The Florida Cap-and-Trade Chess Game

Florida’s Republican Senate primary has been swirling around the void left by the implosion of former Governor Charlie Crist, who was a colorful figure.  Strangely enough, that color was orange.

Crist did a lot of strange things before jumping into the last Senate race, and getting his hat handed to him by a long-shot outsider with grassroots support named Marco Rubio.  One of his brainstorms was attempting to saddle the state with a “cap-and-trade” energy tax, using executive orders. 

Two of the major Republican candidates in the current Senate race had roles to play in the cap-and-trade drama.  George LeMieux, who used to be Crist’s chief of staff, has been attacking Adam Hasner for passing cap-and-trade legislation.  Hasner, who was the Republican Majority Leader in the Florida House, counters that his efforts actually sabotaged the far more draconian rules LeMieux helped create.

There’s no way LeMieux can cover his paper trail.  He’s a global warming true believer, quoted by the Palm Beach Post in 2007 as saying “there might have been a time where the jury was out, but the jury is in now, and we know this is an issue.  We can’t afford to ignore it and be wrong.”

The St. Petersburg Times got hold of the notes LeMieux kept when he was Crist’s top aide, in which he described Florida as “the linchpin to solving climate change worldwide” and listed an “enviro summit” as one of the governor’s top priorities.  He was indeed able to organize a “climate summit” between Crist and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Among the “energy ideas” written in LeMieux’s notebook were more money for “alternative energy,” mandated emissions reductions, and mandated ethanol use.

For his part, Hasner did co-sponsor an energy bill in the Florida House, but environmentalists didn’t like it much at the time, because it gave the Florida Legislature veto power over the Governor’s orders.  This allowed them to neutralize the worst of Crist’s excesses. 

The Miami Herald described it as “legislation that substantially weakened Crist’s cap-and-trade scheme, while laying the groundwork for Florida to pursue market-based solutions to minimize the adverse impact of any law eventually signed at the federal level.”  The Herald noted that “getting Crist to agree to this compromise was no easy task.”

For his part, Marco Rubio not only supported this legislation, but campaigned on it when he ran for the Senate.  LeMieux is going to have a tough time painting Rubio as a flip-flopping, weak-kneed Democrat in Republican clothing.

There is much to learn about Republican primary politics nationwide from studying this tussle between Hasner and LeMieux.  State and local politics can be messy, especially when high-profile races gain national attention, and the media starts looking to catch up on years of context.  In this case, accusing Hasner of supporting a cap-and-trade law is like accusing the doctor giving you a flu shot of injecting you with a virus.  It’s technically true, but completely missing the point.

There will be a lot of stories like this during the primary season, right up to the presidential race, as everyone scrambles for the mantle of True Conservative.  Anyone with a resume of public office has made some compromises.  Sometimes they deserve criticism for giving too much away, or acting against principles they now claim to hold dear.  Other times, they really did make the best deal they could, and spared their constituents from something far worse. If you wish to judge what a candidate will do in the future, you should carefully consider what they did in the past, and why.