The statewide Republican primary for Commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) resulted in candidate Matt Caldwell flying under the radar of
the public’s heightened concern over the devastating impacts of harmful algae blooms on our environment and businesses. The Commissioner of FDACS holds a cabinet post and is very
influential concerning policy and management of our water resources.

As with the direct correlation with nutrient runoff from sugar cane fields and the destruction of our rivers and coastal estuaries, there is a direct correlation with Caldwell’s rise to power in the
Florida legislature and his favored status with the sugar industry. Caldwell learned early how to “game” the political system and his numerous Political Action Committees including Florida Committee for Conservative Leadership, have received lavish contributions from notable industries, including petroleum, pharmaceutical, gaming, tobacco, and Big Sugar. Caldwell would have you believe that he is concerned with fiscal conservatism, voter representation and government accountability, but his voting record and actions tell an altogether different story.

In an attempt to suppress voters’ rights during the 2011 legislative session, Caldwell supported House Bill 1355, striking at the core of our state’s democracy by disenfranchising voters from
exercising their privilege to participate in the election process. HB 1355 shortened early voting from 14 to 8 days, and imposed new restrictions on groups, such as the League of Women Voters, that register voters including punishment and fines on a per-signature basis. In the 2013 legislative session, Caldwell sponsored HB 7065 to amend the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, under the guise of increasing the sugar industry’s funding commitment to Everglades restoration, when in fact, his proposed amendment was a smoke screen to ensure that the sugar industry limited their long term obligation of funding Everglades restoration. HB 7065 provided for the extension of the so-called privilege tax of $25 per acre that the sugar industry pays to continue their discharge of polluted runoff to the Everglades, rivers and coastal estuaries. This amounts to approximately $11 million per year in comparison to the billions required by the public taxpayers to restore the Florida Everglades. Caldwell’s amended language suppressed the “1996 Polluters Pay” Constitutional Amendment that required those primarily responsible for the pollution in the Everglades Agricultural and Protection Areas to clean up their pollution.

In the 2015 Legislative session, Caldwell, in violation of the public trust, supported re-directing Amendment 1 funds, intended to protect the public’s water resources and restore the Everglades, to balance the state budget. In the 2016 State legislative session, Caldwell sponsored a ‘Water Policy Bill” that undermines water resource protection from Appalachicola Bay to the Florida Keys. The bill greatly impedes efforts to cost effectively prevent water pollution at its source. The bill eliminated the regulatory permitting process that included performance standards for potential pollutant loading of lakes, rivers, streams and coastal estuaries. It eliminated a January 2015 deadline, which the state didn’t meet, for compliance with nutrient levels without creating a new deadline, thereby delaying cleanup of Lake Okeechobee.

In favoring special interests, Caldwell shifts the financial costs of restoring and protecting our land and water resources from the polluters to the public taxpayers. Our elected officials are
supposed to represent the public’s interest but Caldwell doesn’t seem to understand the concept of public service. Caldwell’s unholy alliance with Tallahassee influence peddlers and their dark money has done a great disservice to the State of Florida. Floridians desperately needs a voice for the people and a person that transcends party politics in support of a strong Democracy and a healthy and prosperous economy and environment. The preferred alternative to Caldwell is Nikki Fried. The people’s candidate for clean government and clean water.

ADDENDUM BY Marty Baum – Indian Riverkeeper:

Because of HB7065, starting in the year 2026, the “polluter privilege tax falls from $25 per acre to TEN DOLLARS per acre.. in perpetuity.

Caldwell’s 2015 “Water Policy Bill” also satisfied Amendment 5 Polluters Pay. Which essentially said ALL polluted water had to STAY where it was until clean, OR, Pay FULL price of the cleanup. This effectively Legislated the END of our Amendment that nearly 70% of voters wanted.

All those acres of sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee we need to buy are FREE money to sugar. It’s apparent why they are fighting so hard NOT to sell it. Earthjustice Attorney David G. Guest tells us that an Australian sugar farmer expects to make about 120 dollars per year, per acre profit in a free market, no subsidy arena. David says a Florida sugar farmer expects to make 1200 dollars per acre, per year. They are not in the sugar business, but rather the subsidy business.

The 2016 Caldwell sponsored “Water Policy Bill”  changed the definition of pollution in Florida: what is a natural stream/creek, or conveyance, (ie man made canal). If there is a structure, weir or any change, the natural body is NOW considered man altered, and therefore is just a “conveyance” and immune to any pollution control. BMP’s (Best Management Practices) became VOLUNTARY. TMDL’s (Total Maximum Daily Load, refers to the amount of pollution a water body can endure and still be healthy. Except that only applies IF those numbers were arrived at scientifically, and honestly. Arriving at those numbers politically is meaningless, simply a license to LEGALLY pollute. TMDL’s have no teeth, no prosecution, nothing.

Ray Judah is a former Lee County Commissioner of 24 years, former director of Florida Coastal & Oceans Coalition, Co-host of The People’s Voice and lifelong environmental advocate.


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