Maggy Reno Hurchalla was a great American and a great Florida environmentalist, who showed us the way to stand up to deveious developers and their stable of lobbyists.
From Palm Beach Post
A remembrance of Maggy Hurchalla, environmentalist and protector of Florida's natural beauty
When you drive on the Florida Turnpike and the landscape turns suddenly pastoral heading north, or intensely suburban as you head south from Martin County into Palm Beach County, you are passing through the imagination of Maggy Hurchalla.
Maggy, who passed away recently, was of a generation with deep roots in Florida. She was raised in Miami-Dade, one of three Reno siblings on a homestead in farm country, at the edge of the Everglades.
When she moved to Martin County, she carried memories of what had been and what her backyard had become: Kendall, one of the state’s most sprawl-intensive places. She was going to keep her new home free from the intense development that, in her view, despoiled so much natural treasure.
Maggy was part of a wave, bipartisan throughout, that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, a consensus developed that Florida’s growth had to be managed in order to protect wilderness, wildlife and water quality that attracted countless visitors and residents.
These leaders recognized the threat of growth and they assembled to form, through the state Legislature, a growth management law that became, in its early years, a model for the nation.
Sadly, growth management turned into a piñata for lobbyists, politicians and their funders. In Martin County, Maggy beat them to the punch. Before suburban sprawl became “an unstoppable force,” before special interests like Big Sugar and FPL put handcuffs on Florida politics, Maggy Hurchalla did something very special: she lead the way to a local land use plan prioritizing environmental protection.
Maggy wasn’t an attorney like her sister, Attorney General Janet Reno. She was a mom and a dedicated, grass roots activist. She was a leader, garrulous and forceful and disinclined to foolery. She was the family extrovert. After many terms as a county commissioner, she continued to patrol the hallways of power at the water management district and in the state legislature. She was as familiar with the good old boys as she was with a kayak paddle.
Maggy understood retail politics. It was a kinder and gentler time, for sure. She and her devoted friends and helpers held bake sales and went door-to-door. Eventually, big money knocked her off the county commission but Maggy persisted. She was respected. She knew so much.
Being old school wasn’t always helpful. She got how the game was played (mostly by white men in positions of power and access to wealth) but never quite reconciled how quickly power and wealth had organized the politics of division. As remembrances poured in, some noted Maggy’s friendship with another warrior who passed recently, Nathaniel Reed. Nat was Palm Beach Republican. His family put down roots there before the sugar barons and later arrivistes. He and Maggy had an enduring friendship. Nat served in high positions on the environment in Tallahassee and Washington. He was a principal organizer of growth management in Florida.
In Nat’s orbit, no one did the heavy lifting at the county level as effectively as Maggy. They were a pair: Nat, the stentorian patrician who fellow Republicans sometimes disdained, and Maggy, a woman who loved the Everglades and showed how growth management protecting the natural world worked in practice.
Maggy stood up to local pressure in ways Nat Reed deeply appreciated: it’s all well and good to talk about the grand themes like Everglades restoration or global warming, but the affirmation of what is possible is always on the ground; protecting a river or a stream or a watershed is granular action.
Maggy Hurchalla was not the U.S. Attorney General of the United States like big sister Janet but I suspect with brothers Mark and Rob she would agree in a rousing chorus that their sister’s accomplishments in Florida rose to the highest standard of a great American citizen.