Editorial Board, TCPALM/Treasure Coast Newspapers
The gubernatorial debate between Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Oct. 24 featured a lot of what onlookers expected:
- Political jabs about whether DeSantis is running for Florida’s highest office or the nation’s (in two years).
- Barbs about which party is responsible for inflation, homeowners insurance and gasoline prices soaring out of control.
- Shots about vaccines and who would have handled the pandemic better.
All valid topics, but none of their responses likely changed anyone’s mind. And only about half of the responses even addressed Florida problems.
Dead manatees, blue-green algae blooms, Florida’s rapidly disappearing open spaces, polluted waterways, invasive species control, drying springs and the state’s crumbling sewage infrastructure are critical issues for Floridians and their quality of life. But those topics have been saved for a different debate.
Too bad this was the only debate scheduled.
Some of the blame for not addressing any of these topics falls on the team led by moderator and WPEC news anchor Liz Quirantes. As residents of southeastern Florida, Quirantes and her team know how important water quality issues are to voters. At least one question about water quality or the environment should have been asked during the contentious evening.
Florida is a special place. Everywhere you look, there is water. Sadly, almost everywhere you look, signs spring up every summer warning us not to touch the water because of pollution.
The two candidates could have addressed their platforms to protect all the natural water Florida has like its:
- 12,000 miles of fishable rivers;
- 7,500 lakes, ponds and reservoirs;
- 8,426 miles of its tidal coastline;
- The Everglades — the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States;
- Lake Okeechobee — the second largest natural freshwater lake within U.S. borders
Following are just some of the issues candidates could have discussed:
Record manatee deaths: More than 1,100 manatees died in 2021. The death rate in 2022 is only slightly behind, with 717 through last week. Starvation from a lack of seagrass in Florida’s estuaries has been blamed.
Toxic algae blooms: Cyanobacteria bloomed all summer in 730-square-mile Lake Okeechobee and a red tide is coalescing off the coast of Sarasota.
Crumbling sewage infrastructure: Sewage spills in Bradenton, Cocoa and Fort Lauderdale from treatment plants spilled into waterways with little to no accountability.
Fishing & boating: People move to and visit Florida to interact with its water. According to Rockport Analytics, 130 million visitors pumped $99 billion into Florida’s economy in 2019, generating $28 billion in tax revenues and supporting 1.6 million jobs. About $6.1 million and 75,000 of those jobs are in the fishing business, recreational and commercial.
The candidates could have discussed Crist’s failed attempt at purchasing all of U.S. Sugar’s holdings when he was governor in 2008. Why did the deal fall apart?
They could have discussed DeSantis’ failure to ensure that the policies of the Blue Green Algae Task Force he created and appointed are actually being executed, either by the Legislature or by the executive branch of government. Why aren’t their recommendations being applied?
DeSantis did have two sentences in his closing statement about his work on the Everglades:
“We’ve accomplished a lot over these four years. We made historic restoration for our Everglades because water is the foundation of just not our economy, but our way of life.”
After all the night’s political theater in the Sunrise City’s 100-year-old arena, his words sounded more like part of a rehearsed closing than part of genuine concern.
The pundits can argue over who won the debate. The clear losers were the waterways of the Sunshine State.
This editorial was written by the editorial board of TCPALM/Treasure Coast Newspaper and first published there.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.