GAINESVILLE — As five ex-Florida governors met for a conversation Friday, the state’s current leadership drew some criticism for cutting back controls on urban sprawl and water was identified as a key issue for the coming years.
Supreme Court justice merit retention, energy and other topics were also came up when former Govs. Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Bob Martinez, Buddy MacKay and Charlie Crist gathered at the University of Florida. Former Gov. Jeb Bush didn’t attend.
Martinez said planning for growth was a priority when he was mayor of Tampa in the early 1980s. He recalled taking office as governor in 1987 and having to implement growth management laws put in place by his predecessor, Graham. Those laws were rolled back last year by the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.
“Instead of killing growth management, in my view, they should have gone and looked at what is redundant, what is causing added cost,” said Martinez, a Republican. “The easy way was to get rid of it. The more sensible way, in my view, would be to examine what could be done away with that would not jeopardize land use planning, would not jeopardize the environment and would still have a semblance of order throughout the state.”
Part of the problem with growth management rules was the layering of local regulations that made it more cumbersome, Martinez said. He predicted that when economic growth resumes there will probably be another push for state involvement.
The state also must make sure it protects its water supply, the former governors agreed.
“Water is the most important issue facing Florida now and facing Florida forever,” said Askew, a Democrat who served two terms beginning in 1971. “Water — you better pay attention to it.”
MacKay told the crowd, made up mostly of law students, that the control of water supplies will keep lobbyists and lawyers in business for years to come.
“We have a governor now who believes in the hidden hands of the marketplace. Every now and then you can see the big outlines of the hidden hands of the marketplace regarding water. Some people think it’s a fist clenched,” said MacKay, a Democrat who was Gov. Lawton Chiles’ lieutenant governor and served for a month after Chiles’ death. “Other people think it’s a fist with the middle finger sticking up.”
Graham, a Democrat who served from 1979 to 1987, said current lawmakers make the mistake of not thinking about the state’s long-term future.
“It seems as if we’re getting shorter and shorter in terms of our perspective,” Graham said. “We’re more focused on avoiding having to make any sacrifices today regardless of what sacrifices we’re going to impose on the future.”
And that, Crist said, is why oil drilling off Florida’s coast shouldn’t be considered.
“The commonsense and so logical — to me and I think most people — solution is to continue to develop alternative sources of energy,” said Crist, a former Republican who left office last year as an independent.
He blamed big oil companies for blocking development of energy sources like wind and solar power.
“They’re pretty entrenched and they probably are pretty generous with campaign contributions, and so it makes it that much more difficult to move the ball down the field in terms of developing these alternatives,” Crist said. “Future leaders of this state should be
committed to it.”
Askew criticized the Republican Party of Florida’s effort to try to get three Supreme Court justices — R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — removed from the bench in a retention election, a system that was enacted while Askew was governor.
“For goodness sake, we have to keep the judges independent,” said Askew. “Make no mistake, if your rights are at stake, I guarantee you, don’t look to the executive and legislative branches of our government and this nation for relief. They won’t protect your rights at the most critical time. Look to the courts to do it.”
As the former governors gave the law students some closing advice, Martinez focused on something he didn’t have to worry about when he was in college.
“In today’s environment, be sure you have a good Facebook,” Martinez said. “When you tweet, be careful.”
Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bsfarrington