TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Miami state lawmaker hopes his pair of black Bogs Bozeman mid-boots can inspire environmental conversations in Florida's Capitol, where the debate usually happens above leather dress shoes and hoisted heels.
For the second year in a row, State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami) is wearing rain boots every day of the legislative session to persuade his fellow legislators to make climate change a priority. With the election of Gov. Ron DeSantis and a proposed $2.5 billion increase for environment funding, a new focus has emerged on Florida's ecological issues. After replacing members of the South Florida Water Management District board prior to session, DeSantis vowed to support legislation that protects the Sunshine State's natural resources.
But the challenge of climate change, a constant concern for Rodriguez's District 37, which includes, Miami, Key Biscayne and Coral Gables, needs more statewide attention, regardless of leadership, he said. Rodriguez opted to wear the boots again this year, only this time accentuated by the governor's promise for environmental success.
"It's a little strange for a senator to wear a suit and tie with giant rubber boots, and that's kind of the point," Rodriguez said. "I'm doing it because the issue of climate change is not getting the attention that it needs."
Rodriguez' Senate Bill 78 advanced to the Infrastructure and Security Committee last week. The bill would prohibit builders from starting construction in coastal areas without first conducting a sea level impact projection study.
Starting conversations on this bill, along with a slew of environmental bills sponsored by Rodriguez including the creation of an environmental task force and several clean energy initiatives, is his primary motivation for wearing the boots, he said.
The rubber boots — which cost Rodriguez $116.36 — have a climate hashtag written in sharp white lettering on the sides. Rodriguez wears the boots everywhere in the state Capitol complex except the Senate floor, where he adheres to formal rules of decorum, he said.
"I have to act a little bit like Mr. Rogers when I go on and off the Senate floor," Rodriguez laughed. "But I'm wearing the rain boots walking the stairs, the hallways, and the offices."
Rodriguez said this simple act had inspired bipartisan conversations about climate policy, from the Senate majority leader and members of Republican leadership to random passersby who travel to his office to see the boots, he said.
"If I need to wear rubber rain boots every day to make sure that I have conversations with my colleagues at every possible opportunity, then that's what I'll do," Rodriguez said. "There's not a single one of my colleagues who doesn't know about this legislation and doesn't know that this is a critical priority for me and my district."
When he was first thinking of a way to spark climate discussions, Rodriguez wanted to wear a mask and snorkel throughout the Capitol to highlight future sea level rise, he said.
"I'm glad my wife sent me back to the drawing board, a snorkel would have been a little difficult to pull off," Rodriguez chuckled. "But she approved the rain boots."
Rodriguez said he wants to send economic signals, as well as environmental ones, that Florida is a leading actor against climate change throughout the world. Planning where state dollars are going along coastal infrastructure is an essential first step for making a change.
"We sit on our hands. We do ourselves and our children a disservice because this is our home," Rodriguez said. "It's a silly gesture by design, its attention-getting by design, but it seems to be having the effect that we're having a lot more conversations about climate."
This story distributed by The Associated Press was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.