Friday, November 9, 2018

Even when it's over, it ain't over...

Dear Florida Environmentalists:

I went to bed Tuesday night in a funk after election results showed that Andrew Gillum, Bill Nelson, and Nikki Fried each would lose their contests by about 1 percentage point despite leading in most major polls. I had hoped that wins by Gillum for Governor and Fried for Commissioner of Agriculture could reverse the damage done to Florida’s environment by eight years of negligence by Rick Scott and Adam Putnam, and that Nelson's re-election to the Senate would solidify the anti-Trump wave expected to overtake Congress. Hope disappeared for the night, replaced by memories of past Florida election nightmares. 

My guess is that many of you felt the same way.

Two years ago, my election night depression lingered on for days. I should have been celebrating the voters' rejection of a constitutional amendment promoted by Florida's monopoly power companies that would have made it difficult for homeowners to put solar panels on their roofs.  Instead, I woke up gripped by fear on where our country was heading after electing Donald Trump.

I feel differently today despite frustration over the current election outcome. I no longer live in fear of the hate, greed, discrimination, and divisiveness Trump has unleashed on Florida, America and the world.  That's because there are millions of people who are resisting Trump’s platform and creeping fascism with a solidarity that makes me and everyone I know more determined and courageous. The resistance is strong in Florida and is turning into a movement that will not only protect our air, water, and natural environment again, but also transform the Sunshine State into a place that is just, inclusive, and equitable.

My mood has improved each day this week following election night. One reason is obvious; results for the three races at the top of the ticket have tightened considerably, giving  hope that one or more of our environmental champions could win. Tens of thousands of uncounted ballots are being tabulated in South Florida, and those votes are heavily favoring Nikki Fried, Bill Nelson, and Andrew Gillum. Fried has jumped out to a 3,000 vote lead over Caldwell. Nelson is now just 0.18 percentage points behind Scott and closing fast as more ballots are counted. Gillum is less than a half point behind DeSantis and gaining ground.

There will be recounts in all three elections accompanied by nasty attempts to shut them down. Rick Scott made that clear last night. "No ragtime (sic) group of liberal activists or lawyers from DC will be allowed to steal this election from the voters in this great state," Scott said.  Those words don't sound appropriate for a man who is going to join two other Cabinet members to certify Florida's final election results.  He just put me in a fighting mood and, frankly it feels good. My response to Red Tide Rick is that I and other "ragtime" Florida activists, are not going to let you steal the election by using the power of the State to stop  counting the vote in Florida.  We've seen that trick before and we're not going to let you do it again.   

Looking past the main show at the top of the ballot, there were a lot of very good results in other state and local elections. Here are a few victories that Florida environmentalists should celebrate:

  • First-time candidates Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala won congressional seats in Miami-Dade County joining the blue wave that swept Democrats to a majority of the US House of Representatives. Sierra Club endorsed candidates for Congress who won re-election and joined the new pro-environment majority include Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Val Demmings, Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Frederica Wilson. 
  • Amendment 4 passed – restoring rights of felons, except for those convicted of murder or sexual crimes. 1.4 million former felons who have been cruelly disenfranchised despite serving their time will now get a chance to register to vote and regain their rights as citizens. 
  • Amendment 9 passed - prohibiting oil and gas drilling in Florida’s state waters as a permanent protection in Florida’s constitution. 
  • Amendment 1 was defeated with our help, ensuring that our counties and cities will continue to have the fiscal resources to provide community services and preserve environmentally sensitive areas. 
  • Two strong environmentalist supporters, Mariella Smith and Kimberly Overman, were elected to the Hillsborough County Commission, switching it to a 4-3 pro-environment majority. Hillsborough County also passed an “All for Transportation” sales tax that will fund a robust transit system for Tampa and its suburbs. 
  • Broward County voters also approved a transit surtax to “reduce traffic congestion, improve roads and bridges, enhance traffic light timing, develop safe sidewalks and bike paths, expand mass transit, fully fund special needs/on-demand services, fully fund community shuttles, connect greenways, enhance school safety zones and fund a variety of city transportation projects.” 
  • Gainesville voters rejected by an overwhelming margin an attempt to take control of the Gainesville Regional Utility away from the public. That preserves the City’s ability to move forward with its commitment to 100% clean, renewable energy that it adopted just three weeks ago. 
  • In Sarasota, voters changed the way they elected the Board of County Commission to single districts which should help elect environmentally inclined candidates to the Commission in the future. 
  • Several Sierra Club endorsed candidates won election, including Ben Diamond, Jennifer Webb, Fentrice Diskell, and Margaret Good in the Florida House, and Annette Taddeo in the Senate.  They will be outstanding environmental champions in the Florida Legislature. Additionally, Jim Bonfiglio, our endorsed candidate for State House District 89, emerged from the election in a too-close-to-call race that will head to a recount. 
  • Webb became the first married lesbian elected to higher office in Florida's history. We had endorsed her in 2016 too. She lost on her first try but never left the picture, essentially running for two more years to achieve an important victory. There were many good candidates we supported who lost their first time out in 2018, and we encourage them to follow Webb’s example by trying again in 2020. 

My optimism grows further when I take a look at a map of  where Florida’s statewide candidates prevailed and contemplate how we can learn from it to create a green wave that encompasses the entire State in the years to come.  Gillum, Fried and Nelson won a majority of the votes in most of the state’s urban areas including Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach County, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Tallahassee. DeSantis and Scott won the Florida panhandle, southwest Florida from Sarasota to Naples, and the rural counties. That’s a roadmap telling us which cities and counties are likely to pass stronger environmental rules, and it also reveals the places where we need to educate people about the threats to our air, water, land, wildlife and climate facing Florida’s communities. Looking at that map, we’re at a great starting place to create a green wave that sweeps over blue and red areas of the state alike.

What inspired me the most this election? It’s looking back at the way Andrew Gillum galvanized voters. He built a remarkable coalition that included more people of color, more voters under 30, more women, and more environmental supporters than I’ve ever seen joined together on a common cause in Florida. That stellar organizing accomplishment brought him closer to winning the Governor’s race than any Democrat since Lawton Chiles defeated Jeb Bush in 1994. Andrew Gillum is a gifted leader who rose above the racism stirred up by Trump and DeSantis and he defeated it, no matter the final outcome when all the votes are counted. We need to continue working with him to build a better Florida.

Frank Jackalone
Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director