Suddenly they’re environmentalists. It’s as if Green Jesus appeared to them in a dream and told them to go forth and clean up thine mess.
The GOP’s latest political ads ring with heart-tugging, tree-hugging promises:
Don’t worry, folks, we’ll fast-track that reservoir and send those billions of gallons of tainted water south from Lake Okeechobee, instead of pumping it to the coasts!
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And, by God, we’re finally going to get serious about saving the Everglades, because future generations are depending on us to do the right thing!
This fresh enlightenment is head-spinning, since Republican leaders in both Tallahassee and Washington have made a proud priority of slashing clean-water funds and gutting regulations in order to go easy on corporate and agricultural polluters.
Among those marching along with that program was Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has left Congress to run for Florida governor. He won the GOP primary by presenting himself as a fawning acolyte of President Trump, but those commercials have mostly disappeared.
The repackaged DeSantis is pitching himself as an impassioned environmental crusader, a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist” with a bold, multi-pronged plan for cleaning our befouled waters and shorelines.
It’s hard not to laugh at the Roosevelt line, coming from a Trump guy who voted to cripple the Environmental Protection Agency and co-sponsored a bill blocking federal oversight of public waterways.
Still it’s worth noting exactly what DeSantis promised last month when he rolled out his plan.
Sounding just like a Democrat, he said he wants to outlaw fracking, ban drilling off Florida’s coastline and curb the discharges from Lake O that fuel the toxic blue-green algae blooms on inland waters and exacerbate the red tide along the beaches.
DeSantis also vowed to uphold the intent of the Florida Forever constitutional amendment by making the state spend documentary tax revenue on conservation projects and land purchases, instead of siphoning the money for other purposes.
After unveiling his environmental agenda, DeSantis climbed on an airboat and took a spin through the Everglades, a mandatory ritual if you’re running for statewide office these days.
Last week, some of his critics were stunned when DeSantis got endorsed by the Everglades Trust, a prominent, well-funded political action committee that lobbies for stronger environmental laws.
The trust, which operates independently of the Everglades Foundation, supports candidates who refuse to accept donations from Big Sugar, one of the major culprit polluters of the Everglades.
DeSantis has opposed the federal price-supports that enrich sugar companies, and he strongly criticized the industry during a TV debate last August — a stance almost unprecedented for a Florida Republican.
As coughing voters wearing hospital masks contemplate rotting fish on their beaches and watch the tourists pile out of hotels and restaurants, DeSantis wants us to ignore his awful congressional voting record and believe he’s devoted to making our waters clean and safe.
Most environmental groups don’t buy it, and are supporting Democrat Andrew Gillum for governor. Gillum, it must be said, counts among his top advisers a pal named Sean Pittman, who is a registered lobbyist for Florida Crystals, a sugar titan.
So, no candidate in this race is squeaky clean and immune to suspicion.
Likewise, no candidate is spending much time railing against upstream municipalities, citrus growers, and cattle and dairy ranches — the other sources of Lake O’s harmful fertilizer inflows.
The problem of red tide and blue-green algae outbreaks is too big and complex for a governor to tackle alone. Yet even if DeSantis has been miraculously transformed, nothing in Florida waters will change for the better unless his colleagues in the GOP-led Legislature seek a similar epiphany.
If they wait too long, their epiphany might appear as an ominous vision of long lines of angry voters, many of them coughing into hospital masks.