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By Trenton Daniel September 10, 2010

Kendrick Meek not the lone defender of the Everglades

In his first television ad of the general election, released on Sept. 7, 2010, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek tries to distinguish himself from his fellow Senate hopefuls, Republican Marco Rubio and the independent candidate, Gov. Charlie Crist.

The clip opens with Meek stepping into an airboat and zipping around the Everglades – an image that screams Florida. In his first claim on the 33-second video "Only One," Meek boasts of being "the only one who's fought against developers draining the Everglades!" The ad goes on through a litany of claims: "The only one against drilling before and after the BP spill. The only one against privatizing Social Security. The only one who's pro-choice, who took on George Bush, who's fought for middle-class tax cuts, against high credit card fees, and to raise the minimum wage."

Such a wealth of fact-checking opportunities! We decided to start at the top, saving the Everglades. It seemed like such a bold claim that it warranted a closer look.

We asked the Meek campaign to show us the proof that its candidate could lay claim to such bragging rights. Meek spokesman Adam Sharon noted that the Democratic contender had voted in favor of a 2007 bill that set aside funding for water resource construction and improvement projects, including $687.07 million for Everglades restoration. The Meek campaign also cited $135 million that Meek helped secure for Everglades Restoration in fiscal years 2009. These measures are clearly pro-Everglades but do they do much to keep developers out of the Everglades? We didn't see anything in the bills, and neither do others.

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"It has nothing to do with any restrictions on development in Florida," said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Clearly, Meek is referring to his actions on federal legislation, and it isn't exactly a fair comparison. Former House Speaker Rubio and Gov. Crist aren't in the same position to vote; after all, they aren't federal lawmakers. "They didn't vote in the same body so you can't compare their voting records," said Fordham.

Just as we had asked the Meek campaign to show us how he single-handedly stopped developers from draining the Everglades, we asked Crist and Rubio whether they've done anything to help the Everglades.

Crist spokesman Danny Kanner quickly pointed to the governor's 2009 bid to buy out U.S. Sugar Corp. and convert its 180,000-plus acres to reservoirs and pollution-treatment marshes. The original plan with its $1.75 billion price tag has since been scaled back to $197 million and 26,800 acres, but a new deal gives the South Florida Water Management District options to buy all or part of the land for up to 10 years.

Everglades advocates such as Fordham and Thom Rumberger, chairman of the Everglades Trust in Tallahassee, also point out that Crist has made key appointments favorable to the environment. Fordham noted how Crist -- compared to his developer-friendly predecessor, Jeb Bush -- appointed pro-environment types to the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District including Shannon Estenoz, Sandy Batchelor and Kevin Powers. Crist has also received some green recognition, including a "Champion of the Everglades" award in 2008 from Audubon of Florida.

As the Meek campaign was quick to point out, Crist signed Senate Bill 2080 in 2009, which stripped the water board's authority over issuing consumptive use permits and gave it to the board’s directors, a move that prevented the public from making decisions on who gets water, how much and from where. "Everglades restoration depends on reducing the quantity of water taken from the environment," Audubon of Florida said in a statement May 21, 2009, that urged Crist to veto the bill.

Still, "It would be hard to argue that Meek has a superior record to the governor," said Fordham, a major backer of the U.S. Sugar deal. "I know Crist has a pretty solid record on protecting and restoring the Everglades."

For his part, Rubio voted when he was in the House in favor of a 2008 bill that authorized issuing bonds for Everglades restoration. It also doubled the maximum annual issuance amount from $100 million to $200 million.

"The real work on the Everglades was being done at that time on the Senate side," said Eric Draper, executive director of the Audubon of Florida. "The House was more in a position of going along. I would characterize (Rubio) as going along, not as providing leadership."

For Meek to claim he is the only one among the three to stop developers from draining the Everglades is decidedly not true. The Meek campaign cited bills he backed as evidence that he was pro-Everglades, but neither of the two bills stopped developers from draining the Everglades. Similarly, Crist and Rubio have also taken steps to back measures that support Everglades restoration. So we rate Meek's statement False.

Our Sources

Florida Senate Bill 2080  

Florida House of Representatives, substitute for Senate Bill 392, Everglades restoration legislation. 

Interview with Eric Draper, executive director of the Audubon of Florida, Sept. 10, 2010

Interview with Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, Sept. 8 and 9, 2010

Interview with Thom Rumberger, chairman of the Everglades Trust, Sept. 9, 2010

Kendrick Meek video

Project Vote Smart

St. Petersburg Times, July 1, 2009, editorial, "Crist Bows Down To Developers Again''

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Kendrick Meek not the lone defender of the Everglades

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