I am big supporter of Senator Joe Negron. I believe that his intervention has “changed the game” for the Indian River Lagoon and put the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon squarely on the map in front of every politician and agency in the state. Now we have a chance to save it.
Yes, there have been champions for the lagoon before, but in my opinion, no one has ever done what Senator Negron has done.
I had been aware of Joe Negron for years but it was not until 2012 that I had any contact with him and that contact changed my life and improved my efforts for saving the Indian River Lagoon.
For half of 2011 and all of 2012 I was the mayor of the Town of Sewall’s Point and in 2011 the River Kidz had started on their own, authentically, in the Town. Two fifth grade girls, Evie Flagh, (my niece) and Naia Mader, held a lemonade stand in Indianlucie giving their proceeds to “those old gentlemen,” the River’s Coalition, who said they “needed youth in their organization.” Columnist, Eve Samples, had written about this and the children filled the calling. River Kidz ended up becoming a force with hundreds of kids joining and spreading to other counties. They even came up with their own mission statement: “Our mission is to speak out, get involved and raise awareness, because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.”
As mayor, I made it my priority to help these kids as I have none of my own and am a former teacher. As a lifetime resident, I knew the dying river was a gigantic issue for the town and this all looked like a “good fit.”
Myself, my sister Jenny Flaugh, and good friend Nic Mader, started advocating along with these kids. Many other parents and children joined.
In the late summer of 2012, I thought of who could help the cause of the river and the kidz? Who was in a position to help. “Joe Negron,” I thought. He is our senator and he is the head of the Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the state. I was nervous. I really did not know him. He was friends with my husband’s business partner as they had both gone to the Hope Sound Bible School in their youth. I had seen him once at a birthday party. I was certain he had no idea who I was. After much angst, one day I called him. Somehow I got his phone number from my husband Ed I think. I was shaking.
“Hello, Senator Negron. This is Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch from the Town of Sewall’s Point. I am the mayor. May I speak to you for a minute please?
“Yes,” he replied.”
I was a wreck. Believe it or not, I am not good at “asking.”
“Sir, I am calling for your help. I am calling about the river….and the future…..about the kids….”
By the end of the short conversation, Joe Negron said he had an op-ed idea for awhile…maybe he would send it in to the paper? It had to do with the river. I encouraged him.
“Yes. Yes.” I said, “Please. We need your help. Thank you.”
Within a month or so the op-ed came out: (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/joe-negron-congress-must-strip-army-corps-of-it) The headlines read: Congress Must Strip the Army Corp of Engineers of their Authority of Lake Okeechobee.”
The day I saw the op-ed, I said to myself, “Wow, he did it.”
In spite of one’s opinion on the situation, this article shook the foundations of the status quo. A state senator, chair of the Appropriations Committee, had said something, written something so taboo and it got the state and federal government’s attention and started a scrutinizing dialogue of the management of the lake and the deathly discharges to our estuaries.
Things ramped up. The ACOE starts releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in June of 2012. The River Kidz held a protest at the locks with their friends and parents. Joe Negron along with Martin County commissioner, Sarah Heard attended. It poured rain but they came. The Kidz feel important. The movement’s volume turned up. More kids and parents got involved. The river seemed to always be in the Stuart News.
Skip forward to the “Lost Summer” of 2013. The ACOE began dumping in May due to early rains. The river is a putrid, toxic mess. The kids can’t go in the water. The River Kidz rally at the locks again. Joe Negron attends, again….
And then Joe Negron, Senator Joe Negron, pulls a rarely used and ultimate political card from his pocket going where he, and we, had never gone before. He organizes the “Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin.” It occurs August 22, 2013 at the Kane Center in Stuart. All eyes of the state are upon us. The media, state and national and local, take over. We are on the map like never before. It is an explosion. Even newspapers in Europe cover the story. (http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/Topics/irllob)
By the end of the following year’s legislative process in 2014, more than 200 million dollars goes towards the Indian River Lagoon and related projects supporting “some more” water going south. Everyone is Tallahassee know about the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee. Not a fix but a start. A large start. Senator Negron has put his neck on the line as he is tapped “to be” Senate President. Some are angered by his complete focus on the IRL. He stands firm.
Between the Select Committee and the threat to cut ties with the Army Corp’s abusive relationship over us, change is in the air.
As an aside, I must admit, I have been criticized by some people, for my blatant support of Joe Negron. That is OK. I knew that could happen. Politics is emotional. People are allowed to have their opinions and I have mine.
The commercial I did to support him in this year’s election has been seen across the state. (http://clicks.skem1.com/preview/?c=44003&g=40&p=0794e19e2aa8c747d5d31c46c3822cfa)
At my recent Florida League of Cities meeting in Hollywood, all comments were positive. Elected officials were coming up to me from the panhandle, to Tallahassee, to Miami saying they had seen the commercial or heard of it and were impressed with our campaign for the Indian River Lagoon. “I never knew the estuaries got damaged by Lake Okeechobee…” They said.
Now the University of Florida is charged by the Select Committee with “a technical review of options to move water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades…” Will it fix the problem, I doubt it, but it will begin to and have some of the most outstanding minds in our state working on the problem now and in the future. In time, it could help solve the problem…
In conclusion, I was raised to repay my debts and to Senator Joe Negron I am indebted. And I am honored to be so. I will do everything I can to help him and keep him in office and to encourage him to help the Indian River Lagoon.
Recently, Eve Samples wrote an article about PACs and monies for Joe Negron’s campaign, which included campaign contribution from US Sugar. What do I have to say about that?
Politics is a hard and imperfect game and everyone is trying to influence powerful people however they can. Thankfully, I have a tool more powerful than money. I appeal to “conscience.” And Joe Negron is a man who listens to his. Of that, I am convinced.