Palm Beach Post Endorses Democrats for County Commission
Make Martin Growth Policy Reflect Wishes of the Public
Palm Beach Post © Post Editorial
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Martin County is full of people who favor controlled growth, full of people who have taken the time to educate themselves about the importance of healthy rivers and wetlands, full of residents who say - and really mean it - that they don't want to let sprawl, traffic and crowding inch up from Palm Beach County or down from St. Lucie.
And yet, all that enlightened concern has not translated into a Martin County Commission with a majority that reflects public sentiment about growth and the environment. How can that be? Actually, it's simple:
- Multiple candidates have split the protect-the-environment vote.
- Big contributions from developers allow candidates who don't favor controlled growth to run ads claiming that they do.
- Some candidates have flip-flopped after getting elected.
In 2004, two incumbents were reelected with less than 50 percent of the vote when controlled-growth backers ran two opponents against each incumbent. Something like that could happen again in District 1. Incumbent Doug Smith, a Republican who has approved such bad projects as Pitchford's Landing and the bulked-up Renar River Place and has pushed hard to ease or remove rules on development, faces two opponents who could split the anti-incumbent vote.
The Post recommends that voters choose Democrat Tom Fullman in District 1.
A family therapist, Dr. Fullman has a long history as a controlled-growth activist. He is a founding member of the Jensen Beach Group, noted for its opposition to the Pitchford's Landing project. Last month, a lawsuit in which he participated stopped the developer from installing a sea wall that would have damaged the Indian River Lagoon.
Correctly, though, Dr. Fullman has not simply obstructed growth. His group's role in negotiating a better project for Renar River Place showed how developers and neighbors could work together. Dr. Fullman strongly opposed the Valliere amendment, which has opened rural western Martin to more intense development despite overwhelming public opposition. Mr. Smith, the incumbent, voted for the Valliere amendment. The official name of that amendment, by the way, is the "Land Protection Incentives Amendment." That name is as deceptive as the candidates who claim to be environmentalists because they voted for it.
On other issues, Dr. Fullman says the county can't afford the Indian Street Bridge - a bridge Mr. Smith is determined to build despite the high cost - and he wants to make Witham Field "a friendly, quiet airport."
The other candidate, Joan Wilcox, is a registered Republican but is running with no party affiliation. She denies that she was put up by Commissioner Smith's supporters: "I was put up by myself. Period." But there's still a real danger that she will split the vote and tilt the election to Commissioner Smith.
Controlled-growth advocates also could split their votes in District 5.
For that open seat, The Post recommends Democrat Linda Green, who works for a charity.
She opposes the Valliere amendment and says Witham Field should not be expanded. Her environmental credits include leading the effort to save the gorgeous tree canopy on Martin Grade Road. She's contributed to the community in a range of other ways, including service on the Park and Recreation board and the Florida Housing Coalition. Ms. Green favors building the Indian Street Bridge, which The Post does not, but correctly sees that finding the money to build it will be a problem.
Another candidate in District 5, John Patteson, is yet another Republican who is running with no party affiliation. Seems to be a pattern among spoilers. He has good positions on some issues but not on limiting airport growth.
The Republican in the race for District 5 is Ed Ciampi, an ice cream shop owner. Mr Ciampi says, "I'm tagged as the big business candidate." He is, and with good reason. Mr. Ciampi accepted campaign assistance from Florida Crystals, King Ranch, developers and companies interested in an expanded Witham Field. He says the help won't influence him, but Mr. Ciampi simply doesn't have the environmental and public service track record of Linda Green.
Remember how we said that flip-flopping candidates can confuse voters? Susan Valliere, who is not up for reelection this year - though her ill-conceived amendment is quite an issue - ran in 2006 as a supporter of controlled-growth before she apparently switched her position. And Lee Weberman, who used to be strongly opposed to controlling growth, spent much of the previous year voting the other way in hopes of making voters forget his record. They didn't. In August, Mr. Weberman lost the Republican primary for District 3 to Patrick Hayes, who had a respectable record on the environment.
But voters might not be aware that Mr. Hayes has done a flip-flop of his own and supports the Valliere amendment. He also strongly supports building the Indian Street Bridge, the cost of which could suck up all of Martin County's road money.
Because of Mr. Hayes' flip-flop, The Post recommends Democrat Martha Bennett in District 3.
Yes, that makes three Democrats. But in Martin County, Democrats tend to be more like moderate Republicans - but with stronger-than-usual environmental credentials. That holds as well with Ms. Bennett, who has her own medical insurance billing company in Martin County.
Ms. Bennett opposes the Valliere amendment. She is a member of the group opposed to expanding Witham Field and belongs to the Martin County Conservation Alliance, but she also is a member of the Hobe Sound Chamber of Commerce. Ms. Bennett sympathizes with drivers who think that the Indian Street Bridge could ease congestion - and criticizes prior officials for approving so much development without sufficient roads and bridges - but doesn't think the county can afford the bridge. She promises to look for less expensive road improvements.
As we said at the beginning, Martin County is full of people who favor controlled growth.
This election, voters can elect a county commission majority that, once again, will respect that preference. To get that done, Martin County needs to be full of people who turn out to vote for Tom Fullman, Linda Green and Martha Bennett.
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(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Martin County Democratic Executive Committee has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Martin County Democratic Executive Committee endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)