Facing South Florida: Key West Cruise Industry, Part 2

Jim DeFede continued the conversation on the Key West cruise industry with State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez.

Video Transcript

JIM DEFEDE: Welcome back. We continue our focus on how the massive multibillion-dollar cruise industry is attempting to use its power and clout in Tallahassee to crush the will of the people in Key West, who passed three referendums limiting the size of cruise ships coming into their port to protect the local environment. I wanted to hear from both legislative members from the Keys. State Representative Jim Mooney didn't respond to a request for how he intends to vote. But I did speak this week to Republican State Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez.

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: The reason I oppose this bill and I will continue to oppose this bill is because it goes against what the community of Key West voted for in November. They organized and put a referendum together, which would basically limit the size of the ships, the number of passengers, and a number of other factors, as was previously mentioned. If this is what the will of the voters of Key West is, then we need to uphold what they voted for in November. And so since they elected me to represent them in the Senate, it would not be right for me to go against the will of the people of my community.

JIM DEFEDE: Why do you think this bill was introduced to begin with? What do you think is behind the motivation of those who are pushing this bill? I know primarily it's a state rep from the West Coast, Representative Roach. What is your understanding of what's behind this?

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: Well, initially, when the bill was filed, we all thought it was a very vague and just kind of addressing the regulatory framework of ports throughout the state of Florida. And so when you look at it from that perspective, it seems like a good idea to have some sort of consistency around the state, because ports are of an International and Maritime, that's-- they are regulated by International Maritime to an extent. And so that, from that perspective, it seemed like a good bill.

But then once the bill kept getting amended and amended and basically narrowing down to just one particular port and going against the wishes of what the voters of that area wanted, that's when I decided I was going to vote no, because again, this is not something that is going to be affecting every port in the state of Florida. It's only going to be reversing what the voters of Key West decided in November.

JIM DEFEDE: So but is this-- is that the motivation? Do you think that that was the intention all along, was just to reverse the referendum that was in Key West?

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: Well, it's become evident through the committee process as the bill has moved forward that that was the intention all along. But again, at the very beginning, no one was really sure what the driving factor was. But now that the bill, at least on the Senate side and I think on the House side as well, is just limited to Key West, it's become evident. And so now I can't-- I can't support the bill at all in its current form.

JIM DEFEDE: You had proposed an amendment which would have essentially saved Key West and upheld the voters by-- as I understand, the Amendment? That you proposed was that carve out an exemption for environmental-related issues. You introduced this amendment. And then you withdrew it without any explanation. Some people have viewed that with some suspicion. Can you clarify why you withdrew the amendment?

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely. The reason I withdrew the amendment is because the bill's sponsor introduced what's called a strike-all amendment, which basically rewrites the entire bill. So at that point, my amendment became a moot point. In parliamentary procedure, my amendment was basically dead at that point.

So that's why I had to withdraw it. I didn't go into the explanation of it on the dais because everybody on the dais understands and understood what was going on. But because of the strike all that was introduced right before I was going to present my amendment, that was why I had to withdraw my amendment.

JIM DEFEDE: Could you not have reintroduced an amendment to try to amend the strike all?

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: I could in a future committee, but not during that committee. And at that point, since it was all about Key West and I would be withdrawing Key West, it would just-- it would just make it a shell at that point. I don't know that that's even possible.

JIM DEFEDE: Well, I guess one of the criticisms that I've heard is that while people are appreciative of you voting against it in committee, there are folks in Key West who want to see you fight this bill more, to lead more of an effort to go after this bill at every sort of level. How would you respond to those who say you aren't doing enough to kill this bill?

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: Well, Jim, I think people who are in politics and people who are in the know, a lot of us, we speak with our colleagues behind the scenes. I have very good relationships with all of my colleagues in the Senate, and even those in the House. And I have privately expressed my concern and my disagreement with this legislation. And I have asked them just to stand down and to try to just not move this bill forward.

But I'm not really sure what else these people that you're mentioning want me to do. I think I've done as much as I can to influence the process, not just publicly by voting no, but also privately by sharing with my colleagues why this is not a good bill. And so beyond that, I don't really under-- I don't know what else they would like for me to do. But I am voicing my concerns and my disagreement with this legislation to the people that need to hear from me.

JIM DEFEDE: Is this simply a matter of the cruise ship industry with its power and its numerous lobbyists? I've heard upwards of 15, 20 lobbyists that they employ, that they just simply have more clout, more power. They can give more campaign contributions to your fellow Republicans than the will of the people of Key West in terms of swaying them. In other words, is the cruise line that powerful, that they can basically dictate what they want and Tallahassee will jump?

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: I don't think that this bill was necessarily driven by the cruise ship industry. From what I understand, there were other factors involved in driving this legislation. From what I understand, the harbor pilots had a big say in moving this bill forward. There are other entities and other-- from what I understand, the Key West Chamber of Commerce supports this bill because they say that it's taken a very detrimental effect on their business community in downtown Key West.

JIM DEFEDE: Well, but those arguments were made during the election itself. And yet 70% of the voters voted to support it. And the argument that business interests are opposed to it, I think some with self-interest in terms of their alignment with the cruise ship industry is opposed to it.

But I think that in general terms, I think we've seen the studies that show that roughly of-- when it comes to cruise ship passengers, 6% of the economy of Key West is dependent upon cruise ship passengers. It's a very small percentage. So they're not that powerful.

So again, if you tell me that the Tug Pilots Association or the Key West Chamber of Commerce is driving this, I gotta-- I gotta say, I'm skeptical. I got to imagine that it's the cruise lines that are driving this bill and being the real force pushing it.

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think there are, as you said, I think the cruise ship industry definitely has a seat at the table. But I think there are numerous entities and industries that stand a lot to lose from not having the constant flow of passengers and people visiting Key West. So I think it's a number of factors. I don't necessarily think the cruise ship is the only-- the cruise ship industry is the only player in this equation.

But to your point regarding the business community in Key West and the people who voted for this, while I am supporting the will of the voters of Key West, keep in mind that a lot of people who work and do business in downtown Key West don't necessarily live within the city limits of Key West and were unable to have their voices heard during that election. There are people who live just north of Key West, just outside the city limits who can't afford to live in Key West proper. And a lot of those are the blue collar workers who are the waiters, the cooks, the people who work in the small shops. And many of those people are the ones that are being affected and losing-- and losing their jobs and their livelihoods.

JIM DEFEDE: There's been a few times already in this session where we're seeing this effort by Tallahassee to, in essence, bigfoot local municipalities, where there's been a lot of talk about the possibility of bringing new casino gambling to Miami-Dade County despite, and particularly in Miami Beach, despite referendums and votes and city commission meetings there that have strongly opposed it. There seems to be this effort to do an end around local government and bring their complaints to Tallahassee. Is that something that you think is a good trend for the state?

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: So Jim, I'm sure you and many of the viewers know my background. I served in local government for eight years. I was a councilwoman in the city of Doral from 2010 through 2018.

And I have always traditionally and will continue to uphold home rule. And I think home rule is of utmost importance. I think there are some instances where it's good to have a guiding parameter from the state. But for the most part, I think the home rule and the local decision makers are the ones that need to decide what's best for their local communities.

JIM DEFEDE: Let me just ask you, just as a general principle, if they make the casino gambling licenses portable so that you could take it from the city of Miami and then suddenly the Fontainebleau can turn into a casino despite the city of Miami Beach being strongly opposed to it, is that something that you would support in Tallahassee?

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: No, I don't. I don't support that. I think that the local communities have a tremendous say in what should-- and should continue to have a tremendous say in what goes into their local communities. I've heard from my hometown of Doral-- I actually now live in Homestead. But I lived in Doral for many years. And the locals in Doral have expressed their extreme non-agreement with having casinos in the communities.

JIM DEFEDE: We'll be right back.