Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Matt Caldwell: don't let the door hit you on the way out ... by Ray Judah

Eye On Miami has written extensively on Ray Judah, a former county commissioner from Lee County who had served his community for 24 years when his 2012 reelection campaign was up-ended by a $1MM dark money hit job coordinated by a fellow Republican state legislator, Matt Caldwell.

Judah had the courage -- virtually alone among Republican electeds in Florida -- to challenge Big Sugar's dominance of water management practices and policies. The net result of successive legislatures and governors, mostly under Republican leadership, materialized as toxic algae blooms harmful to public health, to the environment, and devastating to coastal economies that depend on clean water.

For his courage, Judah was targeted by Big Sugar. (Our archive on Ray Judah can be accessed by clicking, here.)

For his part, Caldwell was rewarded. He assumed a leadership position in the legislature as the de facto majority whip for Big Sugar. Caldwell defended the outrageous extension of no-bid leases to Big Sugar of massive acreage already in public ownership, that is needed for additional storage and treatment development to prevent the trashing of rivers and estuaries and the Everglades. He opposed the involvement of the federal government in setting pollution standards for phosphorous (ie. nutrient runoff). In 2016, while his community buckled under the damage from pollution, he did Big Sugar's business by opposing then Senate President Joe Negron's effort to add 40,000 acres of marshes to absorb the impact of Big Sugar's toxic waste.

As a reliable capo, Caldwell was put in line by Big Sugar to succeed Adam Putnam as state agriculture commission, a state wide position that would have put Caldwell on the path to higher visibility when Putnam, as Sugar's political maneuvering expected, vaulted to governor when Rick Scott snapped up a seat in the US Senate.

Both Putnam and Caldwell were shot down by Florida voters, who had enough of their iron-clad support for polluters against the interests of taxpayers and voters. Ray Judah wrote the following assessment:

After eight years of sponsoring legislation designed to undermine water resource regulations, Representative Matt Caldwell’s trail of stench ended in his recent loss to Nikki Fried for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Never has one elected official so blatantly sold out his community and left a legacy of destruction of our precious and fragile water resources.

Caldwell hid behind a veil of Republican conservatism while rising to power in the Florida Legislature with lavish support from notable industries, including petroleum, pharmaceutical, gaming, tobacco, and Big Sugar. Caldwell worked tirelessly to shift the cost of restoring our rivers and coastal estuaries from those responsible for polluting our waterways to the public taxpayers. Caldwell achieved favored status with Big Sugar by sponsoring legislation that led up to the 2018 water crises debacle.

In the 2013 legislative session, Caldwell sponsored HB 7065 to amend the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, under the guise of increasing the sugar industry’s funding commitment to Everglades restoration, when in fact, his proposed amendment was a smoke screen to ensure that the sugar industry limited their long term obligation of funding Everglades restoration. HB 7065 provided for the extension of the so-called privilege tax of $25 per acre that the sugar industry pays to continue their discharge of polluted runoff to the Everglades, rivers and coastal estuaries. This amounts to approximately $11 million per year in comparison to the billions required by the public taxpayers to restore the Florida Everglades. Caldwell's amended language suppressed the "1996 Polluters Pay" Constitutional Amendment that required those primarily responsible for the pollution in the Everglades Agricultural and Protection Areas to clean up their pollution.

In the 2015 Legislative session, Caldwell, in violation of the public trust, supported re-directing Amendment 1 funds, intended to protect the public's water resources and restore the Everglades, to balance the state budget.

In the 2016 State legislative session, Caldwell sponsored a 'Water Policy Bill" that undermines water resource protection from Appalachicola Bay to the Florida Keys. The bill greatly impedes efforts to cost effectively prevent water pollution at its source. The bill eliminated the regulatory permitting process that included performance standards for potential pollutant loading of lakes, rivers, streams and coastal estuaries. It eliminated a January 2015 deadline, which the state didn’t meet, for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline, thereby delaying cleanup of Lake Okeechobee.

Coastal communities on the west and east coast of south Florida have suffered tremendous economic and environmental devastation due to harmful algae blooms from land based nutrient runoff. The toxic brew of fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and fungicides from the sugar cane fields around Lake Okeechobee have poisoned downstream rivers and coastal estuaries with toxic blue-green algae and red tide.

Caldwell constantly attempted to redirect government policy away from the polluters to further his own political ambitions. Inexplicably, a good number of local business men and women heavily supported his political aspirations despite devastation to our coastal resources and adverse impact to our tourism and real estate based economy. Fortunately, enough voters from the Florida panhandle to the Florida Keys recognized it was time to vote for clean water candidates and hold Caldwell accountable for his abdication of responsibility to represent the public interest.


Bill said...

Caldwell got 2500 fewer votes than Scott and DeSantis in Lee County, his home. Enough local people understood his commitment was to polluters, not his constituents thus contributing most of the difference in his loss.

Anonymous said...

Florida is in crisis. The northwest panhandle is a toxic nightmare.