Seeing red in the Legislature

The Florida Legislature has a lot in common with red tides. It is easier to see when sunshine makes the toxins light up.

Today the Legislature is aiming to pass a bill to make it much more difficult for citizens to change the Florida Constitution by petition drive.

Legislators cite the pregnant-pig amendment as an example of frivolous cluttering of the constitution.
But using the threat to hog farming to crimp citizen rights makes as much sense as attributing red tides only to natural events.

Red tides kill a lot of fish. They make the Gulf of Mexico sick as a dog and throw up manatee carcasses dead as driftwood, threatening the multibillion-dollar recreational and tourism industries, especially along the southwest coast.

People get sick, too. Symptoms range from difficulty breathing, hacking coughs and possible contagion in the value of coastal condominiums, when going out for a carton of milk from the local Circle K might mean strapping on scuba gear.

Until recently, when the Sierra Club Calusa group got fighting mad, the Web page of the Mote Marine Laboratory, funded in large part by the state of Florida said, “Florida red tides represent a natural process not caused by pollution.”

The Web site suddenly changed after the Naples Daily News reported the fact alongside an excerpt from a 1962 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study stating, “It is now well known that red tide outbreaks on the west Florida coast are correlated with years of high rainfall and heavy freshwater discharge from the western rivers of the Florida peninsula.”

The year 1962 is a long time ago, a distance Sen. Ken Pruitt, longtime politician who reportedly has statewide ambitions, helped measure in recent remarks at polluted Lake Okeechobee when he borrowed from Native American wisdom.

“We don’t inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children,” said the senator, hitting an aphorism so pulverized by reality that you can hear ghostly warriors clanging their spears in furious disapproval.

Let’s count backward. In 1962, our parents’ generation was borrowing the bountiful natural resources of our state from their kids, who would be us, more or less.

They, then, knew that red tides were caused by pollution.

So what happened, Mote Marine Laboratory? We grew up and forgot? Oh, we didn’t have the science.

Pruitt, an advocate for Florida-approved wells that now dump more than 1 billion gallons per day of scarcely treated municipal wastewater deep underground—leaking massively in some parts of the state—represents St. Lucie West, where recently a long-time municipal water well went bone dry.
Which is more embarrassing: a) pregnant pigs used as a justification for the Florida Legislature to protect the Florida Constitution from you, b) a former well driller, now Senate leader, who claims to hold dear the risk to future generations while advocating aquifer exploitation as a well in his district pumps sand, or c) a non-profit institution dedicated to excellence in marine sciences that dropped the ball on land-based pollution?

There are other very good reasons we might want to give our children the right to change the Florida Constitution by petition drive.

In a meeting this week in Estero, “Gulf waters still in distress,” Dr. Brian Lapointe reported research that isotopes in dead seaweed on the west coast are lit with the chemical signature of sewage.

State-sponsored bureaucrats—through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District—have roundly criticized the career work of Lapointe and his colleague, Dr. Larry Brand, for hypotheses and mounting evidence that pin pollution in distant places to polluters in high places.

Right about now, it would make a lot of sense for readers to pick up the telephone and bark at your nearest state legislator. Nothing less will do.

You might remind them to enact referenda that citizens have already passed, like requiring Big Sugar to pay the main cost for cleaning up its pollution of the Everglades. Or providing for the class-size amendment.

Imagine public schools with small enough classes so that future students wouldn’t miss the lesson that the heart of “borrowing the Earth from our children and future generations” is responsibility and ownership.

Ownership is popular these days. But limiting the access of people to their constitution is a lot like making the number of people who own democracy a whole lot smaller.

Freedom may be on the march in Iraq, but it isn’t doing so well in Tallahassee.

This week is National Sunshine Week, to illuminate how our fundamental liberties are being killed by the race of government to secrecy, another toxin in the red tide floating the ship of state.

Save the Voters’ Voice Coalition is working together to protect the rights of people to amend the state constitution by petition drive. It is a mouthful.

I’d just call the campaign, “Stop the idiots.”

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