I know most of us are looking forward to November 4th so we can return to a life without the nasty television ads, mailboxes full of campaign literature and the frequent robo calls. But there was one national political story that caught my attention this week because it indirectly referred to a member of a well known St. Lucie County family.
A story in last week’s New York Times Magazine centered on the money behind Florida’s gubernatorial race. One of Charlie Crist’s biggest supporters is Tom Steyer, who according to the article, has earmarked $50 million of his own money for candidates with strong environmental records. The American for Prosperity, a group sponsored by the Koch brothers, is helping out the Scott Campaign.
The lengthy article details the environmental differences between the two candidates and pointed out that when Rick Scott took office he removed the head of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, who was a trained scientist with “decades of experience in environmental policies.” That scientist is Mimi Abood Drew, who was raised in St. Lucie County, graduated from Dan McCarty High School in 1968, received a Master’s Degree from the University of Florida in Environmental Engineering, began her environmental engineering career at the Department of Environmental Regulation (now the Department of Environmental Protection) in 1978 and quickly moved up the ranks serving under both Democrat and Republican governor. (Full disclosure I was her roommate at UF).
In 1991, she was named the University of Florida’s “Alumni of the Decade” for the 1970’s and cited her environmental expertise and accomplishments. She brought the department into the computer age and deftly helped manage a staff that needed to balance Florida’s growing population with the environmental ramifications of that explosive development.
Although she lives in Tallahassee, she frequently returned home both on business and to visit family. Her sister, Carol Hilson, is also known for her public work works, serving as a St. Lucie County School Board member. Her mother, Anne Abood, was co-founder of the Treasure Coast Opera Society and led the non-profit for years. Growing up in Fort Pierce in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Drew has a special appreciation for the Indian River and area beaches. At the DEP, that carried to her concerns over to the Indian River Lagoon and the deterioration of the Everglades.
When Rick Scott won the election four years ago, Drew retired and formed her own company (Drew & Associates, LLC). The DEP saw other changes, according to press reports, 58 employees, many of them scientists Drew had worked with for decades, were laid off.
Less than a year after his election, Governor Scott boasted at a Conservative Political Action Conference that he had laid off 15,000 public workers, saying “government does not create jobs.”
Governor Scott did realize that he did need one of those employees back on the state payroll. He asked Drew to return as a consultant, working as the state’s chief negotiator on the BP oil spill settlement. She was still at the DEP when the spill occurred and one to the leaders in assessing the damage and mitigation needed. It certainly made sense that she could help figure out how much the stated deserved and how the money should be spent. So for the past three years she has worked with the other Gulf States, the U.S. Department of Justice and BP, figuring out how the billions of dollars were to be distributed and analyzing comprehensive plans for restoration projects. Again Drew is using the lessons she had learned at the DEP---juggling the needs of the environment with the demands of politicians, trying her best to get what is due to the Florida counties affected by spill and then making sure that the settlement money is spent properly.
As she has her entire career, Drew quietly does her job and does it well, whether it is testifying before a U.S. Senate Committee in Washington or meeting with her counterparts in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to hammer out the specifics of restoration projects. She is reluctant to talk politics and says she just wants to do what’s right for the environment, no matter who is in office.
After reading the New York Times article, I called Drew and asked her who she thought was going to win the governor’s race, and I asked her what she was going to do when her consultant’s job was over.
I wasn’t surprised with her reply. The woman who has worked with and won the respect of governors who included Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush, was not going to predict the winner of this race. And she certainly wasn’t going to speculate on whether she would be offered her old job back.
“I just don’t know,” was her answer to both questions.