Bob Graham’s Confession: I Failed You

Has there ever been a harsher contrast in leadership than what Florida saw last week from the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District and from former governor Bob Graham?

Cyanobacteria bloom 2018

Confronted with a litany of catastophic failures and violations of the public trust, from letting a sugarcane lobbyist rewrite Florida’s water pollution policies to commiting taxpayers’ land to sugarcane growers, SFWMD board members not only refused to accept responsibility for the national crises and scandals that exploded on their watch, but actually defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for their resignations.

Days later, the Hon. Bob Graham did something remarkable. He took personal responsibility for not doing more to prevent the disasters that SFWMD policy allowed to unfold this year. And last year. And the year before that… With a chance to reshape Florida’s water management at the federal level Graham says he didn’t get it done, and that bothers him today. When was the last time you heard anything like this from a politician?

Here’s exactly what Graham said to the conservationists, politicians, and agency employees (and at least one sugarcane industry representative) at the 34th Everglades Coalition Conference on Sunday:

The current federal law that regulates federal action… that statute was written in 1948. That’s a long time ago, and it was written primarily–almost exclusively–for the goal of flood control… We now have a much broader palette of issues and the federal statute that authorizes the Army Corps to be engaged with managing those issues needs to reflect that broader palette.

So the first federal assignment [for attendees] is to initiate the process of rewriting the 1948 flood control act on which all the actions of the Corps of Engineers are now predicated.

I’m going to be self-critical. I was in the senate for 18 years. I failed you. I should have done this while I was there. I didn’t. Now it’s your responsibility.

His senate seat now belongs to Rick Scott whose tenure as governor was stained by the palette of issues Graham mentioned: toxic algae and escalating human health crises; unending discharge-fueled red tide blooms and thousands of tons of dead dolphins, turtles, manatees, and fish; economic catastophes on both coasts; the collapse of Florida Bay and the water-starved Everglades.

Scott’s SFWMD appointees have been quick to blame everyone but themselves and their sugar-dictated policies for those issues: God, nature, leaky septic tanks, grass clippings… A passel of them insist they deserve to finish out their terms, and that they shouldn’t have to answer to the governor or the voters for embarrassing Florida on the national stage or putting human lives at risk. It might be hard to find a more depressing example of failed accountability.

Are any politicians willing to assume the responsibility Graham passed down? Yes.

  • US Congressman Brian Mast plans to reintroduce federal legislation to prioritize human health in federal water management decisions, and push for a revised Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) that takes the risk of toxic blooms into account.
  • US Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, one of the inaugural signers of the Now Or Neverglades Declaration, accepted the challenge gladly at the Everglades Coalition Conference: “It is such an honor to be a champion for the Everglades and its restoration.”
  • And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in addition to demanding fresh leadership at SFWMD, directly addressed toxic blooms and our water management crisis in last week’s executive order.

They’ll all get their chance to take up the mantle along with a host of others. Hopefully they’ll avoid having to look back–however gracefully–on the kind of legislative failure that Bob Graham owned up to this week.  They’ll need our help.