The Florida Senate confirmed a raft of agency heads during its last floor session. Most passed without comment, but one secretary raised opposition among Democrats.
At the outset of Thursday’s Senate floor session, lawmakers took up a long list of executive appointments. And although senators didn’t take issue with the nominees individually, Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner couldn’t help but notice a theme among them.
“There is a serious lack of diversity as it relates to blacks and women on all of these appointments,” Joyner says, “and I know that we have no control over that—that is done through the governor’s office.”
Joyner says leaders should reflect the state’s diversity. But after her critique, the Senate approved the new batch of appointments—except for one.
“Let’s be clear what the agency’s job is to do—the Department of Environmental Protection,” Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) says.
He spoke against confirming DEP secretary Jon Steverson. Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) opposed him as well.
“I make no comment on Mr. Stevenson as a person,” Clemens says, “The folks that know him that I’ve talked to say that he’s a good person, my comment is more about the direction of the department as a whole.”
And that direction, according to opponents of Steverson’s leadership, is too heavily focused on making money and clearing the path for private enterprise. Fellow Democrat Sen. Darren Soto of Kissimmee raised three points against the department’s current posture.
“First I fundamentally disagree that our state parks should ever be used for profit. That we should ever be a in a position where we’re trying to maximize the amount of utility of our resources in our state parks,” he says.
“Second is that I disagree that the Department of Environmental Protection is powerless against preventing fracking in our state,” Soto continues. “And thirdly I rise for the forward thinking idea that climate change is real, and that it is manmade.”
On the first point, many environmentalists and lawmakers on the left oppose plans that would allow grazing or logging on state lands. On the second, many of the same interests believe the department already has the power to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Steverson is backing a measure that would allow the controversial drilling practice if a study finds no danger. Opponents worry the department can’t produce an impartial study. Although Steverson allows climate change may be real, some lawmakers say his department has been too soft on polluters.
But Steverson has plenty of support in the chamber as well.
“I appreciate very much Senator Clemens’ comments that he’s not in any way questioning the personal nature of this fine man, because he is indeed one fine man,” Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) says.
Three Republican senators representing rural districts spoke in favor of the secretary. And Hays says Stevenson is more than just a good man.
“I would submit to you also that he is one fine secretary who definitely has a heart for the environment of our state every aspect of the environment of this state,” Hays says.
He defends the idea of grazing and logging, arguing doing nothing would represent mismanagement and could lead to more wildfires. Republican Sens. Charlie Dean of Inverness and Greg Evers of Baker support Steverson as well.
“He’s from the panhandle,” Evers says, “and he knows the value of a dollar, especially the people’s dollars that he’s entrusted to spend and he is deeply concerned about that money and he will see that it’s spent wisely.”
But it wasn’t just Republicans coming to Steverson’s defense. Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford supports confirmation as well.
“I may not agree with some of the steps that he’s taken,” Montford says. “I may not agree with some of his decisions, but I do know him to be a man of integrity—a man of honesty—and I do know that his door is open.”
The Senate confirmed Steverson twenty nine votes to eight.