Local Candidates on the Environment
Cinema Verde invited local candidates to share their positions on environmental concerns.
Alachua County and Gainesville, Florida Candidates on the Environment
With an unprecedented number of candidates to choose from on election day in Alachua County August 23, it’s been a surprisingly contentious election cycle in a typically friendly community. Candidates have been caught lying to the public, anti-semitic fliers have been floating around town, and one candidate even had the lack of courtesy and integrity to show up at a political event after a positive Covid diagnosis, shaking hands and pontificating without even the protection of a mask. Above all, nearly every political conversation seemed to focus on single-family zoning and whether it should be abolished to accommodate urban development in the face of low housing quantity and the anticipated influx of climate refugees.
Some members of the community had other concerns and questions for the candidates, so Cinema Verde, with the help of the new Let’s Talk Climate group, organized a candidates’ forum to discuss environmental issues. More than 19 candidates responded to the invitation to the open-air event on the grounds of the Cypress and Grove Brewery downtown, but the crowd was forced indoors by the threat of thunderstorms and lightning.
Trish Riley, Director of Cinema Verde, kicked off the event with thanks to sponsors and volunteers, then posed a single question to all of the candidates: Would they support development of a new community environmental education center? Ed Kellerman, Professor of marketing and debate team instructor at the University of Florida, led the discussion as moderator, breaking the group into sections by the offices at stake in the election.
First to take the stage were candidates for Alachua County School Board. Tina Certain recalled her days as a Scout and learning to be a good steward of our natural resources. She said she applied that skill to her job as former school board chair when it came to consumption of utilities and she looks forward to continuing that progress and protection of the environment.
“I want to see our children become climate change agents in the school, said Diyonne McGraw, another candidate for school board. “That's how they learn. I want to see them become renewable energy ambassadors.”
Prescott Cowles was a camp counselor and program director at his school. He said he sees how the school board has failed and has a need for responsibility. “Our generation inherited this problem.” he said. “I think it is a moral obligation for the school district to empower our students with education and the tools that they need to improve on those mistakes of the past.”
Next up were contenders for Gainesville City Commission. Jo Lee Beatty opened discussion by recalling the city climate charter established in 2019. “We've got an urgent environmental and financial situation and I don't think we're moving fast enough. The City of Gainesville continues to cut down trees, increasing the pervious surface and creating heat, and then don't finish the exterior, replenishing the air. You know that that proportionately affects the most vulnerable among us.”
Christian Newman said he is a wildlife biologist, conducting research around the world on energy and wildlife. His environmental positions include decarbonization and going solar and renewable, building out infrastructure to plug in electric vehicles. “The other big issue for me is to actually think about nature-based solutions to address some of the extreme events, whether it’s trees, whether it’s wetlands, there’s so much we can do in our communities and we’re in a great position to do it. And in terms of having an environmental education center, we absolutely do need that.”
Bryan Eastman addressed how critical our zero waste initiative is, pointing out that his wife started Zero Waste Gainesville back in 2017. He wants to start residential composting to reduce methane emissions from landfills and food diversion programs to divert unused food from grocery stores to the poor. “My focus is really on how do we make a more sustainable and brighter future for my daughter and for future generations, not just looking at what's happening tomorrow in Gainesville, but looking 20, 30, 40 years down the line.”
City Commission candidate Mike Raburn was up next. “If you live in southeast Gainesville, and you work on Archer Road, you can't take the bus to work - it takes you two hours plus to get there. I would like to see us improve our transit system so folks can get to work at home and back, which would decrease the amount of cars on the road to decrease traffic and carbon emissions as well.
“And I want to work on ending the transfer here. The way things are structured now, the city is disincentivized from becoming green in its energy because the greener it would become the less money GRU makes, the less money it has for the city."
Raburn continued on renewable energy: “Biomass is green in places like Ohio, where you have soy and corn byproduct at the end of the season, but here our biomass is dependent on cutting down trees to run the biomass plant. So the biomass plant here depends on overdevelopment, and I am against overdevelopment.”
Alachua County Commission candidates were next onstage. Anthony Johnson discussed the need to limit and remove nitrates from the springs and rivers that flow through north central Florida counties, advocating for a mutual effort that would produce the greatest results in reducing the pollution running off agricultural lands leaching fertilizers and waste into the waterways. “My main concern is to push for leadership in the county to protect our water. We need to focus on the Floridan Aquifer.”
Marihelen Wheeler, current Chair of the County Commission, expressed support for an environmental education center and said she had been involved in protecting our water resources throughout her adult life and cited many examples of problems that she had worked to correct from water issues to drilling and fracking all across the state. "My concern is sustainability, global warming and climate change - that’s going to affect the way that people are actually moving inland into our area and to Alachua County. So we need to work better with our developers. They've got to understand what's happening to the environment and they've got to address those issues. We've got to make sure that our trees stay in place.
"To answer the earlier question, yes, I support the education initiative that you asked about. Yes, I believe as a former teacher, we need the environmental education center, to protect our water and our environment and focus on our core services like roads and public safety."
County Commissioner Ken Cornell cited the extensive measures Alachua County has already taken toward protecting the local environment. "It's important that we continue to invest in our kids and our neighborhoods, protect our environment and to focus on our core services like roads and public safety. And yes, I support the environmental education initiative - this county commission has demonstrated a real dedication to protecting the environment and planning for the future. I believe I am the only candidate in my district who is a strong supporter of Wild Spaces and Public Places."
Charlie Jackson referenced his role with the Alachua County Energy Reduction and Water Conservation Program in saving 17 million gallons of water at the jail and in saving $221,000 a year in a county-wide electricity retrofit for lighting. “We are an agricultural state, but we may not be able to grow crops if we don’t control climate change in Florida.”
Mayoral Candidate Adam Rosenthal said he is focused on making sure all our decisions are based on love and not just the bottom line. “How can we spend a little bit more money to make sure that we are maximizing love in our community?”
Current City Commissioner David Arreola said he believes climate change is the greatest threat facing this generation and his future children. He advocates ceasing to burn fossil fuels, bringing back carbon science-based targets for carbon emission reduction by 2030. He is in favor of an electric vehicle infrastructure throughout the city and has worked to support zero waste and to pass energy efficiency standards for rental properties. “I’m glad the environment is getting the spotlight here at the end of this contentious campaign.”
Ansaun Fisher said that as a single father he has great concern about the climate and future, citing a report that temperatures downtown are six degrees hotter than outside the city at the airport. “I’m happy to be here and I appreciate that you’re bringing awareness to these important issues, and that’s one of the reasons that I’m running for mayor.”
Harvey Ward, who is also a city commissioner, says one of his top goals is to establish utility-scale solar in the next year. “And yes, of course I support the work of an environmental education center which really might bring together a lot of existing environmental education opportunities under one umbrella.”
July Thomas talked a bit about environmental racism and the importance of protecting lower-income families from taking the brunt of the problems, as has happened historically. “The climate crisis is here and it is the challenge of my generation. It is not just a philosophical academic discussion, it is a realistic thing that we need to plan for.”
Gary Gordon, who served as mayor-commissioner in the 1980s, says he helped create a citizen’s advisory committee to review hazardous materials and led the effort to develop a recycling program and that he suggested the idea of developing a green belt around the city to protect outlying wilderness. “What is the impact of growth and development, population growth on the aquifer? Then there are studies that indicate that increased density creates more greenhouse gasses. We’ve got to watch out for the notion that everybody can move here and then everything will be okay. It’s just not going to work.”
Congressional candidate Tom Wells advocated replacing the Supreme Court to better address environmental issues and Brandon Peters said he wants to defund the proposed turnpike extension through north central Florida and to develop a statewide comprehensive energy policy.
Danielle Hawk said it up to us to solve the climate crisis. “You know, I'm running in a district that is a very, very red district. And it can be really difficult for me to talk to voters outside of Alachua County about the climate crisis because they are skeptical about the validity of the climate crisis. And that's why I have chosen to talk about protecting our water as the perfect example of how they can relate to how the climate crisis is affecting our rivers, our lakes or streams. And the water problem in Florida is a perfect example of how for decades environmental legislation at all levels of government has gotten it wrong by putting big business profits and corporations first.”
Will Bullen represented State Representative Yvonne Hinson who is up for reelection in November. “She sponsored legislation to test and inform Floridians of unsafe swimming places across the state and she wants to invest in solar energy and make Florida a leader in renewable energy. Third, she wants to make sure we are no longer committed to single use plastics. She prides herself on being a climate activist.”
We wish everyone good luck and thank you for working to make Alachua County and Gainesville the best place to live!