Romano: A master of 'interpretive governing' on Florida climate change

Published March 9 2015
Updated March 10 2015

Some might call it censorship. Or perhaps whitewashing.

I prefer to think of it as interpretive governing.

It's the process of ignoring, twisting or otherwise manipulating facts that do not match a politician's particular narrative.

Sort of like what has been going on at the Department of Environmental Protection since Rick Scott was elected governor. It seems former employees and others associated with the department say they were instructed to never use terms such as "global warming'' or "climate change" around the office.

Never mind that Florida might be facing a greater environmental risk than any other state in the nation. If the governor thinks climate change is for eggheads and sissies, then who are we to worry about our homes being swept away by rising sea levels?

Just imagine how cheerful our ancestors might have been if more of our leaders had been willing to spare them from unpleasant details.

Take turn-of-the-century England. Why alarm people with tales of some unknown madman killing street walkers in London's East End? Instead, the folks at Scotland Yard should have pointed out how prostitution was on the decline. Hysteria could have been kept to a minimum if investigators claimed to be looking for Jack the Rascal.

Likewise, Prohibition would have totally worked if the government had just stopped acknowledging bootleggers, speakeasies and Al Capone.

The Black Death? Something going around.

Three Mile Island? A slight spill.

Segregation? A misunderstanding.

Of course, interpretive governing can also go wrong. With the country in an economic tailspin in the 1930s, Herbert Hoover wanted to avoid using words like "crisis" or "panic." Instead, he said the economy was in "a great depression." If only he had called it a "%*#[email protected] depression," he might have kept it out of headlines and book titles.

The truth is, Rick Scott is a master of interpretive governing. When it suits his purposes, he can ignore the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, the Constitution and anything else that gets in the way of his fantasy Florida.

He can fire the state's top law enforcement officer and insist it was a resignation. His Department of Economic Opportunity can botch unemployment payments for months and tell Legislators that everything is just dandy. He can stick his head in the sand on Medicaid expansion and then act shocked when federal funds threaten to dry up.

So, no, you should not be the least bit shocked that Scott's state environmental agency is pulling the equivalent of 10-year-olds covering their ears and stomping their feet. It's the default position for anyone not willing, or able, to debate an issue on its merits.

The governor doesn't want to risk standing up and denouncing climate change, but he also doesn't want scientific solutions to get in the way of his pro-business policies.

So instead, Florida becomes willfully ignorant.

It doesn't impact you today. And it may not impact you next year. But there is a chance, somewhere down the line, that ignoring climate change will matter in Florida.

And some future governor will have to come up with a cheerful euphemism for drowning.