Monday, August 17, 2009

Wade Hopping: a summation ... by gimleteye

Wade Hopping, who passed away last week, had been the dean of the lobbying corps working against environmental protection in Tallahassee, the Florida state capitol. In recent decades, he and goals he espoused and represented on behalf of corporate clients have been triumphant. There is scarcely a single law involving the environment or in favor of special interests in land use or infrastructure leading to growth and development that does not have his imprint. According to advocates for the environment, Hopping was gracious, professional, and thoroughly capable. As a former Florida Supreme Court justice and president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Hopping was the gold standard for growth-at-any-cost that first defined modern Florida and now plunged the state into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Those virtues, today, are not so heroic as they seemed only a few years ago.

Hopping was also chairman of the Pacific Legal Foundation. The PLF "was established in 1973-74 by a group of attorneys from California's Justice Department to counter reform of the welfare system and the liberal public interest legal groups that were pressing for better environmental and health regulations. Especially targeted were the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund. Governor Ronald Reagan of California appears to have provided the required financial links to Pittsburg billionairre Richard Mellon Scaife who funded the initial office in Sacramento." The PLF's interest in Florida coincided with the acceleration of government initiatives to protect the the Florida Keys and East Everglades in the early 1990's.

The PLF obituary notes, "(Hopping's) notable achievements included coordinating the Florida business community’s efforts to enact laws relating to manatee protection, an expedited environmental permitting process, and the Bert J. Harris Jr. Property Rights Protection Act." The Bert Harris Act is the best example how the unintelligent design of laws provides energy to a precept of radical conservatism: that self-interest of corporations can protect the public interest better than rules and regulations.

The Bert Harris Act holds that Florida property owners ought to be compensated and obtain relief in greater measure than under federal law, expanding the meaning of "takings" of private property under the US Constitution. It is a law recognized by the community of Florida legal experts as vague and failing to provide meaningful results. By far, the impact of the Bert Harris Act has been political; not legal. Hopping's contribution gave an entire industry of "environmental land use" lawyers the justification to claim that any particular zoning or permit decision is a violation of the Bert Harris Act. "It is a piece of crap law, poorly written and constructed," one expert told me.

But that is exactly the point of government designed to fail. Despite hundreds of lawsuits, there has never once been a finding of violation of the Harris Act that has been upheld. The Act has had an enormous chilling effect on government denying zoning changes or enforcing environmental rules and laws. Because it is so blazingly ineffective, what Hopping helped to create is extraordinarily useful to the Growth Machine. In a widely distributed email during a 1993 legislative battle, a prominent environmentalist wrote, "Wade is enuf to make anyone "Hopping" mad. I distinctly remember witnessing a Senate Natural Resources committee discussion where he acknowledged that a provision he provided was ambiguous, and blithely said he would litigate it for a couple of years and then propose a legislative fix."

The Bert Harris Act is less a law than an amulet used by developers on regulators or regulators in the pocket of developers on elected officials to instigate growth-at-any-cost. To be fair, Hopping could not do this all himself: he needed the will of the Florida legislature. The conservative agenda of property rights contains in its seeds the same errors of judgment that mark the collapse of the economy and financial system. This inherent mistrust of regulatory authority by conservatives demonized government and required competent facilitators. The irony is that its practical application produced exactly the opposite result of what conservative funders and corporate clients intended: a self-sustaining, profitable marketplace.

Today, the Florida legislature is not only amenable to the conservative proposition that the collapsed economy was caused by excessive land use regulation, it is using the economic collapse to justify further attacks against growth management rules and regulations. On the one hand, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and corporate lobbyists are scrambling to oppose citizens who want to take back their democracy from special interests, on the other hand they are holding for taxpayer bailouts. No one wants to mark-to-market the real result of so much questionable judgement that was delivered, nevertheless, at great profit. At the instruction of Gov. Charlie Crist, flags were flown last week at half-mast at the Tallahassee capitol in memory of Wade Hopping.

PLF Mourns the Passing of Its Board Chair, Wade Hopping

SACRAMENTO, CA; August 11, 2009: Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys and staff were greatly saddened today to learn of the passing of Wade L. Hopping, PLF’s Board Chair and a nationally renowned land use attorney. Mr. Hopping passed away this morning in Tallahassee, Florida, after complications from a stroke and esophageal cancer.

His leadership roles included the presidency of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. His notable achievements included coordinating the Florida business community’s efforts to enact laws relating to manatee protection, an expedited environmental permitting process, and the Bert J. Harris Jr. Property Rights Protection Act.

Mr. Hopping received both his B.A. in political science and his J.D. from Ohio State University.

“Everyone at PLF joins me in offering condolences to Wade Hopping’s family,” said Rob Rivett. “Wade’s memory will live on at PLF, in the inspiration he offered to all of us.”

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation is the oldest and most successful public interest legal organization that litigates for property rights, limited government, and a balanced approach to environmental protection, in courts across the country.

Property rights backers plan legal foundation too

By Elizabether Willson
St. Petersburg Times
March 31, 1993

Critics called it one of the most radical bills they had ever seen.

The Private Property Rights bill could wipe out Florida's environmental and growth management laws, environmentalists said. They said it could cost the state billions of dollars.

Pushing the bill were some of the state's wealthiest land barons, commercial developers and agribusiness interests. An influential group of lawyers and lobbyists aggressively peddled it to legislators.

Now, it turns out, behind the scenes, some of the same lawyers and lobbyists have been quietly organizing a legal foundation to champion the same issue they were selling to legislators.

Although they are vociferous in their support of the bill in the Legislature, the lobbyists are secretive about the Florida Legal Foundation. They refuse to say who's supporting the foundation or how.

State corporate records list the directors of the foundation as:

Wade Hopping, a Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist who represents some of Florida's largest community and commercial developers. He helped draft versions of the Private Property Rights bill, according to its sponsors.

L.M. "Buddy" Blain, a Tampa lawyer who represents the Lykes family empire in land disputes.

Timoth Warfel, a Tallahassee lawyer who heads a conservative group that failed to persuade Floridians to oust Supreme Court Chief Justice Rosemary Barkett.

"The purpose basi'cally is to create a foundation that would try to establish a balance in legal actions between the state and the individual with respect to regulation of property rights," Warfel said.

"What we have found is that there are a number of small property owners that basically get steamrolled in judicial or regulatory proceedings, and we believe these people ought to have assistance."

Despite advertising for an executive director, the non-profit foundation's directors won't identify its financial backers. They name only one other person involved with the start-up of the foundation: Lobbyist Chuck Littlejohn, who represents the Florida Land Council.

Members of the Florida Land Council, which has supported the Private Property Rights bill, include some of the state's wealthiest land barons:Miles Collier of Naples; Joseph Duda of Duda & Sons of Oviedo; Ben Hill Griffin of Frostproof; Nelson Fairbanks, president of U.S. Sugar in Clewiston; and Tom Rankin, CEO of Tampa-based Lykes Bros., the citrus, meat, banking, gas and land conglomerate.

Hopping said some members of the Florida Land Council and the Association of Community Developers support the foundation. "I helped pattern it after the Florida Land Council, but it is broader than them," Hopping said. "There are a lot of property owners who are interested in it." There are a lot of kind of civic-minded people who feel like, with 1,000 Friends of Florida suing everybody in sight and with Sierra Club and the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation being so active in lawsuits, that the business community -- being in the middle of what I call a depression -- needed some equal countervailing

A committee has been working on getting the foundation running, Blain said. He also refused to identify its members. Does the Lykes family support the legal foundation? "I can't say," Blain answered.

Why so much secrecy?

Littlejohn says it's because the foundation is still in its infancy. Fewer than 20 people are "very seriously" involved. " Involved in a less serious way, there are very many, many rnore,"he said. "I'd just like to emphasize their objectives are long-term, not short-term, to protect the asset value of private land holdings."

The Florida Legal Foundation is modeling itself after the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation in California, Hopping and Warfel said. Unlike the Pacific group, which addresses a broad array of issues, the Florida public interest group is committed to the narrow focus of property rights.

Hopping says the legal foundation has only a "loose" connection to the Private Property Rights bill that's moving through the Legislature.

"It is a public interest law firm dedicated to the protection of traditional property rights and traditional values and the kinds of things that make America different from other countries," Hopping said. "It's kind of amazing that nobody thinks a thing about the natural resources law firms, but people get real interested and curious on this other side of the equation."

Defenders of Florida's programs to manage future growth, environmentalists and the head of the state's planning agency have opposed the property rights bill. They contend it would have dismantled the state's environmental and land-use regulations.

The bill, backed by more than 50 sponsors in the House, has turned into a $50,000 study, said Rep. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, one of two prime sponsors.

If passed this week, the bill would set up a committee to study the original proposal: to reimburse property owners who have seen the value of their property depreciate by 40 percent or more as the result of a government restriction such as zoning or a growth management rule. Property owners could sue local or state governments in court for damages.

"This gives us a chance to step back and really look at this for a year," Pruitt said. "This issue is not going to go away."'

Critics argue the legislation could cost governments billions of dollars.

They contend it could apply to virtually any land regulations a tries to enforce, including local zoning laws, comprehensive plans for growth management, environmental regulations and fire districts.

"It's the old Chicken Little theory - the-sky-is-falling syndrome," Pruitt said. "When you look at what they're saying, that it would cause a 40 percent increase in taxes, if that's the case, then maybe we've been taking people's land all along.

David Gluckman, a lawyer and lobbyist who represents Florida Audubon Society and other environmental groups' says the legal foundation follows a trend.

"We are seeing this nationwide," Gluckman said. "The far right has set these up in a number of areas to fight environmental and growth management statutes.

The Senate also has turned the bill into a study.

A primary target of the property rights bill and the new legal foundation will be the state's Department of Community Affairs and growth sponsors say.

Florida's growth management laws require new accompanied by roads, sewers and other services.

"Everybody's complaining about the bureaucratic red tape just to get a building permit in this state," Hopping said. "The foundation will not be suing everybody. If they follow the pattern of the Pacific Legal they will be selecting key cases to weigh in on the side of out Foundation, business people."

The foundation would represent property owners who can't afford lawyers, challenge land-use rules adopted by the DCA, environmental agencies and local governments, and appeal adverse court decisions.

Although the foundation's directors are tight-lipped about the new law firm's financial underpinnings, expect some of the state's most powerful land barons and commercial developers to jump on board. Hopping hopes some of his clients will join the effort.

Said Hopping: "I'm going to send them some money myself, and I will encourage all of my clients to do so."

Wade L. Hopping | Longtime foil for Florida environmentalists
TALLAHASSEE -- To environmentalists, he was Darth Vader, the black hat who lobbied for the bad guys: on the side of nuclear power plants, land developers, phosphate mining, even on the side of boat manufacturers against manatees.

The manatee flap got him hate mail from school children -- school children! -- complete with their hand drawings of the cuddly sea cows.

And yet those who Wade L. Hopping squared off against had only respect for the ``gentleman's gentleman.''

Family and friends gathered Tuesday at Big Bend Hospice to say goodbye. Hopping died of complications from a stroke and esophageal cancer. He was 77.

Even-tempered, gracious, a man of his word.

When he fought to get the sea cows removed from the endangered species list, Save the Manatee supporters demonstrated outside his office, complete with body bags representing manatees killed by boat propellers. Hopping came outside to offer them refreshments.

For almost 30 years, he was deeply involved in every environmental cause in Florida, almost always on the side of land developers, sugar growers, ranchers and the like.

His unseen hand was behind legislation from the Florida Forever Act to the Growth Management Act and the Environmental Land and Water Management Act. He helped Florida Power & Light get nuclear power plants licensed at St. Lucie and Turkey Point.

He sometimes said government was ``like kudzu,'' in need of trimming every year. He thought polluters could be trusted to police themselves. Without exception, his foes mourned his passing Tuesday.

``Wade and I jousted for over 35 years, usually on opposite sides of issues,'' said Audubon lobbyist Charles Lee. ``Through it all I found him to be one of the most delightful people to work around I have ever encountered.''


Said environmentalist Nat Reed: ``He leaves a legacy of great friends, even though some us fought his clients tooth-and-nail.''

Jacksonville lawyer Robert M. Rhodes tells the story of the time he and Hopping lobbied together against an environmental bill supported by some fervent young lobbyists. Hopping got a friendly legislator to introduce a series bills that would have hurt their environmental clients.

The distracted opponents chased those bills down assorted ``rabbit trails'' and lost sight of the bill that Hopping and Rhodes were working on. Said Rhodes: ``It was talked about as a technique for years and called, The Hopping Rabbit Trail.''

Many deals get done in the bars on Adams Street after a day at the Capitol, but Hopping wasn't one to join the partying. Instead, at the end of every work day, he took a brisk walk, his neatly trimmed white beard and white hair a familiar sight around the state Capitol and on Thomasville Road.

He succeeded where many fail because he had encyclopedic knowledge of the state's environmental laws, many of which he helped write, and because of his ability to steer campaign cash from his clients to politicians.

He came to Tallahassee in 1967 as a top aide to then Gov. Claude Kirk, who appointed Hopping to the Florida Supreme Court a year later. He left the court in 1969, defeated in his bid for election.

He founded the law firm of Hopping Green & Sams 30 years ago, specializing in environmental and land use law. Now with 52 lawyers, the firm is the largest in Florida specializing in governmental law.


On Tuesday, in honor of the former justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Gov. Charlie Crist ordered that all flags on state property be flown at half-staff.

Survivors include Mary, his wife of 38 years, five children and three grandchildren. Instead of flowers, the family requests contributions in his memory to Big Bend Hospice or the Guardian Ad Litem Program in Leon County.

Lucy Morgan can be reached at


Anonymous said...

The depth of the ignorance of the above post cannot be understated.

" plunged the state into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression?" The homes were and are needed, it was the "LEND at any cost" mentality that made money cheap and drove up prices.

The Harris Act exhibits a "mistrust of regulatory authority?" It is agnostic about merits of government burdens on property, but simply creates a settlement or compensation mechanism (one doesn't "violate" the Harris Act). Zoning is basically an incentive for the private sector to invest and develop in a certain way, and if the government changes the rules it told everyone to rely on, it must share in the burden. Imagine if your local government said "We are going to build a large hospital so we encourage residents to invest in medical credentials like nursing degrees and radiology technician certificates" and then a few years later made all medical activity in the city illegal. Wouldn't those who invested deserve compensation?

De mortuis nil nisi bonum.

Gimleteye said...

Whoever wrote the post above has not read this blog or years worth of posts on the Growth Machine and its gears connecting Wall Street greed to local levers of power. The lenders, developers and shills for the Growth Machine are all part of the same program. The point that "these homes are and were needed": read the statistics. The arguments about compensation for property owners completely avoid the point I raised: that the Harris Act is the kind of black hole that produces nothing at the end; and that is its intent. Violations of property rights are addressed by federal law, not a cockamamie scheme that put speculators at the head of the line in local zoning processes. As to the last bit, Hopping's professionalism and capability is noted as well as the impact of his work on the public interest. These points rarely, if ever, surface in the mainstream media for predictable reasons.

Anonymous said...

it is someone we know.

Anonymous said...


Who gives a damn if Hopping was nice. The Devil's smile doesn't make a saint.

He didn't have to get nasty. He owned the Legislature. The time that I worked there, he walked the halls and even the floor of the two chambers like he owned the place. Because he did.