Joe Henderson: Red tide is an emergency now, but can Rick Scott be surprised?


Red tide is in all the headlines now. It’s bad.

But let’s go back to a time before Florida’s beaches were filled with rotting fish, dolphins and manatees. Back to a time when Rick Scott came to Tallahassee as Florida’s Governor in 2011 with a two-fold mission: Cut the state budget and get people back to work.

He succeeded on both fronts.

More than 700,000 jobs in the state have been created on his watch, and in his early years, he was ruthless about slashing state spending. At one point, he had cut the budgets of the state’s water management districts by $700 million.

While some of that has been replaced, funding is still about $300 million below what it was when he took office.

That’s the kind of thing that people remember when toxic red tide is moving up Florida’s Gulf Coast, killing sea life and stinking to high heavens. That’s on top of the pea-green algae bloom that was making people sick on the Atlantic side of the state.

Water is everything in Florida, and when something like this happens it affects everyone – whether you’re inland or on the beach. The image of beaches covered by poisoned sea life can cripple tourism and the domino effect that can devastate multiple industries.

Scott declared a state of emergency to deal with the problem, but it’s a little late to close the barn door now. Perhaps a fully funded water management district could have taken some preemptive action to lessen the impact of what is turning out to be a full-fledged disaster for the state.

Let’s be honest, though.

To a politician like Scott, these agencies can be seen as money-sucking nuisances. When they work well, the Governor doesn’t get credit because when the beaches are clean, that’s what people expect. You don’t get brownie points for that.

It’s only after the water becomes poisonous to Flipper that the public starts looking for someone to blame.

In Scott’s campaign ads for the U.S. Senate, he has tried to make U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, his Democratic opponent, out to be the guilty party because he’s in Washington, you know. But that’s a hard sell because environmentalists have been blasting Scott since he took office for gutting protections and regulations for Florida’s fragile ecosystem.

Developers always complain about regulations because that cuts into profits, and Scott – like most Republicans – has been a friend to them. With a compliant Legislature eager to tout Florida as a business-friendly, low-tax, low-regulation state, the kind of safeguards for problems like red tide became just more red tape to eliminate.

There is a reason water management districts exist, though. On the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website, it says the agency’s core mission is to protect the water supply, water quality, flood protection and floodplain management, and natural systems.

That’s a big job.

Scott helped undermine that by stocking some of those management boards with developers. Conservation programs were decimated. Development took a high priority over protection.

And now we get dead fish on the beaches.

How can anyone be surprised?

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • P.J. Gibbs

    August 15, 2018 at 7:42 am

    I am not pointing fingers I am a very concerned miami native. Less concerned about money and politics major concerned about the problem
    which is major. I am just one little voice. I know about lake o and the flooding and having to drain the water. which is killing our gulf. I need a voice and maybe you are it. The main problem is comming from the north whicb is causing a 90 percent bloom in the lake . Filtering the water first will kill the bloom BUT here is the Major problem. When the bloom dies it deprives the oxygen out of the water which then kills every thing. Sending the water south would help the gulf but will hurt the glades the alage will grow like wild fire and be uncontrolable. Before we can redirect the water we most SLOWLY kill the bloom. There is the magic word SLOWLY. So instead of just building a giant holding tank for the lake we need a filtering system that will clean up our water ways. And lake o is the holding tank now. It is critical to our entire eco system that we do this. Your job get the word out yes us citizens will help pay to build it but the bloom has a major catch 22. You kill us we kill the fish. Water must be filtered in a way for a slow die off and thats the ticket Thank You and Praying someone will listen and proceed quickly. Because it is not only killing fish over there..sealife, birds, and even bugs. yes, CODE BLUE

  • Peter Harding

    August 15, 2018 at 8:11 am

    Your right, with Scott in charge of Florida our quality of life has gone done and his climate change denial certainly did not help the states natural resources at all. I hope everyone that loves Florida and all it offers will be smart enough to keep Scott out of our state offices. The low wage jobs and decline in our states education system he produced are not what we should aspire to.

  • Marcie

    August 15, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    My problem with Rick Scott is not only the environment but he’s lies and stealing from Medicare and Medicaid and claiming the 5th. I can assure you the government will not allow me to claim the 5th ON ANYTHING! My butt would be in the jail….yours too unless you have the Medicare and Medicaid stealing funds he has. I WILL NOT VOTE FOR RICK SCOTT TO BE THE DOG CATCHER LET ALONG RUN THE GOVERNMENT FURTHER INTO THE GROUND….JOBS MY A$$! IF HE DID BRING JOBS THEY WERE MIN. WAGE JOBS AND WE DON’T NEED THOSE KIND OF JOBS! STATE EMPLOYEES NEED TO BE PAID WHAT PRIVATE FOLKS ARE PAID SO WE CAN SURVIVE AND NOT QUALIFY FOR FOOD STAMPS! JERK! Lord please forgive me….I’ve about lost it with these kind people not caring about our state, our people and our futures!

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