An environmental forum with Democrat Lawton Chiles was interrupted Monday by past and present state employees who pleaded with the candidate to save Florida's environment from Republican Gov. Bob Martinez and his appointees. Chiles was in the midst of a love-in with many of the state's well-known environmentalists when David Schwarz, a lawyer with the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DER), stood in the audience to criticize DER Secretary Dale Twachtmann, a Martinez appointee and a villain to many environmental groups.
"A substantial majority of the workers in the trenches would like to see a new administration and a new secretary," Schwarz said, emphasizing that he was speaking only for himself.
"I just ask if you could please, if elected _ I pray that you will be _ appoint somebody who really cares about the environment, somebody who works for the environment and not for private industry."
Schwarz rushed from the room, asking reporters and photographers not to identify him.
Then Jeret Madei said from the back of the room, "People are being fired from the department because they are environmentalists." He was fired from the DER in August.
A spokesman for the DER, Jack Maynard, said later Monday that Schwarz is entitled to his opinion, and that Madei was fired because of problems with his job as a word processor.
"We're all environmentalists," Maynard said. "If you fired somebody for being an environmentalist, we'd all have to get fired."
Chiles already has promised to replace Twachtmann if elected governor. And he agreed with nearly two dozen environmentalists who met with him for a round-table discussion at the Capitol on Monday that the DER _ and Martinez _ are far more concerned about keeping industry and developers happy than protecting Florida's air, water and wildlife.
"We have fine environmental protection laws in this state; they're really strong," said Paul Parks, who used to be in charge of enforcement at the DER. "But it takes some effort, it takes energy and I guess it will take some leadership from the top to get these laws enforced. The ultimate responsibility for that rests with the governor."
Others complained that morale at the DER is low and that the atmosphere is hostile to everyone but developers.
Bill Young, a retired biological supervisor for the DER in Pensacola, complained that the staff isn't used well. "Out of 80 people in the district, three people are out looking at the environment. The rest are shuffling paper."
Chiles didn't need any convincing. He already had prepared attacks on Twachtmann and Martinez, and ridiculed the campaign commercials that show Martinez walking on the beach while an announcer praises his record on the environment.
"Who pays for those commercials?" Chiles asked. "Many times they're the spoilers, the people who have helped promote the degradation of the environment who are paying for the message that says, "I'm an environmentalist.'
Chiles is limiting his campaign contributions to $100 a person and doesn't miss a chance to suggest that Martinez is beholden to his contributors, many of whom have given the legal limit of $3,000.
Chiles has been endorsed by the only two state environmental groups that take sides in campaigns, the Sierra Club and the Florida League of Conservation Voters.
Yet a poll released last week showed that when people were asked which candidate would protect the environment better, 41 percent said Martinez and 33 percent said Chiles. (The others said neither or didn't know.)
Chiles asked the environmentalists at his meeting to help spread the word that he has always shared their concerns. Several said they camped out in the Osceola National Forest in the early 1980s with Chiles, then a U.S. senator, to protest phosphate mining. Others remembered his fight against the Cross Florida Barge Canal.
In a position paper released at the meeting, Chiles said that in addition to replacing Twachtmann he would:
Work to save the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee and make polluters pay to clean up the waters.
Monitor industries that promise to replace wetlands. Chiles and others complained that the DER doesn't enforce the environmental deals it cuts with developers and industry in return for permits.
Seek permanent financing for Preservation 2000, which is Martinez's proudest environmental accomplishment. The state is to buy endangered lands, which Chiles applauds, but the Legislature will have to come up with the money for each of the next 10 years unless a permanent source is found.