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Wayne Garcia: Charlie Crist from green to ‘gutless’?

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A must-read from Creative Loafing’s Wayne Garcia: It was zenith of his 2007 pledge to turn Florida green, lower emissions and grow a biofuel industry. Last year, he laid out a $200 million investment in his green vision. But today, as Crist is all but a lame duck governor running for the U.S. Senate, very few of those hopes and promises have come true. Blame the knuckle-draggers in the Legislature. Blame the recession. Or, if you are like some environmentalists in the state, blame Crist for not having the strength or guile to get his way on green.

Take the case of Crist’s signing, out of the sight of news cameras, Senate Bill 360, a revamp of the state’s growth management laws that opponents say will set back smart growth here by two decades and favors developers. His announced Crist’s approval of the bill on a Monday after 5 p.m. and then he spent the next day jetting around the state (ouch! the carbon footprint) to tout a happier, more voter-friendly bill expanding KidCare insurance, for children whose parents can’t afford it. The move to quietly sign SB 360 was labeled “gutless” by St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler.

From green to gutless in two years as governor. Green in 2008: Gov. Charlie Crist when being green was easier, with Michael Rea of the Carbon Trust in the U.K. signing an agreement for Florida and that nation to “share expertise on low carbon innovation and investment and to jointly develop strategies to attract low carbon industries.”

They were heady, green days for Charlie Crist in July 2008 as he flew to London to attend a global climate-change conference and hobnob with members of Parliament to discuss the planet’s growing environmental crisis.

Back in the day, Crist shared a national spotlight with the likes of movie star Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, gaining attention as a group of state leaders who stepped up for the environment when George W. Bush’s administration turned a blind eye to science.

It was zenith of his 2007 pledge to turn Florida green, lower emissions and grow a biofuel industry. Last year, he laid out a $200 million investment in his green vision. But today, as Crist is all but a lame duck governor running for the U.S. Senate, very few of those hopes and promises have come true. Blame the knuckle-draggers in the Legislature. Blame the recession. Or, if you are like some environmentalists in the state, blame Crist for not having the strength or guile to get his way on green.

Take the case of Crist’s signing, out of the sight of news cameras, Senate Bill 360, a revamp of the state’s growth management laws that opponents say will set back smart growth here by two decades and favors developers. His announced Crist’s approval of the bill on a Monday after 5 p.m. and then he spent the next day jetting around the state (ouch! the carbon footprint) to tout a happier, more voter-friendly bill expanding KidCare insurance, for children whose parents can’t afford it. The move to quietly sign SB 360 was labeled “gutless” by St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler.

From green to gutless in two years as governor.

“He didn’t listen to the people or the local governments in Florida,” Dee Layne, a Hillsborough-based growth management lobbyist, wrote in an e-mail to her county commissioners. “Now that the Governor has signed this awful bill into immediate law, what exactly are you going to do to protect us from the obvious infrastructure and financial problems this will cause?”

How bad was SB 360 in changing the growth rules in favor of developers? Even the notoriously developer-friendly Hillsborough County Commission had urged Crist to veto the bill.

SB 360 is not Crist’s first green-toe stub.

In the spring of 2008, Crist’s Department of Transportation threatened “to indefinitely delay road projects in South Florida if a portion of the money DOT currently collects from a $2 rental car tax is shifted to funding [the greener] Tri-Rail,” wrote the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Not green.

In the fervor of the GOP’s losing chant of “drill, baby drill” later that year, Crist jumped on the offshore drilling bandwagon just as he was being considered for the vice presidential slot that eventually went to Sarah Palin. His infuriating explanation? “We have to be sympathetic to the pocketbooks of the people of Florida and what they’re paying at the pump for gas, and balance that with: Is there any way that our state might be able to contribute in terms of resources to have greater supply and therefore lower prices?”

Not green.

Is Charlie Crist not green after all?

At least one leading conservationist says before that question can be answered there is one more test ahead, Senate Bill 2080, another growth-related piece of legislation that Florida Audubon Society’s Charles Lee calls “worse than SB 360, by an order of magnitude.” The bill would allow developers and others seeking water-use permits and wetlands-destruction approvals to avoid public input and a board vote at the regional water management districts; executives at those agencies would make the call outside of the view of an inquiring public.

“The tale will be told on the greenness of Charlie Crist in large part by whether he vetoes or doesn’t veto that bill,” said Lee, who is the advocacy director for Florida Audubon, which does not get involved in partisan politics.

And can we really blame Crist for the sins of the Legislature, which ignores his initiative and refuses to fund his green programs? Another environmental advocate, Susan Glickman, says we shouldn’t and that Crist has an amazing green legacy.

“It still rates as extraordinary,” said Glickman, who was in the U.K. with Crist on his 2008 trip. She was a consultant to the Climate Group, which met with Crist on that visit, and she now works with the National Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “He had an influence nationally and he had an influence internationally. Sometimes that gets lost because of the politicization of this issue.”

Maybe. Then again, maybe being green is mere fashion for the Gov. And maybe Crist will have more success playing to his green side in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate than he did with the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. He certainly is greener than his opponent in the Republican primary, Marco Rubio.

But if this is the best we can do with a “green” governor, God help us if Bill McCollum gets elected in 2010. For Crist’s legacy, it is more than sad that when the going got tough, his green turned yellow.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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