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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Editorial: Keep Florida on right environmental path

Although the Florida’s governor race so far has been dominated by personal attacks and negative ads, there is one positive development.

The major candidates all show thoughtful regard for Florida’s environment, which sustains its tourism industry and its quality of life.

This is particularly notable because Gov. Rick Scott displayed scant interest in the issue during his last campaign. He slashed environmental programs during his first year in office.

But we give Scott credit for revisiting his positions. He may never be a Sierra Club favorite, but Scott has shown increasing concern for natural Florida.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, now running as a Democrat, was a reliable guardian of Florida when serving as a Republican in the Legislature, Cabinet and the governor’s office.

Nan Rich, Crist’s Democratic primary opponent, also has solid credentials.

All this is encouraging but shouldn’t surprise anyone. Florida’s governors have an admirable bipartisan history of being conservationists.

Republican Gov. Claude Kirk created the Department of Environmental Protection and successfully fought the destructive Cross Florida Barge Canal during his tenure in the late 1960s.

His successor, Democrat Reubin Askew, greatly expanded environmental protections, and Democrat Bob Graham then mobilized a state effort to save the Everglades.

Republican Bob Martinez launched a series of environmental initiatives, including the land acquisition program that would become Florida Forever and a comprehensive program to restore Florida’s rivers, lakes and bays. There is a good reason the DEP building in Tallahassee is called the Bob Martinez Center.

Democrat Lawton Chiles also was a staunch advocate of the Everglades and protector of our waters.

Republican Jeb Bush, like Scott, sought to jettison unnecessary regulations, but he also sought to curtail pollution and worked to continue Martinez’s land-buying program, keep oil drilling away from the coast and improve growth management.

Crist, among other things, proposed a major Everglades acquisition and promoted energy conservation.

And Scott, after that first year, has shown more interest in the state’s natural heritage, pushing for Everglades restoration and protecting springs.

Last week, he pledged to spend $1 billion on restoring the Everglades and Apalachicola Bay, cleaning polluted springs, protecting the Florida Keys, safeguarding water supplies and other efforts.

Critics dismiss this as a campaign gimmick, and no doubt politics is involved. But we believe that Scott, a relative newcomer to Florida when elected, also has come to better appreciate its natural gifts and understand how they are threatened.

There is nothing conservative about squandering such treasures.

It is also true, as Scott tells us, that during the recession the tight state budget did not allow for such investments. Now it does.

In any event, the takeaway from all this is that regardless of who voters elect, our next governor will have pledged to safeguard the state’s environment. That is a healthy development for voters and the state.

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