By BRUCE RITCHIE
A Florida election with environmental overtones saw Gov. Rick Scott re-elected Tuesday over Democrat Charlie Crist and a state constitutional amendment for conservation passing by a wide margin.
Scott, who won election in 2010 with tea party backing and vetoed conservation lands spending in his first year of office, led by a 49 to 47 percent margin over Crist with nearly 5.9 million votes counted in the race.
During the campaign, Scott emphasized his role in creating jobs and his $880 million Everglades cleanup plan that won federal approval in 2012. Scott also said Crist was all talk and no action on the environment.
Crist said Scott had shown no leadership on renewable energy and accused him of ignoring climate change and the threat of rising seas even after Scott met with scientists to discuss the issue. Sierra Club Florida backed the former Republican governor turned Democrat.
“Florida is on a mission,” Scott told supporters late Tuesday. “The mission is to keep growing and become the very best place in the world to get a job and live the American dream.”
After speaking with Scott late Tuesday, Crist told supporters they must continue working to expand Medicaid coverage, improve education and protect the environment.
Amendment 1, which would designate one-third of revenue from an excise tax on real estate transactions towards conservation lands and environmental restoration, received 75 percent of the vote with support from a wide array of environmental groups. The amendment would provide $19 billion for conservation over 20 years, according to state analysts, although supporters estimate the amount at $10 billion.
“Floridians overwhelmingly voted yes on Amendment 1, clearly showing that Florida voters understand the importance of water and land conservation to our state’s environment and to its economy,” Will Abberger, chairman of the political committee backing the amendment, said in a statement.
PANHANDLE CONGRESSIONAL RACE
In the race for Congressional District 2, which extends from Tallahassee to Panama City in the Florida panhandle, Democrat Gwen Graham defeated Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, by less than 1 percent of the vote, 125,132 votes to 122,939.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to stand before you as the newly-elected first congresswoman of the second Congressional District,” Graham told supporters in Tallahassee.
She and Southerland were divided on issues including support for Florida’s federal lawsuit against Georgia over water flowing into the Apalachicola River. Southerland supported the lawsuit filed by Scott a year ago.
During a campaign stop along the river in August, Graham said she would work with the Alabama and Georgia congressional delegations and there should be less finger-pointing among the states. A month later, Graham said Florida was being “cheated” out of water by Georgia and she blamed Southerland for not supporting a proposal to give legal rights to downstream water users.
Southerland accused her of flip-flopping on her support of the lawsuit. But Graham said she had been consistent in arguing that the lawsuit was not the best approach.
The group Ocean Champions targeted Southerland as “Ocean Enemy #1” and aired television advertisements against him in Panama City. Southerland said coastal communities were suffering from flawed fisheries management and he was seeking a common sense approach on the issue.
Southerland also sponsored legislation to counter what he called a federal Environmental Protection Agency “overreach” on wetlands regulation. The EPA said it is seeking to clarify its jurisdiction over wetlands permitting.
OTHER STATEWIDE RACES
Also Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam won re-election easily. He has argued for a broader state approach to dealing with water issues, and the Legislature moved the Florida energy office to his department in 2011.
Attorney General Pam Bondi won re-election as well over Democrat George Sheldon. He criticized Bondi earlier this year for joining a lawsuit challenging a federal water cleanup plan supported by states around the Chesapeake Bay.
(Story and photos copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be received from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)