Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell’s policies may be more responsible for this year’s toxic blooms than any other Florida politician’s.
By Ray Judah
The statewide Republican primary for Commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) resulted in candidate Matt Caldwell flying under the radar of the public’s heightened concern over the devastating impacts of harmful algae blooms on our environment and businesses. The Commissioner of FDACS holds a cabinet post and is very influential concerning policy and management of our water resources.
As with the direct correlation with nutrient runoff from sugar cane fields and the destruction of our rivers and coastal estuaries, there is a direct correlation with Caldwell’s rise to power in the Florida legislature and his favored status with the sugar industry.
Caldwell learned early how to “game” the political system and his numerous Political Action Committees including Florida Committee for Conservative Leadership, have received lavish contributions from notable industries, including petroleum, pharmaceutical, gaming, tobacco, and Big Sugar
Caldwell would have you believe that he is concerned with fiscal conservatism, voter representation and government accountability, but his voting record and actions tell an altogether different story.
In an attempt to suppress voters’ rights during the 2011 legislative session, Caldwell supported House Bill 1355, striking at the core of our state’s democracy by disenfranchising voters from exercising their privilege to participate in the election process. HB 1355 shortened early voting from 14 to 8 days, and imposed new restrictions on groups, such as the League of Women Voters, that register voters including punishment and fines on a per-signature basis.
In the 2013 legislative session, Caldwell sponsored HB 7065 to amend the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, under the guise of increasing the sugar industry’s funding commitment to Everglades restoration, when in fact, his proposed amendment was a smoke screen to ensure that the sugar industry limited their long term obligation of funding Everglades restoration. HB 7065 provided for the extension of the so-called privilege tax of $25 per acre that the sugar industry pays to continue their discharge of polluted runoff to the Everglades, rivers and coastal estuaries. This amounts to approximately $11 million per year in comparison to the billions required by the public taxpayers to restore the Florida Everglades. Caldwell’s amended language suppressed the “1996 Polluters Pay” Constitutional Amendment that required those primarily responsible for the pollution in the Everglades Agricultural and Protection Areas to clean up their pollution.
In the 2015 Legislative session, Caldwell, in violation of the public trust, supported re-directing Amendment 1 funds, intended to protect the public’s water resources and restore the Everglades, to balance the state budget.
In the 2016 State legislative session, Caldwell sponsored a ‘Water Policy Bill” that undermines water resource protection from Appalachicola Bay to the Florida Keys. The bill greatly impedes efforts to cost effectively prevent water pollution at its source. The bill eliminated the regulatory permitting process that included performance standards for potential pollutant loading of lakes, rivers, streams and coastal estuaries. It eliminated a January 2015 deadline, which the state didn’t meet, for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline, thereby delaying cleanup of Lake Okeechobee.
In favoring special interests, Caldwell shifts the financial costs of restoring and protecting our land and water resources from the polluters to the public taxpayers. Our elected officials are supposed to represent the public’s interest but Caldwell doesn’t seem to understand the concept of public service. Caldwell’s unholy alliance with Tallahassee influence peddlers and their dark money has done a great disservice to the State of Florida.
Floridians desperately needs a voice for the people and a person that transcends party politics in support of a strong Democracy and a healthy and prosperous economy and environment. The preferred alternative to Caldwell is Nikki Fried. The people’s candidate for clean government and clean water.