January 26, 2012 | SunPost
Former Senator Bob Graham on the Environment, Casinos, and Military Stratergy
Bob Graham Admonishes Tallahassee: No More Harm
Florida’s 38th governor (1979-87) isn’t pleased with what the Legislature did during last year’s session. He’s not optimistic about this year’s. But it won’t stop him from going to bat for what he regards as the state’s fundamental economic asset – and a key to Florida’s economic recovery.
From the corridors of the statehouse in Tallahassee to the halls of Congress, Bob Graham’s decades of public service were crowned by eight years as governor and three terms in the U.S. Senate. There, he served on the environment and finance committees and, during and after 9/11, chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Following his retirement from D.C. politics in 2005, he taught for a year at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. And while he may have retired from politics, he has by no means retired. Graham’s most recent decade has been spent educating college students in the importance of civics; founding a University of Florida center for public service that bears his name; chairing a commission on the prevention of WMD proliferation and terrorism; serving on an inquiry commission into the causes of the financial crisis; co-chairing a national commission on the BP oil spill and offshore drilling; and writing, which includes his most recent book, Keys to the Kingdom (Vanguard Press), a “novel of suspense,” that was five years in the making.
As if all that was enough, he has also found time to start an environmental organization, the Florida Conservation Coalition, that has brought together under a common umbrella groups including the Audubon Society of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, and the Everglades Foundation to muster opposition to the Florida Legislature and Gov. Scott, both of whom Graham indicts as having “set Florida’s once proud conservation laws and programs back four decades.”
Just before embarking on a weeks-long, Cape Town-to-Singapore sea cruise with his wife, Adele, a cruise aboard which he will be lecturing, Graham sat down in his Miami Lakes office with the SunPost’s Charles Branham-Bailey to opine about resort casinos, Tallahassee’s assault on the environment, and what should the nation’s military strategy look like in a time of economic belt-tightening –
THE ASSAULT ON VOTING RIGHTS
I am active in a group
called the Florida Joint Center on Citizenship, in conjunction with the National Commission on Citizenship. Each year we publish a Civic Health Index for Florida. This year we’re particularly focusing on “millennials,” people between 18 and 29. These very people who are going to be so important to the future civic welfare of Florida are some of the people who will be the most adversely affected by these [changes to voting laws by last year’s Florida Legislature].
I don’t really understand – well, I guess I do – the political strategy of the Republican candidates this winter. I know that the Republican electorate is so hard right that in order to get the nomination you’ve got to appeal to them. But in so doing, you’ve got to get 50%-plus-one of all the folks to get elected. In politics, the way I’ve always thought you wanted to do it is you find out where your opponent is.
Let’s use a football analogy and say your opponent is on the 35 yard line. You want to be anywhere from that 35 yard line all the way over to your end zone, so he’s got 35 yards, you’ve got 65 yards – you win. They seem to be wanting to get back inside the 20 yard line and [say to] 80% of the electorate: to hell with them. It may make [the GOP candidates] feel good in January but it doesn’t seem to be like a very winning strategy for November.
SP: The president made his [Jan. 5] announcement from the Pentagon about the Defense Strategic Review and the need to resize our military and restructure our defense budgets. He said, “We have to renew our economic strength here at home, which is the foundation of our strength around the world. And that includes putting our fiscal house in order.” What are your views on the importance that he’s stressing of trying to balance defense spending with the need to shore up the homefront here when we have so many urgent economic needs?
We fought two wars in the last decade continuing into this one, neither of which was paid for. They were totally financed by debt. That was a real break from American tradition.
We fought probably the most expensive war in the history of the country, on a per capita, GDP basis – the Civil War. The Union came out of the Civil War with virtually no debt because they had paid for it.
World War II was a very expensive war and we came out with a little debt which was quickly disposed of after the war was over.
So this is a radical departure, what we’ve done, from what has been our history. I am reassured that my negative votes on doing those [wars], particularly Iraq, were right decisions.
Yes, I think there is a direct relationship between the economic health of the country and how much of our treasury we want to spend on the military. I think we’re in some ways doing what they say the generals always do, which is to fight the last war. To me, the war in Afghanistan – which was a perfectly understandable and appropriate war, in my judgment, since it was like Pearl Harbor; we’d just been attacked and we were retaliating for that attack – is no longer against al Qaeda.
There are almost no al Qaeda – less than 100 in the whole country of Afghanistan. What we ought to be doing in my judgment is moving away from an Afghanistan-centric policy towards more of the kinds of things that we are currently doing in Yemen and in Pakistan, which is [to deploy] small numbers of people, high-tech, specific targets…
SP: The use of drone technology and less dependence on “boots on the ground?”
Yeah, you phrased it very well.
SP: And of course President [George W.] Bush never quite asked us to make sacrifices, unlike previous commanders-in-chief.
Oh, yes he did. He said we should go to shopping malls and spend money.
SP: Okay [chuckling], I stand corrected.
[sarcastically] How much more sacrificial can you be?
THE THREAT FROM AL QAEDA
SP: The president also said, “We’ve decimated al Qaeda’s leadership. We’ve delivered justice to bin Laden, and we’ve put that terrorist network on the path to defeat.” You said [in an interview] last summer that you wanted to wait about six months [after bin Laden’s death] to see if we could make the assessment that bin Laden and the al Qaeda network was not as much of a threat as in the past.
If you had asked me that question a year ago today, I would have answered that in fact we were less safe today than we were and part of that reason would be that we have so bled our economic strength. Another part of it would be that our adversaries have not been standing on the sidelines just waiting for us to get better, they’ve been getting better, particularly al Qaeda which, at 9/11, was a very hierarchical organization, with bin Laden making most of the important decisions.
Today, al Qaeda is a franchise with 60 or more units around the world, each one of which has its own leadership structure. That diversity not only gives them a better local knowledge to carry out operations but it also gives them people in leadership positions who don’t have to go back to “Big al Qaeda” in a cave somewhere to get instructions [for terrorist plots] they are capable of conducting themselves. The best example of this is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which, in the last couple of years, has probably been a greater threat to the United States than bin Laden’s al Qaeda.
I said it may be that the death of bin Laden might begin to change that “are we stronger or not” equation but I don’t think you could answer it in the summer of 2011. [We] might be in the position of having a better answer towards the summer of 2012.
SP: Let me skip now to state politics. Gov. Scott gave his State of the State address the other day. Nowhere in this transcript does he say the word or mention the topic of the environment. He talks a lot about jobs and about education. He wants the Legislature to approve an additional $1 billion for education.
Last year they cut it by $1.3 billion – so we’re behind where we were a year ago.
SP: [Senate minority leader] Nan Rich said in [the Democratic] rebuttal – she was quite damning in her remarks – that “the billion dollars he’s proposing for education doesn’t begin to cover the $1.35 billion the Republicans cut from our schoolchildren last year.”
GRAHAM: My two major state issues are education and environment. Right now I’m involved with a group I helped organize, the Florida Conservation Coalition. Our principal objective in 2012 is, No more harm.
The same Legislature which did so much damage in 2011 is still there. Although I would hope that they might be willing to reconsider and roll back some of the bad judgments they made, I am not optimistic. So we have a rather limited and defensive agenda: Avoid more harm.
One hopes the Legislature that is voted in in November will be more understanding of our fundamental economic asset in Florida. We don’t have coal. We don’t have cheap electricity. We don’t have iron ore. We don’t have any of the things that the Industrial Revolution depended upon and, thus, we’ve never really been a part of the Industrial Revolution.
What we do have is a magnificent place to live which I think could become attractive to new industry which is not a steel-and-concrete [one] but is human creativity and high-tech industry of the mind – that’s what we need to be doing.
SP: In your message of December 24 that was posted on the Conservation Coalition’s web page, you emphasize it is essential to try to reverse last year’s acts against the environment and the protection thereof. You wrote: “In three short months of 2011, the governor and Legislature set Florida’s once proud conservation laws and programs back four decades. [They] placed our state’s natural heritage in jeopardy. What choices do we have? We surrender, or we fight back.”
You also had a recent conversation with [former governor] Jeb Bush and you both agreed that dismantling the water management districts was bad for the office of governor because the governor effectively has control over those districts.
The South Florida Water Management district, which is the largest of the five, was established in the late ’40s. We had a very serious siege of hurricanes in that period and that led to the creation of what initially was called the South Florida Drainage Commission, and that subsequently became the South Florida Water Management District.
At the same time there were four other districts. The whole state is covered by one of these five districts, each of which is based on a water basin. There’s the St. John’s [River] water basin, the Suwannee [River] water basin, etc. Basically, South Florida’s is the Everglades water basin.
What the Legislature did last year was, first, they transferred a significant amount of the budgetary authority for the districts to themselves. Now, for the first time in Florida history, the Legislature is going to be engaged in determining financial priorities for the district. I think that’s going to make it very political and parochial.
Second, they mandated that there be very significant cuts in the ad valorem funding of the water management districts. In the case of the one here, it was in the nature of a 40%-plus cut which resulted in hundreds of very talented people being pink-slipped.
Now there appears to be a movement towards privatization of water in Florida. As in most of the eastern United States, water is a public resource. You, me, the other 18 or 19 million Floridians own this water. What the movement is, I’m afraid, [is toward] converting it to a western [U.S.]-type commodity where [companies] own the water. This was attempted ten years ago by, of all people, Enron, which wanted to get a law to privatize the water in Florida and then they would exercise some control over it.
Thank god we avoided that disaster, but those same people who were touting that a decade ago are still alive, well, and kicking and influencing [legislatures] with that objective.
Those are some of the things that have happened to the water management districts and we fear might be the platform from which more bad stuff will happen.
My point is, Florida essentially declined the invitation to join the Industrial Revolution. We have an economy today that’s not much different than it was at the end of the 19th Century: tourism, agriculture, and services.
We tried for the last 50 or more years to put a fourth leg under that stool. That was high-tech industry, and we made some progress, I point out. People sometimes forget the fact – you know where the first mass-produced PC was manufactured in the United States?
SP: Are you going to tell me here in Florida?
Yes. IBM, at its facility in Boca Raton, was where the first one of these [was manufactured for the consumer market]. That factory has long since closed. My theory is that we had the right objective. We haven’t pursued it with enough consistency and we haven’t done the things that are going to be necessary to attract these companies. The principal thing, I would say, is education.
Casino gambling is culturally in conflict with the values of industries of the mind. You see no significant industries of that nature in Biloxi, Atlantic City, or Las Vegas [where legalized gambling exists].
We’re making a fundamental choice as to where we think the future of Florida should be. Should we deepen our commitment to tourism by adding this additional component of resort casinos? Or should we continue our effort to try to get the culture of high-tech?