Hurricane Irma did far more damage and took far more lives than it should have in this state. For too long, politicians and other leaders in this state have used cultural issues or items connected to emotion to avoid the real issues that plague a state as unique as Florida. This state IS NOT like the rest of the country and politicians who use cookie-cutter rhetoric and don’t connect with the true history, legacy and feel of this state are doing a disservice to its citizens. We’ve gone from visionaries like Leroy Collins, Reubin Askew, Bob Graham and Buddy MacKay to a generation of politicians that with few exceptions have failed to acknowledge Florida’s unique challenges and have married our politics to national issues and partisanship.
This storm, which for most Floridians only brought Tropical Storm or Category 1 force winds exposed the failed leadership of so many in the political class. Infrastructure in the state particularly utilities and drainage were exposed as antiquated and dated. The unwillingness of the state’s leaders and most counties or municipal officials to confront climate change or to reign in development was painfully shown to be largely responsible for the storm’s fury in this state. A cynical person could even claim the political class who has allowed utilities to raise rates without forcing investment in more modern equipment and technology, developers who have been allowed to build without adequate infrastructure even on environmentally sensitive lands, and those who have advocated and approved the steady flow high rises along Florida’s coasts and in downtown areas have been negligent, even complicit in the state’s fate due to Irma.
Not only have we not properly managed growth in this state unlike in the 1970’s and early 1980’s but we’ve fallen into a default position where the only two economic drivers are constant development and tourism which also requires consistent building. The state’s leadership in BOTH parties have failed to take a pause and provide adequate services to the existing population leaving them vulnerable to nature’s fury. For many in state and local government, the lucky streak most of the state went through from 2006 to 2016 with regards to tropical weather allowed excess to flow as memories of Hurricane Andrew and the devastating 2004 and 2005 Hurricane Season’s faded.
Climate change is real and while many on the left talk a good game on the issue, few have really taken strong action. One exception is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine who might not be a favorite of the Tallahassee insider clique but is looking these days like the type of person the state might need to try and make good after a lost decade of irresponsible governance and a deluded sense of comfort that has allowed the state’s leaders to avoid the reality of geography, climate and the times which we live in.
Growth management isn’t a priority of state leadership and even in many local governments controlled by Democrats, unwise high rise building and houses on environmentally sensitive buffer land have been approved. Our state also lacks the sort of urban park space and investment in natural areas in cities that it should have. Short-termism and political survival are the currency for the political class in both parties. Instead of dealing with issues that matter to the state’s long-term survival the politicians deal in fantasy, taking their cue from political consultants in Washington and national political parties. Using the bully pulpit elected office and candidacies provide to play the emotional card, whether it is railing about the size of government and family values on the right or reproductive rights and guns on the left, the REAL issues that threaten our state’s survival aren’t being addressed forcefully enough. Both sides are equally complicit in this – the right might be rhetorically wrong and the left outwardly correct when it comes to environmentalism and climate change but NEITHER side in this state is doing enough to really make a difference. Politicians and bureaucrats are all too often reactive when it comes to the environment, growth management and climate change.
My fear is that as memories of Irma fade and business gets back to normal that the political class will resume its usual posturing and the citizens of this state will be left vulnerable when another storm of Irma’s size and fury comes our way – or worse yet when another storm of Andrew’s intensity but Irma’s size visits Florida. If we don’t hold the politicians accountable after this experience, we are all responsible and will all have blood on our hands next time around.