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Florida editorial roundup

August 29, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Aug. 28

South Florida Sun Sentinel on the gubernatorial primary election:

This time the polls got it surprisingly right and shockingly wrong.

The polls accurately predicted Florida Republicans would reject their party’s establishment favorite and rally behind Jacksonville congressman Ron DeSantis to replace Gov. Rick Scott, who’s term-limited and challenging Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate.

But they failed to predict Florida Democrats would reject their party’s establishment favorite and choose Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum as their best bet to reclaim the governor’s office after a long 20 years. It was a stunning win for a candidate who had polled in the single digits through most of the campaign.

The question now is: which candidate can claim the middle?

For after sitting on the sidelines during Florida’s closed-party primaries — unable to vote on anything other than school board and judicial races, plus local referendums — all eyes now turn to the 27 percent of Florida voters who align with neither party.

If like most Florida voters, polls show independents want something done about the economy, education and the environment. And getting something done can mean meeting people in the middle.

Yet DeSantis and Gillum reside on the far-right and far-left planks of their parties’ platforms. They represent a stark choice for voters in November. To win elections today, it may be better to double down on a progressive or conservative agenda, rather than pivot toward the middle. But when it comes to governing, such a strategy leads a lot of people feeling disenfranchised.

Gillum supports abolishing ICE in its current form, Medicare for All, legalizing the adult-use of marijuana and repealing Stand Your Ground. He’s charismatic and unabashedly progressive, Florida’s version of Bernie Sanders, who endorsed him. He speaks in depth about the challenges facing Florida, having dealt with them first-hand as the mayor of Florida’s capital city. If elected, he would be Florida’s first African-American governor.

But Gillum faces questions about the FBI investigation that hangs over his city. And he must broaden his appeal to the two-thirds of Democrats who didn’t vote for him. It would help if he asked Gwen Graham, his key opponent in the five-candidate race, to be his running mate.

We can’t say much about DeSantis’ views on the challenges facing Florida because he didn’t say much about them during the campaign. He ducked media interviews and refused to answer questionnaires. Instead, he spent a good deal of time in Washington — a regular guest on Fox News — attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

We know that DeSantis is a member of the congressional Freedom Caucus, which wanted to shut down the federal government rather than compromise on an omnibus spending package. He’s promised to vote against a carbon tax, which many believe could help curb global warming. And he blames the sugar industry for polluting Lake Okeechobee and causing the algae blooms in rivers running east and west, doubtful that leaky septics tanks north of the lake play a role. He’s wrong about that.

Look for the general election to be all about politics, not policy. And look for the focus to be on President Trump. For Trump energizes his base. He energizes the opposition. And as the surprisingly high turnout in the primary showed, he gets people out to the polls, a turnout both candidates will need in big ways to win.

This election cemented Florida as Trump Country for Republicans. Remember that in the primary two years ago, the president won 66 of the state’s 67 counties, losing only Miami-Dade to Marco Rubio.

Trump’s endorsement meant everything to DeSantis, 39, who was largely unknown in the state before the president first tweeted his support in December.

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There will be much to say in the coming days and weeks about the choices we face in November.

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Online: http://www.sun-sentinel.com

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Aug. 27

Ocala Star-Banner on President Donald Trump’s administration proposing to lessen regulation of coal-burning power plant emissions:

Regulations, proposed rules, market forces and environmental consciousness have significantly reduced America’s reliance on coal as a power-plant fuel.

As a result, emissions have been reduced, energy producers have shifted to cleaner fuels and fewer earth-warming gases have been emitted.

All good, all progress.

Yet President Donald Trump is expected to announce policy changes that threaten to erode that progress and result in higher levels of greenhouse-gas emissions — especially from coal.

No surprise. Trump campaigned against policies intended to reduce emissions and encourage power companies to use cleaner fuels; what’s more, his acting administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency and the head of its clean air office were longtime lobbyists for coal interests and polluting industries.

According to advance news coverage, the EPA and the president seek to weaken rules contained in the Clean Power Plan, the first federal initiative to limit carbon-based pollution from power plants. That plan, developed by the Obama administration, was challenged in court and remains unenforced.

The new plan would change rules intended to require utilities to upgrade older plants more quickly and thoroughly; it would also defer to states whether and how they regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

These changes are on top of efforts by the administration to push electric-grid operators to purchase power from struggling coal plants.

All bad, all retreat.

The combination of factors that has led to less consumption of coal has, indeed, had economic impacts. About 40 percent of the coal-fired plants in the United States have been closed or will be shut down. Mine production has diminished as well.

But the need for power generation has continued to rise, creating new opportunities for job creation in the process.

In Florida, a low-regulation state, the largest provider of electricity — Florida Power & Light — has met increased demands without using coal. In fact, earlier this year, FPL closed its last coal-fired plant in Florida.

FPL has shifted some 70 percent of its fuel to natural gas, which creates lower emissions, and invested in large-scale solar operations. The investor-owned utility has taken those steps while maintaining consumer costs lower than the national average.

In other words, progress on emissions can be affordably achieved.

A national policy retreat and favors for coal would effectively punish FPL and other progressive power companies — and their customers — for investing in cleaner fuels and newer plants that lower emissions.

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Online: http://www.ocala.com

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Aug. 29

The Ledger of Lakeland on the importance of bees:

We’re pleased when local entrepreneurs do well and have the opportunity to reach even greater heights, especially in a niche or unusual endeavor. The Ledger’s recent report about Gary Hinkle and his wife, Donna, offers an example.

The Hinkles operate a 25-acre honey-making operation near Polk City called I Heart Bees. They sell raw honey made from the base of their family-run business and gathered from hives scattered around the state. Raw honey, as the name implies, is unprocessed, which means unlike regular honey it has not been heated or pasteurized. It differs from organic honey, and many consider the raw version to be more nutritious, sweeter-tasting and healthier than other varieties.

The Hinkles already sell their wares to small grocery chains and independent food stores, but they explained to Ledger reporter Eric Pera that they are on the cusp of a breakout moment: being included in Publix Super Markets’ Florida Local program.

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We hope it comes true, and that Publix sees their product as a worthwhile addition to its shelves. Given demand, their prospects seem good. In a report released last year that covered sales for 2016, the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center, a consortium of university researchers overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, noted, “The market for honey is currently very strong. Locally produced honey and specialty honey have increasingly strong markets.” Raw honey certainly would seem to qualify.

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Researchers and government officials have pondered the unfortunate decline in “pollinators,” the term that applies to honeybees and other types of bees as well as birds, butterflies, lizards and other creatures we tend to not think about but which are vitally important to our survival.

In May 2016, the National Conference of State Legislatures noted in a report that pollinators are a $24 billion cog in the U.S. economy, with some $15 billion attributable just to honeybees. Roughly one of every three mouthfuls we take results in some way from honeybee production, the report said. Yet the population of these important links in the food chain is declining. The NCSL reported that number of bee colonies has plunged from 6 million colonies in 1947 to 2.5 million now.

The decrease, according to the NCSL, is blamed on a number of factors — with insufficient diets, mites, habitat loss, disease and pesticides topping the list. A phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder — wherein worker bees suddenly left the hive — was also pegged as a culprit. But the USDA said it has waned within the last five years. Skeptics also point out, citing USDA data, that managed honeybee-colony populations have remained stable for the past two decades.

Still, as the NCSL notes, “The health of bees and other pollinators is an important and growing concern among state legislatures. At least 18 states have enacted legislation on this topic in recent years. Legislation generally falls into one of five categories: research; pesticides; habitat protection; awareness; and beekeeping.”

Florida is not among them. But perhaps it should be.

Agriculture, of course, is a critical component of our state economy, and bees are important to sustain it, including the citrus industry. But beekeeping also is rapidly becoming a pastime. In July 2017, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that there were 4,400 state-registered “backyard” beekeepers, which was five times the number of a decade earlier, and that the number of managed colonies had rocketed from 158,000 to 520,000.

More bees are good for all, and we need to make sure they remain healthy.

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Online: http://www.theledger.com

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