The well-respected Everglades Trust has endorsed Ron DeSantis for governor, saying the Republican nominee is a champion for the Everglades and a candidate who has "walked the walk" when it comes to standing up to special interests, namely the sugar industry.
This is a significant coup for DeSantis, since Democrats usually try to cast themselves as the strongest advocates for the environment. Amid algae blooms and red tide, the environment is more important in this election than it has been in many, and the big endorsement should help DeSantis appeal to voters who mainly know him as a top cheerleader for Donald Trump.
"The Everglades and coastal estuaries couldn't care less about partisan politics, so the Trust doesn't. They are in desperate need of a hero – and they found one in Ron DeSantis," said Everglades Trust Executive Director Kimberly Mitchell.
"Ron understands the critical infrastructure projects that must be undertaken and expedited, with the ability to make them a top priority, and already has a track record of standing up to an industry that is physically and politically blocking the reconnection of Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades – Big Sugar.
"Floridians have had enough of rhetoric and broken promises from our politicians. 'I will stand up to the special interests,' is what we're told in an election year. Well, we now have a politician who has actually walked the walk and for the millions who depend on a healthy Everglades, and all the critters who call them home, it could not come soon enough."
The Trust was founded in 1994 by the late George Barley, a developer and crusader for Everglades protection. His wife, Mary Barley, has chaired the organization since 1995.
Democrats attacked the endorsement, accusing the Trust of being pro-Republican because it donates largely to Republicans, including $250,000 to the Florida GOP this year.
Another simple explanation, of course, is that the Trust wants to influence the legislature that is controlled by Republicans.
"It's no surprise that an organization which almost exclusively supports Republicans is backing the Republican gubernatorial nominee," said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Kevin Donohoe. "Every major environmental group that isn't bought by the GOP has made clear that Ron DeSantis would be a disaster for our environment. Republican donors love Ron DeSantis — but real environmentalists don't. DeSantis is a sham environmentalist, and the only people who would endorse his gubernatorial run are the rich donors he has fought for his entire career."
Mary Barley ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for Agriculture Commissioner in 2002, drawing fierce and effective opposition from sugar and other agriculture interests.
Another environmental advocacy group, the Florida Conservation Voters, issued a statement standing up for Gillum:
"The only candidate with the leadership skills and vision to protect Florida's environment is Mayor Andrew Gillum. Ron DeSantis has a lifetime environmental score of 2% from the League of Conservation Voters – that number speaks for itself. On every environmental issue, from protecting our waters and wetlands to acting on climate, he sides with polluters over people every time. Floridians shouldn't be fooled by these recent attempts to greenwash himself. He can't run away from his votes."
The Sierra Club and Florida Conservation Voters endorsed Gillum for governor.
"Ron DeSantis is a sham environmentalist who has routinely put the interests of Florida's biggest polluters ahead of the people of our state," said Drew Martin, Conservation Chair for the Loxahatchee Group Sierra Club representing Martin, St Lucie and Palm Beach Counties.
"During his time in Congress, DeSantis voted against the environment 98 percent of the time. DeSantis opposed funding that would allow water from Lake Okeechobee to be sent south, backed cuts to EPA, and fought common-sense laws to fight pollution. As a candidate, DeSantis has no plan to stop the flow of waste and poison into Florida's waterways. He has even promised to do nothing to address climate change as governor — which we know contributes in part to the toxic algae bloom devastating our community."
"During his time in Congress, DeSantis voted against the environment 98 percent of the time. DeSantis opposed funding that would allow water from Lake Okeechobee to be sent south, backed cuts to EPA, and fought common-sense laws to fight pollution. As a candidate, DeSantis has no plan to stop the flow of waste and poison into Florida's waterways. He has even promised to do nothing to address climate change as governor — which we know contributes in part to the toxic algae bloom devastating our community. Instead of offering solutions, DeSantis has simply praised Rick Scott, whose horrible environmental policies and rollback of clean water protections have contributed to the current crisis.