In a moment, I'm going to tell you about plans to gut one of Florida's key environmental programs — one meant to safeguard everything from manatees to the seafood you eat.
The program is cheap. Its effectiveness has been touted by politicians on both sides of the aisle. Yet, Florida politicians are trying to degrade it as we speak.
But first, I want to offer you a window into the mind of your typical state legislator.
It's a scary place. But if we're going to deal with those who are trying to take Florida back to the Dark Ages, we must understand how they think.
Our subject is state Rep. Chris Dorworth.
Six months ago, the Lake Mary Republican met with the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board to try to score a campaign endorsement.
During the meeting, the ed board was trying to understand why Dorworth wanted to dismantle the Department of Community Affairs, the agency charged with ensuring sensible land planning.
The agency had thrived under governors ranging from Bob Graham to Jeb Bush, with all of them touting DCA as a guard for both residents and the land.
But Dorworth thought DCA was a problem. He claimed the agency constantly blocked wonderful and sensible projects.
Really? The ed board asked for an example.
"There have been numerous examples," he replied.
OK. So how about you name one of them?
"I think every single time they work on anything," Dorworth continued. "They kick back plans all the time."
Then it should be easy for you to cite one.
"Listen, I'm not going to tell you whether a project has merit or not," Dorworth responded (right after saying DCA was constantly blocking projects with merit). "I'm going to tell you that DCA has shut down several projects."
So DCA was busy killing projects "all the time." There were "numerous examples." Yet the man wanting to undermine DCA couldn't cite a single one.
This, my friends, is what passes for leadership in your state.
Facts, logic and our natural resources are becoming casualties of an ideological war.
Developers say they want to build more easily, without regard for clogged roads, crowded schools, the environment or the higher taxes you will have to pay for their far-flung projects. Dorworth and his GOP pals are happy to do their bidding.
In fact, Republicans are so smitten with Dorworth's sophisticated and well-versed take on complicated issues that they have selected him as a future House speaker.
The plans to weaken DCA and roll back decades of growth planning has already cleared the House.
But the assault on our natural resources doesn't stop there … which brings us back to the manatees.
For decades, Florida has also run an aquatic-preserve program.
Preserves are hundreds of thousands of acres of protected waters, submerged lands and seagrass beds where fish breed, life-nurturing plants bloom and manatees seek refuge.
They range from 350,000 acres in Pinellas County to 4,700 acres in Mosquito Lagoon.
These preserves support Florida industries from sportfishing to tourism — and, of course, wildlife. So a bare-bones staff patrols these waters, looking for pollution, damaged nesting areas and healthy root systems.
Yet the budget calls for closing four of the 11 offices that monitor and safeguard these preserves — mostly in north and west Florida, leaving more than a dozen preserves unprotected.
State officials make no pretenses about the impact. "Although the aquatic preserves will remain designated, all coastal education and resource-monitoring programs at these locations will likely be eliminated," said Kristin Lock, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The savings netted by abandoning these waters? About $800,000.
Legislators have spent that much money renovating their offices.
Heck, you could find that money 50 times over by simply taxing bottled water the same as we do soda. That break alone costs the state more than $40 million.
"These preserves are the basis for the entire coastal ecosystem," said Julie Wraithmell, the director of wildlife conservation for Audubon Florida. "They are the nursery for our birds. They help assure the rest of the nation that our seafood is safe to eat. They are essential."
Yet you probably haven't heard anything about these office closings until now.
That's partly because the carnage in Tallahassee is so bad this year that there aren't enough reporters to track all the body parts.
But that's also because we have a new breed of politicians and "leaders" for whom the environment simply isn't a priority. It's more of an obstacle to be conquered … even if they can't really explain why.
Smaxwell@tribune.com or 407-420-6141Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun