Monday, September 26, 2016

John Scott For FL House District 79: Fort Myers Election Is A David v. Goliath Battle ... by gimleteye

State House District 79 is in Fort Myers. Florida voters are well served to understand a little of what makes Tallahassee tick. This is one race where the choices facing Florida are fully visible. It is a David versus Goliath battle, and I support John Scott, the underdog challenging Big Sugar's salesman in Tallahassee, incumbent state representative Matt Caldwell.

Scott was born and raised in Hialeah. He lives and works as an information technology professional in North Fort Myers and is a volunteer leader for Sierra Club. Although this is Scott's first venture into politics, he has chosen an extraordinarily important challenge against an incumbent who defines  a status quo that is wrecking Florida. On his campaign website, Scott writes:
"... The power and influence of certain special interests over our elected officials has silenced the voice of the people in Tallahassee. I'm running for Florida State House District 79 to be "The People's Voice"." The Caloosahatchee River and our coastal ocean waters are being ruined. Jobs, real estate values, fishing and our tourism industry are all at risk because of terrible environmental policies spearheaded by Matt Caldwell and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott. Florida's water and environment should not be partisan issues. I will fight with every ounce of my being to protect the water and natural beauty that makes Florida "paradise". The people of District 79, and all of Florida, deserve better. We all want fairness in our society. Our government should be powered by the people and add value to our lives without over-reaching. I respectfully ask for your vote so I can represent YOU in Tallahassee and NOT special interests who focus on their own agenda while destroying our way of life. Thank you for your support."
There are a thousand reasons that someone like John Scott should be elected to the state legislature, and only one reason he faces a steep uphill struggle. The Goliath is this race, incumbent state representative Matt Caldwell, is a stand-in for polluters threatened by the "Arab Spring" in Florida that galvanized voters on both Florida coasts after historic rainfall in the winter of 2016.

Caldwell lives in Lehigh Acres, the epicenter of Florida's housing boom and bust. The district he represents is bisected by one of our state's badly polluted rivers, the Caloosahatchee. The gunk that flows out of Lake Okeechobee makes its way through the Caloosahatchee and then up and down the gulf coast.

In a political sense, District 79 is like a clamp that holds state water management polices for Big Sugar. If Big Sugar can't hold District 79, there is no telling what could happen to its downstream interests. Predictably, campaign cash -- both in direct contributions and political action committees -- has flooded in to protect Caldwell. What looks on paper as a 10-1 advantage favoring the Goliath in FL House race for District 79 could easily be five or ten times that ratio once political committee dark money is factored in.

Matt Caldwell has raised, by last campaign finance report, $250,000 to Scott's $39,000, mostly small contributions from individuals.

Caldwell's money list is a who's who of Florida's regulated industries. Contributors from his own district are scarce as hen's teeth. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to peel back Caldwell's PAC contributions that legally launder special interest money, with anodyne sounding names.

Caldwell is identified, principally, through a political action committee, the Florida Committee for Conservative Leadership. The PAC is filled with tens of thousands of dollars of contributions from industry trade groups, from Big Sugar and from other Big Ag interests.

One of the Caldwell PAC's largest contributors is another PAC: Floridian's United For Our Children's Future. A quick review of that PAC shows more of the state's largest, regulated industries including Big Sugar. Florida Power and Light contributed $600,000.

John Scott believes that this election cycle voters are paying attention to Florida's water quality crisis. District 79 has been hard hit. Scott hopes Caldwell's financial arsenal -- stocked by corporations and special interests -- will backfire.

On his campaign website, John Scott counts the environment as his number 1 issue: "Our state is supposed to manage water for the benefit of all but water in South Florida is being managed mostly for the benefit of agriculture. ... Billions of gallons of polluted water from Lake Ockeechobee are being released into the Caloosahatchee River on the west coast and the St. Lucie river on the east coast. That highly nutrient loaded, polluted water is spreading through the Gulf, replacing the crystal clear water with a growing plume that looks like an oil spill in our coastal waters and is fouling estuaries around Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva islands. Tourists are staying away. Fishing guides are losing business. Grass beds critical to sea life are being ruined. ... Governor Rick Scott and Representative Matt Caldwell are on the wrong side of history and their policies are putting all Floridians at risk."

John Scott is endorsed by an Everglades hero, former Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah. In 2012, Judah -- then a county commissioner -- was upset as a result of a massive midnight attack by Big Sugar PAC money. Caldwell helped coordinate Judah's defeat. His offense? To advocate for purchase of lands south of Lake Okeechobee owned by Big Sugar, to relieve the pressure of pollution on the Caloosahatchee River; the disaster that turned into a catastrophe in 2016 and motived John Scott to run against Caldwell. In a 2014 Miami Herald editorial, Judah fired back against Caldwell,
The most deceptive and egregious action against taxpayers during the 2013 Florida legislative session was passage of HB 7065 and SB 768, which amended the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. 
Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, sponsored HB 7065 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 would be able to limit or cap its long-term obligation to fund Everglades restoration. 
The 1994 Everglades Forever Act, which was ostensibly written to restore the Florida Everglades, capped the sugar industry’s clean-up costs at $320 million and obligated the public taxpayers for the remainder of the $16 billion restoration project. The so-called privilege tax of $25 per acre that the sugar industry pays to continue its discharge of pollution runoff to the Everglades, as well as to the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries, amounts to about $11 million per year. A truly insignificant sum in contrast to the billions required from the public to restore the Florida Everglades. 
The $25 per acre privilege tax was scheduled to be reduced to $10 per acre in 2017 but the Caldwell amendment extended the $25 per acre to 2026. To the casual observer it would appear that the legislative action would ensure that the sugar industry continued to help fund Everglades restoration. 
In actuality, the legislation provided the sugar industry the comfort level or certainty that its long term-funding commitment towards Everglades restoration would be significantly limited in scope. Instead of defending the sugar industry and suggesting that the taxpayers contribute an even greater amount to Everglades restoration, Rep. Caldwell should have supported an amendment to the Everglades Forever Act that increased the $25 privilege tax. 
This would have ensured that the sugar industry paid its fair share towards Everglades restoration as opposed to the sugar industry continuing to receive special treatment as the Florida Legislature’s favorite welfare recipient and shift the tax burden onto the backs of the public. 
Caldwell is quick to point out that the Everglades Foundation and Florida Audubon supported HB 7065, but the Sierra Club and The Conservancy of Southwest Florida took an opposing position that the legislation did not go far enough to level the funding formula between the sugar industry and the taxpayers for Everglades restoration.
In fact, the Everglades Foundation and Florida Audubon only struck a compromise to support HB 7065 because Caldwell was supporting an earlier version of an amendment that would have greatly weakened water quality standards and removed the 1993 Statement of Principles that had been a guide for restoration efforts over the last 20 years. With the objectionable provisions removed in the final draft amendment, the Everglades Foundation and Florida Audubon were in damage control mode and reluctantly accepted the continuation of an inequitable funding formula for Everglades restoration. 
To put the sugar industry’s $11 million annual contribution to Everglades restoration in perspective, Lee County taxpayers pay in excess of $30 million per year to the Okeechobee levy for work by the South Florida Water Management District in the Everglades Agricultural Area to provide drainage and irrigation of the sugar cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee. Lee County’s return on the investment is polluted water, fish kills and harmful algae blooms including red tide. 
Certainly, the more conservative and responsible approach would be to support public policy that protects the interest of struggling taxpayers and hold the sugar industry accountable for the destruction of precious public resources including the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and coastal estuaries.
Voters ought to carefully consider how the incumbent Matt Caldwell, an avowed conservative, nevertheless violates "the more conservative and responsible approach".

No less a taxpayer advocate than GOP firebrand Grover Norquist calls Big Sugar and its prerogatives, "cronyism in its undiluted, inexcusable majesty". There will be no end to the political corruption until voters understand exactly who they are electing to Tallahassee and the state legislature. In District 79 this election cycle, voters do have a clear choice: John Scott.


Gayle Ryan said...

Shared on FB - John is a friend and I wish I could help him more

Anonymous said...

Good work here! Keep putting out this information Gimlet, some one of these days enough people will wake up and vote the bastards out!

Anonymous said...

Caldwell is a pig.

Cyndi said...

John Scott is amazing. He is smart and intelligent. Send him money. I did.