Rare coalition beats money in Florida’s Solar Amendment defeat

Last night at their watch party in Tampa, Floridians for Solar Choice cracked open the champagne shortly after they declared victory at 8 p.m
Last night at their watch party in Tampa, Floridians for Solar Choice cracked open the champagne shortly after they declared victory at 8 p.m

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Donald Trump wasn’t the only one who broke the rules of conventional political wisdom and won on Election Day.

The peculiar alliance of activists who banded together to defeat Amendment One on the Florida ballot—the Solar Amendment—defied the odds in their uncanny victory over the state’s most powerful utility companies that poured millions into the battle.

Last night at their watch party in Tampa, Floridians for Solar Choice—not to be confused with the Utility-backed group, Consumers for Smart Solar–cracked open the champagne shortly after they declared victory at 8 p.m. “The big utilities went down in flames tonight,” said organizer Stephen Smith, a progressive activist who runs Cleanenergy.org, based in North Carolina.

The campaign to defeat the so-called Solar Amendment  was fueled by social media, newspaper editorials and an impressive grassroots effort that punched through the alleged trickery of power companies that claimed the Amendment would open the door to more solar development in Florida.

The “No” on Amendment One campaign pulled together conservative and liberal voices among consumer groups and environmentalists that seldom agree on anything else. “We really have been characterizing this as a solar uprising in the State of Florida,” Smith said.

It was an uprising that cost very little in dollars compared to the coalition of power companies that spent a reported $26 million to saturate airwaves, newspapers and mailboxes with a Yes on Amendment One message, that in the end failed to garner the required 60 percent approval required for a change in Florida’s Constitution.

“While Amendment One fell short of the 60 percent threshold required for approval, it appears that more than half of all Florida voters – including a majority of voters in 47 of Florida’s 67 counties – sent a message that they want solar done the right way, in a manner that protects customers and respects those who choose solar, as well as those who do not,” pro-Amendment One spokeswoman Sarah Bascom wrote in an email.

Maybe so, but that doesn’t change the fact that Duke Energy, TECO Florida Power and Light and the state’s other major electrical utilities endured a stunning loss on Election Day despite outspending their opposition by a stunning  margin of 100 to one in their statewide campaign.

Not only did they challenge the idea that money rules election results, they also defied the concept that conservative and liberal activists in these polarizing times can’t find common ground. At their election night victory part inside Tampa’s Besito restaurant some of the “No on Amendment One”  leaders were quietly cheering on a Trump presidential win while others kept their hopes alive for a Clinton victory.

Tory Perfetti, Chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice considers himself a hardcore conservative, but put that label aside to bond with liberal and progressive activists in order to brand big utilities as tricksters intent on maintaining their energy monopoly. “Grassroots is possible if you run it right,” Perfetti said, “When you get the truth out to the citizens and that’s what we did we got it out.”

While opponents to Amendment One literally drank in their victory through champagne flutes last night, Florida’s big utilities that spent millions to change Florida’s a Constitution and keep a lid on solar development by small businesses and residents eager to get off the grid, remained markedly silent until almost midnight.

At 11:44 p.m., the utilities’ emailed concession to defeat sounded more like a victory speech than an admission they had lost this David and Goliath style campaign. “While we are disappointed with tonight’s outcome, we are pleased that a majority of Floridians recognize the importance of getting solar right,” Bascom said.

In the end, money in the Amendment One campaign did not speak louder than words spread through social media and dozens of newspaper editorials that didn’t cost opponents a dime. The truth is, despite their meager fundraising, they even had enough cash left over for a few bottles of champagne.

See all of the 2016 General Election Results here

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