to Washington was pure theater. Scott’s lawsuit over the low-income health funds is a loser, and he knows it. He was trying to do something to give the impression he was awake and experiencing cognitive activity.

In fact, he has been laser-focused on the future — not Florida’s future, but his own. He’s looking ahead to a possible bid for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

(We’ll pause here while you choke on your cornflakes.)

It’s astounding but true — while the legislative process disintegrated in bitter confusion, the governor was airing TV commercials cheerily touting his imaginary accomplishments.

Yes, they were short commercials. And, yes, little of what he claimed to have done for Florida had actually happened, lawmakers having already tossed his proposed budget into the metaphorical Dumpster.

There were no tax cuts, no hefty increase in spending for public schools, no big boost for Everglades funding. Yet Scott’s commercials made it sound like a done deal.

Relax, Florida. All is well!

Perhaps that’s how it looks from 38,000 feet, though not from the rotunda of the Capitol.

It’s weird for a politician to openly resume campaigning so soon after being re-elected, but weird is the norm for the Scott administration. Since the law prohibits a third term as governor, he can only be thinking about Bill Nelson’s Senate seat.

This would be a far-fetched scenario almost any place except Florida, where Scott has already proven that, if you’re rich enough, there’s no such thing as baggage.

Currently he remains one of the state’s most unpopular political figures. He won the November election mainly because his opposition was Charlie Crist.

Yet with money from his “Let’s Get To Work” political committee, the governor has begun the uphill task of inventing a positive legacy upon which to run three years from now.

In the TV commercials, he plays the role of a hard-charging, hands-on visionary, leading Floridians to prosperity one new job at a time. He smiles. He talks. He is, briefly, visible.

Tallahassee is one of the cities where Scott showed his commercials, yet it didn’t move the needle. He was on the plane when he should have been on the ground.

While the Legislature didn’t need any help disgracing itself, Scott’s disappearing act made things worse by validating the public’s view of all state government as insular and incompetent.

As the House and Senate prepare to reconvene next month, desperately trying to salvage some credibility, the governor seems content with his role on the sidelines, essentially a cheerleader for himself.

Coming soon to a Wawa near you.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 11, 2015

May 13, 2015 Posted by | Florida Legislature, Medicaid Expansion, Rick Scott | , , , , , | 4 Comments

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