Thursday, April 19, 2018
Politics

Carlton: They tried and failed to put Amendment 1 over on Florida voters

As voters, we sometimes get fooled.

Candidates and causes fill our mailboxes with fliers that say the other guy lies, cheats and deliberately blocks the Publix aisle with his cart. This particular election, some savvy ads implied a certain constitutional amendment we were about to vote on would surely fill our lives with sunshine.

And sometimes, voters are smarter than that.

Amendment 1 looked like a done deal for Florida. Earlier polls had the so-called solar amendment easily getting the 60 percent of the vote a proposed amendment needs to become enshrined in our state Constitution.

Because of course we were for it. We live in Florida, where sun is abundant. Isn't it time we got serious about harnessing all that potential energy in a meaningful way — and maybe even bringing down our own electric bills to boot?

Except the utility-backed Amendment 1 would have actually limited rooftop solar expansion. What might have looked to a reasonable person like an effort to expand our ability to make good use of the sun was really about restricting third-party sales of rooftop solar and keeping the utilities in control.

How cynical was this push to make us believers in Amendment 1?

Backers tried to use our trust in firefighters in ads implying that solar panels could be a fire hazard, saying Amendment 1 would do solar "the right way." One retired fire captain who actually uses solar came forward to call this "one of the biggest scams on Floridians in the history of the state."

How low would cynical go? Ads told Florida seniors that Amendment 1 would protect them from "scams and ripoffs" — a brilliant play, given that our seniors have reason to be leery of an ever-ready contingent of grifters out there.

Except it turned out that Amendment 1 wouldn't particularly protect seniors or anyone else.

The Florida Supreme Court narrowly approved the amendment's ballot language, 4-3. But for the record, dissenting Justice Barbara Pariente did call it "a wolf in sheep's clothing" because it was "masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative."

Disheartening, yes. But in a world of dirty politics, here's the happy ending.

Word got out about Amendment 1 and spread. Environmental types, people of all political stripe, newspapers, solar businesses and others united for a little truth-telling. Days before the election, the Florida Professional Firefighters association withdrew its support. "Vote No On 1" signs with a sun peeking from behind an appropriately dark cloud sprouted everywhere.

And this week, an allegedly pro-solar amendment died short of the 60 percent it needed.

We are still picking through the aftermath of a monumental election and figuring out what to take away from it all. But this one is as clear as Florida morning sunshine through a kitchen window.

Some seriously cynical people spent millions counting on voters of this state to be complacent, or busy or to assume they were told the truth. They set out to use any optimism about the possibility of a sunny solar future against us.

Thanks to an outraged grass roots campaign that pushed back, Florida voters were not having it. So at least on 1, score one for us.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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