Amy Bennett Williams, Fort Myers News-Press Published 10:47 p.m. ET March 4, 2019 | Updated 5:28 p.m. ET March 5, 2019
Gov. Ron DeSantis invited Capt. Daniel Andrews to his first State of the State address Tuesday morning in Tallahassee, and followed that up with an invitation to the Governor’s Mansion later in the evening.
The speech, which kicks off the legislative session, is traditionally delivered by the governor to a joint session of Florida’s House and Senate detailing his priorities and plans.
So far, the environment has been front and center for DeSantis, starting with a sweeping executive order calling for $2.5 billion for Everglades restoration and water protection, a blue-green algae task force, a chief science officer position, and an office of resilience and coastal protection to fund and coordinate response to rising sea levels.
This is good news for Southwest Floridians like Andrews, who lived through a nightmarish stretch of red tide and toxic cyanobacteria that devastated the area’s wildlife and economy. Until recently, Andrews’ livelihood was leading fishing charters; he now spends his time fighting for the region’s environmental health with the nonprofit Captains for Clean Water, which he helped found.
Though Andrews wasn’t able to talk to DeSantis before the address, he was looking forward to speaking with him afterward and “letting him know we’ll be fighting the fight alongside him.” His reception in the capitol this time contrasts sharply with his past experiences there.
“When we first started coming here three years ago, we were lectured to – told what we were fighting for wasn’t the right thing, and we needed to look elsewhere,” he said. “Now, I think we’ll be taken a little more seriously by some of the members of the House and Senate … It puts us in a good position that the governor had us here, so the Legislature sees we’re a group he thinks needs to be paid attention to.”
Andrews said he’s been impressed with DeSantis’ mettle and commitment to cleaning up the state’s water.
“The fact that he’s embraced this issue and gone against special interests, that’s hard,” he said. “In this political system, it’s really tough to try to go against one of the largest political contributors in the state. They’ve got all these organizations and PACs, and if they don’t like what you’re doing, they put out a bunch of fake news and hit-pieces mailers and and all kinds of stuff. The fact that he’s standing up to that and putting us in there is really encouraging.”
Andrews was with DeSantis on his second day in office, when he traveled to FGCU’s Vester Field Station in Bonita Springs to announce the executive order.
“We’re happy with the initiatives the governor outlined in his executive order relating to water quality,” Andrews said, “and we need our representatives to help us fight for funding.”
Another concept Andrews hopes the governor and lawmakers take to heart: “No deep injection wells,” he said.
Such wells have been proposed as a place to put polluted Lake Okeechobee water instead of sending it down the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf of Mexico. But Andrews and others, including the Everglades Foundation, believe that’s a terrible idea and hope to propose other solutions.