Bob Martinez started the tradition. Lawton Chiles continued it. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist kept it going.
Since 1987, every time Florida has sworn in a new governor, one of his first public appearances has been to deliver a speech at the annual Everglades Coalition conference — usually on the topic of how important it is to restore the Everglades.
But when the four-day Everglades Coalition conference convenes in Weston on Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott won't be speaking.
"We invited Scott, and his office called and said they had to decline the invitation for a scheduling conflict," said Julie Hill-Gabriel of Audubon of Florida, a conference co-chairwoman. A spokeswoman for Scott said Tuesday that she did not know what the conflict was.
Not having Scott show up "is a disappointment," said Richard Grosso, a coalition board member. "Obviously we need this governor to continue the tradition of continuing to recognize the importance of the Everglades to the state."
The coalition, a consortium of more than 50 environmental and civic groups concerned about the future of the River of Grass, has been holding annual conferences since 1986 to discuss how to push forward with restoration. It has long been a place for activists to network and politicians to shake hands and tout their environmental credentials.
The biggest name among the speakers at the first conference was Bob Graham, winding up his second term as a Democratic governor and laying the groundwork for a successful run for the U.S. Senate.
The following year Martinez, the state's newly sworn-in Republican governor, seized the opportunity to address the coalition crowd, telling them, "I want to work with you." His appearance launched the tradition of having each newly elected governor speak to the conference.
In 1991, Chiles, a Democrat, used his first appearance as governor to announce his intention to work out a settlement of a federal lawsuit over pollution flowing into the River of Grass.
In his 1999 speech to the coalition, Bush, a Republican, made a personal commitment to shepherd the newly approved Everglades restoration plan through to completion.
Crist, also a Republican, nearly broke the tradition after he was sworn in as governor in 2007. Because the Legislature was holding a special session on insurance reform, he was unable to attend in person. But he used a remote hookup to deliver a rambling five-minute speech to the 200 conference attendees, declaring his commitment to the Everglades.
Scott has been critical of Crist's biggest Everglades initiative: spending $197 million to buy 26,800 acres of U.S. Sugar land for the restoration effort. During the campaign Scott blasted it as a "secret sugar deal, which will end up a secret sugar tax.''
Instead of Scott, the headliners this year will be Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz, D-Weston, and Graham. The theme this year is "Renewal of Life for the Everglades: Moving Forward Together."
Craig Pittman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.