Medfly drama shifts to Florida -- and Graham
Atlanta — Act 1 of the drama entitled "Stamping Out the Mediterranean Fruit Fly," which played in a national spotlight in California recently, may be followed soon by Act 2 -- in Florida.
But the lead role of Act 2, played by Florida Gov. Bob Graham, would be a quieter, firmer, less agonizing performance than that of the star of Act 1 -- California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
If Act 2 occurs, Governor Graham's promises to be typical of his response to other emergencies during his three years in office.
In both acts, the stakes are high in terms of politics and agriculture.
Governor Brown, who twice has campaigned for president, may run for the Senate next year. Governor Graham, gearing up for a second run as governor, also has presidential ambitions, according to some political analysts in Florida.
Several dead fruit flies were discovered earlier this week in a trap in Tampa , less than a month after an infestation of the flies was discovered in California. Much of the nation's fruit (and vegetable) supplies come from the two states. Thousands of jobs depend on the crops.
But where Governor Brown hesitated to use aerial spraying of infested areas with malathion, listening to environmental fears and concerns, Governor Graham quickly said aerial spraying would be used if necessary. Florida has used malathion for years to help control mosquitoes.
Governor Graham speaks of the "ill wisdom of how California handled their problem" of "Medfly" infestation. He says the spraying should have been done quickly to avoid the risk that the flies might be carried to other states.
But Governor Brown faced strong opposition to spraying with malathion. Floridians are more accustomed to it, so the political risks of calling for the spraying -- if it is needed -- appear minimal at this point.
State officials are increasing the number of traps to verify if there is an infestation. Harold Hoffman, Florida's assistant commissioner for agriculture, says malathion is "relatively safe" and has been used in Florida in the past.
In an emergency of another kind, Governor Graham similarly faced some but not major political risks in ordering evacuations of some coastal areas in 1979 in the face of two hurricanes. But Floridians are accustomed to hurricanes and the occasional need to move out of a storm's path.
In another emergency, a truckers' strike during his first year in office, Graham quickly ordered the National Guard to deliver fuel supplies to key areas. And last May he ordered several thousand guardsmen to the scene of riots in a black section of Miami.
In response to the arrival of some 125,000 Cubans last year, the governor sought additional federal aid for southern Florida to cope with the emergency, but his appeals were not as strong as some would have liked.
Overall, "I think he's been an effective governor," says Manning J. Dauer, professor of political science at the University of Florida in Gainsville. "He does homework on whatever he takes on."