Democrats claim to care about the environment. This legislative session we saw the Republicans push fracking and water legislation which are incompatible with the values of most Floridians on environmental issues. Yet for the most part Democrats have de-emphasized environmental issues. The de-emphasis of environmental issues by Florida Democrats, I believe no doubt hurt the Obama campaign in 2012 along the Treasure Coast and SW Florida, and Charlie Crist similarly struggled in 2014 despite the NextGen ads that ran statewide.
Martin, Indian River, Charlotte and Collier counties have been traditionally anti-growth and in favor of punishing polluters in order to fund Everglades restoration. In fact, the only area where Congressmen and legislators from these two regions have broken with GOP orthodoxy over the past two decades is on issues related to environmental protection and preservation. Collier has shifted towards a more pro-growth posture recently, but it is not without serious local opposition that this has taken place.
Florida Democrats often forget the importance of medium-sized counties where the GOP cleans up in statewide elections. The counties listed above all have serious environmental concerns that have not been articulated forcefully by Democrats who have run statewide. But perhaps Patrick Murphy begins to change that.
Congressman Murphy having represented the Treasure Coast in Congress understands the importance of these issues. Irrespective of some of his other positions that are incompatible with progressiveness, on environmental issues he has taken a leadership role, be it on clean water, beach erosion, climate change
The Everglades Coalition gave Murphy their “Distinguished Public Service Award” in 2015.In receiving the award the organization stated the following:
“Since his election to the United States Congress in 2012, Patrick Murphy has quickly proved himself
to be an up-and-coming champion for America’s Everglades… Congressman Murphy has worked
above and beyond in his service to Floridians and indeed all Americans to reach across party lines
and facilitate meaningful progress for the Everglades.”
In addition, Murphy was honored by Audoboun Society last year for working hard on Everglades-related issues. He has also been given credit by activists for tirelessly devoting energy to get Kissimmee River restoration back on track. He also had yet to accept a check from sugar, a laudable and principled stand though we will continue to track this closely as Murphy’s fundraising operation ramps up and his need to access money increases.
Murphy has also worked hard on the Indian River Lagoon issue as has been pointed out before on this site. However, his troubling Keystone XL pipeline vote remains problematic as do some of his other economic-related stands. On the issue of the Everglades, depending on your perspective (since some otherwise progressive people don’t find Everglades restoration to be an important issue), Murphy could be identified as a strong liberal advocate and voice. In the past it could be argued that south Florida Republican members of Congress from yesteryear such as the late E. Clay Shaw and former CIA-director Porter Goss worked hard on Everglades issues and avoided taking sugar money, unlike some of their local Democratic counterparts.
The Everglades issue might demonstrate how out of touch the southeastern part of the Florida is with the rest of the state. For many Florida progressives outside the southern part of the state, the Keystone XL pipeline issue might prove to be a bigger deal than Murphy’s liberal stands on the Everglades, Indian River Lagoon and Climate Change.
Murphy is far from the ideal Democratic candidate for most progressives. However, his record on localized environmental issues could help finally re-position a Florida Democratic Party whose rhetoric and values have been out of touch on the most critical local issues in the southern part of the state. Let’s hope Murphy’s embrace of these issues teaches Florida Democrats that running aggressively on environmental matters can make a big difference in Florida, especially in areas where the Republicans currently dominate proceedings.