Last Tuesday, Florida lost a prominent Republican environmental voice in a primary election in Lee County. County commissioner Ray Judah had served the public for 24 years. During this time he had become one of the very few Republican voices speaking out for water quality for a region -- like Miami-Dade -- that depends on clean, fresh water from the Everglades. I can't think of another Republican at the county commission level who was more educated and engaged in the politics and money driving non-stop water pollution in Florida than Commissioner Judah. He regularly spoke at water district meetings, to advocate against filthy water from sugar field run-off affecting the economy and real estate values of Lee County and, also, at major environmental gatherings like the annual Everglades Coalition meeting.
Republicans for the environment are rare as hen's teeth and in recent years, with the Koch Brothers clothed as Tea Party, anti-regulation zealots; it's even harder to find one.
Over his career, Judah became knowledgeable with state politics and agencies like the water management district that control gates and pumps mainly to the advantage of Big Sugar like the billionaire Fanjuls; Florida's domestic version of the Koch Brothers.
Ray Judah wasn't deterred from speaking out for his constituents and against polluters, and that is what cost him in last week's primary election. The PAC, Florida First, mounted the kind of slash-and-burn campaign we are familiar with in Miami-Dade but was new to Lee County. There is something ominous about the PAC and its actors aiming directly at a GOP moderate that reminds of political "ethnic cleansing".
G.O.D. noticed Florida First, about a month ago, writing about its presence in Miami-Dade: "I just got an attack ad on Joe Gibbons running for State Rep. in District 100. I don't look at the attack ads, I look at who paid for the flyer. You must always look at WHO PAID FOR THE FLYER. This one is from a drop box at a FED EX store in Bradenton Florida. Florida First, the entity that paid for the ad, is being funded by Conservative Principles of Florida. Genting gave to this Committee of Continuous Existence (CCE). Florida Crystals - SUGAR - also gave ($10,000). Dosal Tobacco and Ron Book also donated. The associated legislator with this CCE is Rep. Jose Oliva, a Republican out of Hialeah.
Florida First is also funded by Principle Centered Leadership (PCL), with associated Republican legislators Mike Bileca, Carlos Trujillo and Jose Felix Diaz. This Committee got a lot of money from ATG Development Group, LLC, that is Michael Bileca. A Corporation out of Sarasota run by Vincent Payne gave $100,000 to PCL. Multi millionaire Gary Kompothecras owns the Kompo Family Company that Payne manages. Kompothecras was a co-chair of the Romney finance team in Florida, at least he was in November, last I read he was being investigated. Jean Witner out of St. Pete gave $20,000. She also gave to Bachmann and DeMint."
With these PACs, it is very difficult to identify all the donors.
For lack of transparency in the money game, this election cycle will be the worst in US political history. And, as we have estimated before, the money will be Republican 10-1 compared to money raised by Democrats and liberals.
There is something that particularly stinks about this case -- Ray Judah-- and of the campaign mechanics gearing down to the smallest gears to "purge" a long-serving, moderate Republican who stands virtually alone among county commissioners in South Florida. This may be an example of "refining" tactics developed at the national level of Super PACs and their biggest donors, and disseminating into local counties the way the Koch Brothers hand out copies of "Atlas Shrugged". For the Naples Daily News report, click "read more".
Commissioner Judah Says "Unhold Alliance" Wanted Him Out
Naples Daily News
August 16, 2012
Shortly after discovering Ray Judah was reelected in 2008 as Lee County Commissioner in district 3, he and wife, Kristen Judah, sat down for an interview as family and friends gathered behind them at Judah's home in South Fort Myers. Jennifer Whitney/ staff
24 years of public service end for Ray Judah
Ray Judah’s 24 years as a Lee County commissioner will end in November thanks to what he termed an “unholy alliance.”
On Tuesday, Judah was swamped in the Republican primary by Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker, who captured nearly two-thirds of the roughly 57,000 votes cast. Kiker won with 63.9 percent of the vote in County Commission District 3.
Kiker will be the Republican candidate in the November general election.
On Wednesday afternoon, Judah, the third-longest serving commissioner in Lee County history, sat on a wooden chair in the rear of a south Fort Myers Barnes & Noble and talked about the defeat. That’s where he invoked the term “unholy alliance.”
“A number of individuals and organizations came together to create that perfect storm that was an overwhelming avalanche that I could not prevent from removing me from office,” Judah said between sips of Fiji bottled water.
Judah, who has a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s degree in natural resources, has always presented himself as an environmentalist. He said he incurred the wrath of powerful figures in the sugar and phosphate industries.
“They wanted me out,” Judah said.
Judah said the roughly $500,000 to $750,000, by his count, that was spent against him by a political action committee called Florida First, was overwhelming. Florida First’s contributions came largely from other political committees.
“That itself is reflective of the damage that is being done to our democracy,” Judah said.
Judah cited numerous commercials that aired during the Olympics that contributed to his defeat. He said the tone of the commercials was part of the problem.
“To discredit me as a person and a commissioner,” Judah said.
Judah said his campaign raised only about $52,000 and was “outspent easily 10-1.”
In addition to the commercials, there were other avenues that doomed his bid for a seventh term.
“Incessant, relentless barrage of robo calls, fliers,” Judah said.
He said it was a “combination never seen in this community.”
Kiker said he had nothing to do with the anti-Judah ads, and said he would have preferred “that did not happen.”
Judy Sanchez, a U.S. Sugar spokeswoman, declined to comment on the ads, but said that Judah has never been a good friend of the company.
“We tend to support candidates who understand agriculture and support its issues,” Sanchez said. “Ray Judah did not understand agriculture and its issues.”
Judah said he has much to be proud of during his 24 years on the commission. He cited environmental projects, diversifying the economy, helping upgrade Southwest Florida International and building an incinerator.
“We treat trash as a resource,” Judah said.
Judah served so long on the commission that some voters weren’t born when he was first elected in 1988.
Now, supporters are coping with the loss
“We’re all heartbroken,” said Dan Moser of Bike/Walk Lee, an advocacy group for cycling.
Moser said Judah had a big picture sense about quality of life issues.
“He was a champion for so many things,” Moser said.
Moser’s sentiments were echoed by Jennifer Hecker, director of Natural Resources Policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
“It’s a tremendous loss for the citizens of Southwest Florida,” Hecker said.
Hecker added that the Conservancy and Judah did not always agree.
“But he always handled his position with utmost fairness and integrity,” Hecker said.
One of the most controversial issues of Judah’s final few years was championing a new spring training home for the Boston Red Sox. When Sarasota tried to lure the Red Sox away, Judah spearheaded efforts to keep the team.
The result was JetBlue Park, a new stadium on Daniels Parkway with a price tag of nearly $80 million. Judah and other stadium supporters always pointed out the stadium wasn’t built with property taxes but with funds from the bed tax.
“I’m very grateful for what he did to keep the Red Sox here,” said Lee County resident Rob Hurst, an avid Red Sox fan.
Hurst believes critics didn’t understand the rationale behind building the stadium.
“A lot of people can’t see the forest for the trees,” said Hurst, who added that he believes the team’s economic impact made the new stadium a sound idea.
Judah supporters said negative ads helped doom his chances.
“Very untrue,” Hecker said of the advertising, which labeled Judah a liberal. “He was a fiscal conservative.”
Former Lee County Parks and Recreation director John Yarbrough recalled how much effort Judah put into his job.
“I don’t think any commissioner was more prepared for the issues,” Yarbrough said.
Although Judah has been identified in recent years with JetBlue Park, Yarbrough said Judah was about more than that.
“So much more than baseball,” Yarbrough said.
He said Judah cared about parks, preserves, boat ramps and more.
“He was always passionate about the environment,” Yarbrough said.
So, what’s next for Ray Judah?
“It’s not about me,” Judah said. “I’m concerned about the county.”
He worries about who will protect the Caloosahatchee River and the estuaries and watersheds.
“Who’s going to fight phosphate?” Judah said. “Who’s going to fight sugar?”
He said he did that for years.
“I was handling that responsibility but it caught up to me,” Judah said.
What will he do once he vacates his office in downtown Fort Myers?
“A lot of options,” Judah said.
Will he run for office again?
“Too soon to say,” Judah said.
What was he doing Tuesday night as the election results became apparent?
“Consoling my wife (Kristen) and talking to my son,” said Judah, whose 23-year-old son Kallen, an Air Force Academy graduate, is training to become a fighter pilot.