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Tea Party leader Debbie Dooley says new criticism of Florida solar initiative is just ‘lies and deception’

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Debbie Dooley, a founding member of the national Tea Party and a leader of the Atlanta Tea Party, says she always looked up to Ralph Reed as a national icon — until she worked on his 2006 campaign for lieutenant governor in Georgia as a volunteer.

So she says she’s not surprised that the Florida offshoot of the group that Reed created in 2009 — the Faith and Freedom Coalition — came out today to criticize her group’s efforts to try to put a solar energy initiative on the Florida ballot next year that would allow citizens to purchase solar power directly from private companies — and not from the state public utilities, who have shown little interest in offering solar as an option.

“I’m disappointed that a group that espouses Christian values would engage in a campaign of lies and deceptions,” Dooley said this afternoon from just outside of Orlando, where her group Conservatives for Energy Freedom will be holding a town hall meeting on the proposed constitutional amendment this evening.

Members of the Florida Faith and Freedom Coalition today called on leaders of the campaign for a constitutional amendment on solar energy to clarify the ballot language and call for a ban on subsidies.

“Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of this particular ballot initiative may be mandates and subsidies that result in higher utility rates for everyone,” said Jim Kallinger, president and chairman of the Coalition and a former state legislator. “Before we could be supportive of this amendment, we would want there to be a clear prohibition of government mandates and subsidies.”

“A review of how solar is being implemented across the country reveals a pattern of mandates joined with subsidies paid by the taxpayers,” said Tea Party leader Billie Tucker. “It is difficult to tell, especially in the United States, whether the solar industry could survive without them. That is why many of us in the Tea Party movement have concerns about this amendment.”

Those comments infuriate Dooley, who says there is nothing in the ballot language that calls for subsidies or mandates. “If you do a Google search on Ralph Reed, you’ll see this is his typical campaign style,” she says referring to to conservative political activist best known as the first director of the Christian Coalition during the early 1990s. “It’s laughable. This is exactly what they’re doing. They’re engaging in the same campaign of deception and lies that Americans for Prosperity have engaged in. And it’s unfortunate, since when do lies and deception become Christian values?” she asks.

The Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity has been a major critic of Floridians for Solar Choice, the umbrella name under which a host of progressive and conservative organizations have formed this year to attempt to allow Floridians the freedom of choice when it comes to alternative energy sources.

In reference to Reed, Dooley didn’t state specifically her disappointments in the famed leader, but there was plenty of negative reporting nationally when Reed lost for lieutenant governor in Georgia in 2006, all of it centered around his association with infamous D.C. power broker Jack Abramoff. Reed was accused of exploiting his Christian conservative background to help defend Abramoff’s casino gambling interests and corporations exploiting sweatshop labor.

“I used to be a big Ralph Reed fan, until I learned on the way he operates and the way he does things,” Dooley said, referring to her time working on Reed’s 2006 lieutenant governor run. “It’s OK to oppose something, but don’t lie about what you’re opposing. Be truthful and be honest. And I challenge anyone to show me in that ballot initiative where they’re talking about mandates or subsidies. And I find it hypocritical that Americans for Prosperity and other conservative groups, when they mention subsidies, that fossil fuels and nuclear have enjoyed since the 1930s, and still enjoy.”

And Dooley added that, “I oppose all subsidies, by the way. I think they should all go away.”

When asked for comment, Andres Malave with Americans for Prosperity wrote back, “We are advocating for a truly free energy market. The fact that other organizations are coming out against free market principles shows how out of touch some are with the freedom movement.”

Jim Kallinger with the Florida Faith and Coalition said in an email that, “I wish Debbie Dooley didn’t feel the need to question anyone’s Christian values.  On that point, we’ll turn the other cheek.  It is telling that in her acrimonious response she does not address the substance of our letter.  If Debbie Dooley is against subsidies, then she should want to update the language of her amendment to reflect that.  I respectfully ask that she respond to our letter in the affirmative.” 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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