Passage of Amendment 1 should send message to state leaders

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A vast majority of Floridians wants to preserve the state’s landscape no matter who they voted for in political races.

That should be the takeaway for all state officials after the general election on Tuesday when you analyze the results.

Sure, voters re-elected Rick Scott, the Republican incumbent governor, over Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who this time had a Sierra Club Florida endorsement.

But voters also backed a conservation lands amendment by a 75-25 percent margin statewide.

What’s most telling was the support in Republican strongholds for Amendment 1, which would dedicate $10 billion or more toward conserving and restoring land over the next 20 years.

The measure received at least a 50 percent vote in 65 of Florida’s 67 counties. Only rural Holmes and Lafayette counties did not support the measure.

Democrats still are a majority of Florida’s 11.9 million registered voters with 39 percent compared to 35 percent Republican.

In Lee County, where Republicans are 42 percent of the 405,703 registered voters compared to 28 percent Democrats, Amendment 1 passed with 78 percent support.

That’s even stronger than in Democratic strongholds such as Alachua, Leon and Miami-Dade counties, though less than in Broward with an 86 percent vote in support.

In Escambia County, where Republicans are 44 percent of the 200,953 registered voters compared to 36 percent Democrats, Amendment 1 passed by a 72-28 percent margin.

Scott received 61 percent of the vote there compared to 34 percent for Crist. In Lee County, Scott received 58 percent compared to 38 percent for Crist.

There was groaning and misery among environmentalists on social media after Scott won re-election by just 70,000 votes — less than 1 percent. And Scott’s early record has given them reason to be concerned about another four years.

In 2011, Scott vetoed spending for conservation lands, signed bills rolling back state oversight of local development decisions, cut state regulations and slashed the budgets of Florida’s five water management districts.

“Floridians like the environment,” POLITICO senior writer Michael Grunwald of Miami wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “We just don’t like politicians that like the environment.”

After having worked as a political reporter in Alabama before moving to Florida 25 years ago, I would look at it another way:

Politicians in Florida, including Scott, can’t survive by campaigning against the environment or dismissing it entirely as in some other southern states. And Amendment 1 is another reminder of that.

After burnishing his Tea Party credentials in 2011, Scott had to mount an environmental public relations campaign starting in 2013 to get re-elected.

Republican governors going back to Jeb Bush have realized that Florida is a mixed bag of Republicans and Democrats, Tea Party supporters and environmentalists — including conservationists and outdoor lovers.

And a vast majority of them want Florida’s landscape preserved, as shown by their support for Amendment 1.

Scott and his inner circle, perhaps grudgingly, get that now. And so too, perhaps, will the Legislature’s leadership during the next four years.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments.com.