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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Environment? What Environment?

When The Gainesville Sun endorsed John Kerry for president Sunday, the editorial board included complaints about President Bush’s environmental record as a reason for supporting Kerry.

The paper is certainly correct. We should all be concerned about the Bush administration’s policies that effect the environment. The Sun summed it up well:

Bush has also been the worst environmental president in memory. His administration has rolled back regulations that protect our air, water and national lands. To the extent that he has an energy policy at all, it was written by corporate donors and calls for more of the same; more dependency on foreign oil and less attention to energy conservation and alternative fuel development.

So where was this concern when The Sun was making endorsements in the elections closer to home? In the four endorsement editorials The Sun has published for the two Alachua County Commission races, the word “environment” appeared only once, and even then it was to ensure that voters understood that the candidate would balance the environment with business priorities.

In the endorsement of Democrat Ward Scott over incumbent Mike Byerly, The Sun wrote that Scott “understands the need to better integrate economic and environmental policies.” It’s not that The Sun thought Scott was interested in protecting the environment – just that he had made some vague, happy-sounding promise to integrate environmental and economic policies.

There was another instance in which a variation of the word “environment” was used -- in Saturday’s endorsement of Republican Mark Minck over Republican-turned-Democrat Paula DeLaney. “Minck sees growth and conservation working together for the common good, rather than as adversaries,” wrote The Sun’s editorialists.

Again, it was not that Minck would be a steward of our natural lands or ensure that we had clean air or water to breath – he was lauded because he would not prioritize the environment over business.

The Sun’s intentional avoidance of environmental protection as part of its candidate litmus test was consistent. In the endorsements for DeLaney over her Democrat opponent in the primary did not mention the concept at all; and the environment was not an issue in The Sun’s endorsement of Rodney Long over Jeff McAdams for County Commission.

At the state level, the paper’s endorsements of Dwight Stansel and Ed Jennings., Jr., for state representative also lacked any reference to environmental issues.

This pattern took a strange twist in the endorsements made for the Congressional elections. The Sun did mention the environment when endorsing Democratic incumbent Rep. Corrine Brown over GOP challenger Prince Brown, and when endorsing GOP incumbent Sen. Cliff Stearns over Democratic challenger David Bruderly. However, in both cases The Sun pointed to the challenger’s superior environmental credentials . . . and then endorsed the incumbent.

Does this surprise me? Not really, although The Sun usually pays some lip service to environmental issues when it comes to local elections. This year we’re getting pursed lips.

This does point to a major problem with Gainesville’s daily newspaper. It tries to frame the debate by avoiding one of the most important issues facing local government.

The Sun would prefer we believe that local government is always trying to prevent jobs from being created by making it impossible to open and run a business here, which is a load of crap. For all but four years in history, the County Commission has been dominated by pro-business commissioners who have done everything possible to make life easy on businesses, especially those centered on the real estate development community.

The problem that The Sun has is that most county voters are interested in protecting the environment, which does not mesh with the growth-at-all-costs agenda of The Sun.

Newspapers make money from advertising. Growth means more readers and more businesses. More readers means higher ad rates, and more businesses means more ad buyers. It’s simple math. Elected officials who might stand in the way of any new development over some sissy environmental issue will never get The Sun’s endorsement, and if they do it will be without mentioning the candidate’s environmental views.

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