Last month, Congressman Francis Rooney surprised many by announcing he would not make another run for Congressional District 19.

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Though Bullsugar hasn’t always been apt to praise Rep. Rooney, we’d like to take the opportunity to tip our hats to him on his way out for a few key accomplishments that moved the needle in Florida’s fight for clean water. With the 2020 elections on the not-so-distant horizon, we’d also like to use this chance to issue a challenge to the people of Florida, to replace him in the upcoming election with fresh representation that has true potential to be a champion for our water.

Situated on Florida’s southwest coast, congressional district 19 includes Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples, and Marco Island, and spans the stretch of coastline where the Caloosahatchee River empties into the Gulf, all too often carrying dangerous cyanotoxins. Though the estuary needs fresh water at times to maintain a healthy salinity balance, folks living in Rooney’s district are not strangers to the devastating impacts of Lake Okeechobee discharges when they’re teeming with cyanobacteria during the hot, wet months of summer. Just as Congressman Mast has been an advocate for the St. Lucie on the east coast, the Caloosahatchee River and estuary and the people of Lee and Collier Counties are in desperate need for a clean water champion to step up. 

Rooney’s tenure as a representative had some bright spots for Florida’s water. In particular, he was never afraid of taking on Big Sugar. Rooney was one of three members of the House from Florida to vote in favor of a plan to end sugar subsidies last year, and he has been a vocal opponent of the harmful and outdated practice of sugarcane burning. This year he was instrumental in securing more federal funding for Everglades restoration and in raising community awareness and requesting agency information about the short- and long-term health effects related to exposure to harmful algal blooms. 

Rep. Rooney laid some important groundwork, but our hope is that his replacement will go even further.

As the pool of possible successors grows, Bullsugar is watching to see who emerges ready to fight for the health of our waterways and the citizens who depend on them. For those willing to champion the issues that plague our waters, we’ll be available to help educate and encourage true advocacy that rejects the myths and misdirections behind the status quo. We’re also here to call out the bad actors as we see them. While we haven’t chosen to throw our weight behind any particular candidate just yet, we already have ideas about where our vote won’t be. Enter Dane Eagle.

Eagle launched his bid for Rooney’s seat earlier this month, drawing ire from those unimpressed by his environmental record. In a 2019 legislative scorecard produced by the Sierra Club, he earned thumbs down across the board for his recorded votes on various environmental bills of significance, including his support for the proposed toll roads to nowhere–a bill that many worry will encourage uninhibited sprawl through sensitive wetlands–as well as his support for limiting home rule by blocking plastic straw bans in Sanibel and Fort Myers. 

A quick search of his 2018 campaign contributions reveals an unsurprising connection to the sugar industry. (Just search the suspiciously duplicated 111 Ponce de Leon Ave. address.) And if that’s not enough to draw concern, a newly-released first round of endorsements includes none other than Matt Caldwell himself–a man whose policies may have been more responsible for last year’s toxic blooms than any other Florida politician’s. If we are defined at all by the company we keep, we believe this should be an association of lethal proportions.

In Congressional District 19 and beyond, we need clean water voters to embrace the chance that is coming in 2020. Across the state, Floridians care about our water and understand the problems, the solutions, and the significance that they represent for our health, our economy, and our environment. As this coming election season approaches, get ready to help us make sure that there will be consequences for political candidates who don’t.

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