Florida environmentalists want this water management board member reappointed
Senate leaders weren’t going to let a year-old outburst aimed at state lawmakers go unaddressed.
VoteWater, a Treasure Coast group focused on political issues related to restoring the Everglades, is raising cane over the Senate this spring not confirming the reappointment of South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.
“Few people in South Florida care more about our troubled waters than Thurlow-Lippisch, and her presence on the board --- her constant questioning and requests for district officials to put complex topics into language the layman can understand --- has been hugely beneficial,” the group, formerly known as Bullsugar, said in a news release Tuesday that described the situation as “a case study of how politics pollutes Florida’s waters.”
Thurlow-Lippisch, a Sewall’s Point real-estate agent who served on the 2018 state Constitution Revision Commission, has been on the water-management district board since 2019.
Gov. Ron DeSantis in June 2022 reappointed Thurlow-Lippisch and Ron Bergeron to the board. The Senate reconfirmed Bergeron.
But not Thurlow-Lippisch. whose Senate troubles stem from her voicing opposition to a controversial 2022 bill tied to Everglades restoration. Then-Senate President Wilton Simpson, who is now the state agriculture commissioner, championed the bill.
Critics viewed the legislation as potentially harmful to wetlands and Everglades restoration efforts. After drawing opposition, the bill was watered down, but it still was vetoed by DeSantis. Simpson at the time argued that critics misunderstood the bill, which after the rewrite would have given more oversight to DeSantis and the Legislature about directives to the water management district on water in Lake Okeechobee.
Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said this week that the Senate’s decision not to confirm Thurlow-Lippisch was tied to her objections to the water bill during a Feb. 10, 2022, district governing board meeting.
Thurlow-Lippisch, in addressing Simpson’s bill during the meeting, also referred to another piece of environmental legislation opposed by lawmakers by saying, “Oh well, we’re God. You’re not. We’re in Tallahassee.”
Thurlow-Lippisch also mentioned a failed attempt to relocate the Capitol to Orlando in the 1970s and added: “There is a reason why the power is way up there. They like it like that.”
Betta said “other appointees, who were considered and confirmed by the Senate, expressed policy objections without disparaging the Legislature.”
“Many senators, including President Passidomo, were dismayed by Commissioner Thurlow-Lippisch’s public comments disparaging the Legislature and disrespecting the constitutional role of duly elected legislators,” Betta said in an email. “Specifically, to state at a public meeting that legislators --- who were elected to represent their constituents --- think they are God, was inappropriate and disrespectful in the view of President Passidomo.”
Betta added that Passidomo had advised the water management district that Thurlow-Lippisch’s appointment wouldn’t be sent to committees for consideration.
VoteWater linked the decision not to confirm Thurlow-Lippisch to political contributions from the sugar industry.
“That (2022) bill would have further cemented Big Sugar’s iron grip on Lake Okeechobee water management, essentially turning the lake into an industry reservoir,” VoteWater said.