red tide Archives - Florida Politics

Red Tide Politics: It’s the environment, stupid.

Candidates in Southwest Florida anticipated lengthy debates about Medicaid expansions, gun rights and maybe charter school funding to dominate political discourse this election.

So it seemed illustrative to state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo when a Naples candidate informed contained not one question about health care came up.

“This year,” she said, “it’s all about the water and our quality of life.”

Welcome to red tide politics.

First blue-green algae coursed along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers following unpopular discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Then red tide struck beaches on Florida’s east and west coasts.

Republican leaders, most especially Gov. Rick Scott, suddenly faced questions over deregulation and the appointment of business leaders instead of scientists on water management district boards in South Florida. The smell of dead fish and the issuance of no-swim advisories turned harmful algal blooms from an academic term to a hot-button issue.

Candidates knocking on doors along both coasts reported the top question, whether politicians ran for the Florida Legislature, county commission or local mosquito board, pertained to red tide.

It seemed quite the shift in conversation after a decade of Tea Party politics in which environmental regulation became anathema to conservative ideology.

Scott’s reported ban on the terms “climate change” and “global warming” seemed suddenly counter-productive. Sen. Marco Rubio, a one-time Tea Party hero, lobbied President Donald Trump’s administration to adjust discharge schedules.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham returned donations from the sugar industry, making Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam the only major candidate running for Florida’s highest office this year to keep money from the environmental boogeyman.

Neither Graham nor Putnam made it out of primary season.

In the general election season, Republicans in once safe seats suddenly faced well-funded opponents. Even when a hurricane seemed to draw red tide back out to sea, Democrats like District 73 House candidate Liv Coleman continued to batter the message home running footage of dead fish just in case voters forgot the sight.

At a Tiger Bay debate in Sarasota, Democrats Tracy Pratt and Tony Mowry hammered Republican opponents Will Robinson and James Buchanan for environmental deregulation under the GOP, even though neither of the conservatives had served in the Legislature and both promised to get tough on polluters.

Republican state Rep. Joe Gruters, a state Senate hopeful this year, held a joint town hall with Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good as both candidates showed their commitment to bipartisan solutions to fixing the environment.

And even in major Republican strongholds like Lee County, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum packed a venue with the promise of taking questions on environmental preservation.

John Capese, Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida’s Southwest Chapter, could be found on the sidelines of that event, excited at the sense of urgency green issues gained during the election cycle.

He wondered if the environment could give life even to longshot Democrats like David Holden, the Democratic challenging U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

It’s unclear whether Rooney lost much sleep at that prospect, and no major political prognosticators paid any heed to the race. But a couple days after the Gillum town hall, Rooney took the stage at a Trump rally, and the message he sent to voters was about recent funding approval for a new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Scott raised the same matter at Trump rallies in Pensacola and Fort Myers. But Sen. Bill Nelson barraged airwaves with ads that put the onus on “Red Tide Rick.”

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis, though, avoided such attacks by making enemies with Big Sugar years ago. One of his strongest days of the general election season, and one that sent Democrats into convulsions, came as he secured the endorsement of the Everglades Trust.

Seeing an environmental group back the GOP candidate certainly seemed off, but only through the prism of politics in the year 2018.

In the not-so-distant past, GOP leaders like Gov. Jeb Bush championed Florida Forever funding. Gov. Claude Kirk campaigned during and after his political career on the promise of saving and restoring Florida’s waterways.

It used to be a given that Florida politicians, regardless of party, would always champion the environment. That seemed to chip away a decade ago when even Bush entertained opening Florida’s shores to oil drilling, once a third rail of Florida politics.

That didn’t last long. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster turned once-softening public opinion on petroleum exploration into severe backlash on the idea.

Red tide may once again turn a green platform into a regional requirement for political success in Florida, regardless of hostility between national conservatives and the environmental community.

And in some ways how could that not happen eventually? The Everglades remain a crucial part of Florida’s identity, and beach tourism a critical piece of the state economy.

For all the efforts toward diversification in the economy, manufacturing always faces challenges in the Sunshine State thanks to its limited ground access to most of the continental U.S. In a state surrounded by water on three sides, how long could water quality stay out of headlines and political debates?

Algae just helps twist a famous James Carville truism. He helped President Bill Clinton win the White House asking citizens to make a gut check on whether the economy seemed better than when President George W. Bush took office.

It may take more than pictures of dead fish to lead to many Democratic upsets this evening in safe Republican seats. For many GOP candidates who once expected few questions on the environment had to develop a platform darn quick this year.

In Florida, it’s always the environment stupid.

Red tide

Florida tees up another $3 million for red tide relief in Pinellas County

Gov. Rick Scott directed another $3 million to Pinellas County for red tide relief Thursday, bringing the total so far for Pinellas to $6.3 million.

The funding comes from the Florida Department of Environment Protection’s red tide emergency fund.

Scott is infusing another $3 million into that fund to make sure other Florida counties can access relief as the need arises.

“As our coastal communities continue to combat red tide, we are taking action to ensure they have the resources they need. In total, we have provided more than $20 million to respond to this year’s red tide, including funding for cleanup efforts, additional scientific testing, and marketing through VISIT FLORIDA,” Scott said.

Of the total statewide funding, $16.3 million has gone to individual communities for relief efforts. Another $2.2 million paid for research and new technologies to mitigate red tide. That includes expanding the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Ozone Treatment System.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received $1.2 million for redfish hatchery recovery.

The state allocated $500,000 to Visit Florida for an emergency grant program to help local tourism boards affected by red tide.

Coastal businesses in areas where beaches have been compromised due to contaminated water, dead fish and toxic air have seen a drastic decline in business and are reporting substantial financial losses. So far more than 50 people in Pinellas County have either been temporarily or permanently laid off as a result.

“DEP is proud to continue to partner with local communities to help them address the impacts of red tide. Thanks to Gov. Scott’s leadership, we’ve been able to provide $13.4 million in grants to local communities throughout Florida, helping to minimize the impacts from red tide.”

Those funds include the $6.3 million for Pinellas County as well as $1.5 million for Sarasota County. Manatee County received $750,000.

Water woes become a political wildcard

Throughout the summer, politicians heard from Floridians angered by the latest bouts of toxic blue-green algae in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, along with a festering red-tide outbreak on the Gulf Coast.

Protesters focused on the state’s handling of rising sea levels, a limited acknowledgment of climate change and past actions by Gov. Rick Scott such as reducing funding for water-management districts and easing regulations about water-quality testing.

But while Democrats continue to point to water quality and the environment as a driving force in Tuesday’s elections, other issues, including Hurricane Michael, claims of racist dog whistles, a ticket to the Broadway show “Hamilton” and, above all else, President Donald Trump, have been drawing away attention.

And when policy issues of importance to Floridians come up, the environment has to make space for health care, immigration, gun control and the economy.

That could help Republicans such as Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis, a former congressman.

“Before Hurricane Michael, I think the ‘Red Tide Rick’ moniker had some legs,” said Kathryn DePalo, who teaches in Florida International University’s Department of Politics and International Relations. “But that seems to have dissipated with Gov. Scott off the campaign trail and focusing on the (hurricane) clean-up. I think it remains a big issue among voters, but Republican candidates, both Scott and DeSantis, have made it part of their platforms (along with the Democrats) and lessened some truly negative impacts against their party.”

Still, Democrats don’t see the Oct. 10 hurricane having much impact outside the Republican-dominated Panhandle and say the summer rage about toxic water is producing results. Some of the areas hit hard by water problems, such as Martin County and Lee County, are usually Republican strongholds.

“I think you’re seeing bad news for Scott in these affected counties, which have a ton of votes that the Republicans depend upon to run up the tables in order to win,” said Juan Penalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.

Aliki Moncrief, executive director of the Florida Conservation Voters, said “voters are realizing how important their own role is in choosing candidates who will protect our water and conservation lands and promote affordable clean energy.”

Scott’s environmental critics decry as “whitewashing” events such as the Governor’s announcement Tuesday of the completion of the second phase of a project that is raising Tamiami Trail to ease the southern flow of water from the Everglades.

“Instead of using the media event to celebrate a shared federal-state success on the Tamiami Trail bridging, Scott used it to attack Congress for not spending more money on Everglades projects. Could he get more political?” Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone said in a statement.

But Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg issued a statement thanking Scott and other state and federal officials for the road project, which is part of broader Everglades restoration efforts.

“The sense of urgency FDOT (the Florida Department of Transportation), the contractor and the National Park Service have brought to this and the next phase of the Tamiami Trail project is a model for Everglades restoration,” Eikenberg said. “By following this model of partnership and persistence, this generation will see Everglades restoration completed.”

The Aug. 28 primary election appeared to offer a sign that the water issues could affect the political ambitions of Scott, who is trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in Tuesday’s general election. RoqueRockyDe La Fuente drew 11.4 percent of the vote against Scott in the GOP Senate primary and 25 percent in Martin County, where the water issues have long been a major topic.

Water conditions have drawn attention in other statewide contests this year. But even in the race for agriculture commissioner between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell, more attention has gone to issues such as guns.

And with Scott spending much of October in the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael, a focal point for water-related protests was removed.

Voters along the Caloosahatchee, however, remain concerned about the river.

Sam Bell, who moved from Maryland to Cape Coral three years ago, said after voting Saturday at a Lee County library that politicians’ handling of the environment was a major factor in how he cast his ballot.

“Three years ago, you could see the bottom of the river by our home,” Bell said. Now the water is murky top to bottom, he said.

But not every Lee County resident, where the river runs between Fort Myers and Cape Coral, puts water quality and the environment atop their reasons to vote.

Campaign signs in public rights-of-way affirm the region’s Republican dominance. Of the few signs put up in yards, most are focused on a half-cent sales tax referendum for the school district.

Cape Coral resident Tom Schilling reflected the views of a number of his neighbors in saying he’s more concerned about actions Democrats may take against Trump and recently confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“I think if they get the House and Senate they’re going to try ruin (Kavanaugh’s) life again and probably going to take a lot of things Trump has done away from him,” Schilling said after voting Saturday. “I think the borders are an issue. I don’t believe in an open border policy. What’s (U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi going to do if she gets the chair again? I think they’ll try to impeach Trump. It’s just going to be a disaster.”

Cape Coral resident Jeanne Richards said her motivating factor in voting early Saturday was some of the proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. The river’s condition wasn’t high on her list.

“Personally, not for me, this sounds horrible, but I don’t live on the water, I know it affects everybody, but I don’t see it every day, so I don’t think about it every day,” Richards said. “I know that sounds callus.”

Penalosa contends environmental issues are making three state Senate contests in Republican areas — District 14 in northern Brevard and southern Volusia counties, District 23 covering Sarasota County and part of Charlotte County, and District 25 covering Martin and St. Lucie counties and part of Palm Beach County — more competitive than initially expected.

Part of Penalosa’s calculation figures independents casting ballots for Democrats.

“Those are all areas or regions affected by red tide or toxic algae, all counties that went double digit to Trump,” Penalosa said.

DePalo said the water conditions should have a bigger impact on the U.S. Senate contest, particularly for Scott who for eight years has set the agenda for water quality.

She also expects state legislative contests in areas most affected by red tide and algae to be impacted “if voters feel the incumbent has not done enough or pledged to do enough to fix the problem.”

University of Central Florida political-science professor Aubrey Jewett said people who put water quality and the environment as the top issues likely will vote for Nelson and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. But the numbers may not be enough for any true wave.

“Many who feel strongly are probably more likely to be progressive anyway,” Jewett said.

Also, Jewett said that while DeSantis doesn’t carry a strong environmental record from his days in Congress, he has scored points for rejecting direct financial contributions from sugar companies that operate in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Jewett, however, expects water quality to be a little more important in the U.S. Senate contest.

“Gov. Scott objectively does not have a very good record on this issue from his time as governor in terms of funding, priorities, water-management district board appointments and enforcement action,” Jewett said. “Still he has tried and succeeded somewhat on insulating himself on this issue with his actions more recently and with his ads shifting blame to the federal government and Bill Nelson.”

Jewett said Nelson isn’t blameless, but he is just one of 100 U.S. senators, which makes him less of a direct target for criticism.

Tourism marketing backed after hurricane, red tide

The state’s tourism-marketing arm wants to send a message to potential visitors: Hurricane damage and fish-killing red tide don’t cover all of the Sunshine State.

The Visit Florida Board of Directors on Tuesday approved an $8.89 million marketing campaign intended to address the hurricane and red-tide issues and protect the state’s brand by stressing what is open across the state.

The agency has been using Facebook to post videos of parts of the Panhandle that weren’t hammered by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10 and plans a website will go live Thursday to provide information outlining what is open, said Staci Mellman, Visit Florida’s interim chief marketing officer.

The site will also encourage visitors to try new areas. “If they like a certain kind of beach, maybe they might like something else,” Mellman said.

The crisis-response campaign, which is something Visit Florida officials admit they have had to become experts at the past few years, will expand as counties still digging out from Michael are able to start welcoming visitors.

The plan will take several approaches, including continuing to share local tourism-agency information on social media, targeting videos to domestic and international markets and having international tour operators work to manage “misperceptions of damage.” Also, it includes airing TV ads in 15 domestic markets, at an estimated cost of $2.65 million, and conducting international marketing campaigns in the United Kingdom and Germany, estimated at $400,000.

The public-private Visit Florida will also undertake a survey on tourists’ perceptions of Florida and intends to set up a grant program to help local tourism agencies as red tide — along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts — subsides and hurricane-damaged areas of the Panhandle reopen.

Visit Florida Board Chairman Lino Maldonado said the layered message — mixing what is open with areas that are suffering — needs to protect Florida’s image while setting the right tone to “to tell that story that is so desperately needed across the Panhandle.”

Money for the marketing effort will come from a combination of sources, including $1 million from the agency’s crisis funding, $1.3 million from shifting agency funds and $2.2 million from the state’s economic risk fund. Visit Florida will have to repay the money from the economic risk fund.

Visit Florida’s red tide-related efforts have been ongoing since July.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has attributed red tide to the deaths of thousands of fish, sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins and more than 150 manatees.

Meanwhile, Visit Florida board Secretary Dan Rowe of the Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau said the hurricane recovery is going faster than expected, and a message is that people shouldn’t give up if they plan to visit next spring.

Damage from Michael is mostly between eastern Panama City Beach and Port St. Joe. A timeline has not been set for the hardest-hit areas to return to business.

Rowe said about half the tourism lodging in Panama City remains offline and will have to be renovated and reconstructed, and the tourism situation is worse in Mexico Beach.

“It was almost a complete devastation, very few buildings are standing in Mexico Beach that did not experience significant damage,” Rowe said.

Visit Florida received $76 million from the state Legislature for the fiscal year that started July 1.

A year ago, Visit Florida enacted a similar $5 million winter-marketing plan to promote the Florida Keys after the island chain was ravaged by Hurricane Irma.

Andrew Gillum tells Fort Myers scientists ‘get your resumes ready’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum had a message for all scientists concerned about water quality. You may be called to serve on a water management district board of trustees in the immediate future.

“Anybody that cares about our environment and has an acumen for science better get their resumes ready,” Gillum said.

Gillum and running mate Chris King held a town hall in deep red Lee County on Tuesday night, just a week ahead of the election.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley also flew into town, wearing a “Make America Green Again” hat and calling the governor’s race one of the most important in the country for those concerned about the environment.

“If we can have a coast-to-coast partnership, we can save America and lead the world,” Merkley said.

So why would Democrats spend vital campaign time in one of the most reliable Republican counties in Florida? Party leaders here say they see greater displeasure with Republican rule than experienced in decades thanks to algal blooms.

The region first suffered explosions of blue-green algae, then took another bunch on the beaches touched by red tide.

Gillum said the environmental disaster could be traced to policies of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whom the Democrat referenced as “Red Tide Rick” to applause.

King said residents of coastal areas know the algal blooms not only create environmental problems through fish kills, but have led to air pollution and respiratory problems for many Floridians.

It’s also been an economic disaster for many restaurants and hotels on the water.

“I’ve been so incredibly moved to see how this has impacted people’s lives,” King said.

He also stressed Gillum would appoint knowledgeable stakeholders to water management districts around Florida. “He will appoint people who get it, and who will stand up to those who don’t get it.”

And Gillum stressed he considered poor water management district leadership a statewide problem, not something confined to the South Florida Water Management District.

Perhaps more importantly, Gillum said the issue could be one that moved voters on both sides of the aisle.

When asked what residents of the region could do to help with algae problems besides voting for Gillum-King, which somehow remained the top suggestion of the campaign, Gillum said contacting lawmakers would be the best way to help.

“After we win, it may be the case the Republicans still control the House of Representatives,” he said, “but when it comes to our environment, that’s not a red or blue issue. Republicans and Democrats know what it felt like to go fishing in all kinds of water.”

Worth noting, nobody believes Democrats will retake the Florida House of Representatives. MCI Maps analyst Matt Isbell write in a left-leaning analysis, “Democrats cannot win the chamber, but they can make gains.”

Gillum figures with a hostile House, some pols will arrive in Tallahassee with knives sharpened should he become Florida’s first Democratic governor in 20 years.

“Some will say, what can we do to undermine these guys, to make them a radical failure,” Gillum said.

But the environment will be one of those issues where a coalition from voters on both sides of the aisle may form.

“But we’ve got to show up in the district offices of members, including Republican and Democratic members, to demand accountability on their votes,” he said.

Liv Coleman focuses on red tide solutions in late ad

Democrat Liv Coleman, a candidate for Florida House District 73, focuses on fixing red tide in a new video advertisement released Thursday night.

With imaged of dead fish piled on area beaches, Coleman strikes a bipartisan tone in the campaign ad.

“Red tide doesn’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat,” Coleman says in narration. “It’s destroying our beaches, our health, our wildlife and our businesses.

“But Tallahassee has not been listening. They are too busy doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists. But I hear you.”

Coleman faces Republican Tommy Gregory in the state House race.

While District 73 doesn’t touch the coast itself, the economy still relies heavily on tourism and a sustained red tide event deeply impacted the economy in the entire region this year.

Candidates running for all races this year say red tide has been the top voter concern in the region leading into the November election. The candidates are running to succeed Joe Gruters, who this year decided to run for an open state Senate seat.

As for District 73, the district tilts heavily toward the GOP. Republicans make up roughly 48 percent of the electorate, and Democrats a little more than 26 percent.

Still, Coleman has posted solid fundraising numbers, raising $52,745 through Oct. 12, and chipping in another $5,000 on her own.

Gregory has raised $156,685, but spent a great deal of it when he faced primary challenger Melissa Howard. In the end, Howard’s campaign imploded amid a scandal about her degree and she withdrew.

Gregory automatically won the party nomination, but since September, he’s trailed Coleman in cash on hand.

Advertisements like the one released Thursday night put that money to use. Coleman, a University of Tampa political science professor, makes nonpartisan appeals and attacks the status quo in Tallahassee.

“I won’t stop working until we make ending this crisis priority,” she says. “I’ll work with scientists and the state to come up with innovative solutions to clean up our beaches.”

Red tide claiming Pinellas County jobs, costing businesses

Pinellas County beach businesses reported 50 temporary layoffs and nine permanent layoffs associated with loss of business due to red tide.

Forty-nine businesses self-reported losses totaling more than $1.5 million. Businesses reported losses through the Florida Damage Assessment program providing relief to businesses affected.

Red tide continues to plague almost all of Pinellas County’s Gulf beaches, with conditions improving or worsening based on wind and weather patterns.

Businesses affected have several other relief options including interest-free loans through the Florida Emergency Bridge Loan assistance program. Applications for loans up to $50,000 will be taken until Dec. 3. Businesses with two to 100 employees are eligible. Businesses have 180 days to repay the loans.

The Small Business Administration Business Recovery Center in Pinellas County is open at the St. Petersburg College EpiCenter in Clearwater. There, businesses can review options for recovery assistance or to apply for low-interest working capital loans with terms up to 30 years. Businesses have until next June to apply for those loans.

As of Wednesday the John’s Pass Seafood and Music Festival will take place as scheduled Thursday-Sunday. All of Pinellas County’s beaches remain open.

The county monitors water quality Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Visit St. Pete Clearwater keeps a running list of beach conditions. The county’s tourism arm shows several beaches with normal conditions with the more severe impacts of red tide affecting mid and south county beaches.

Here are the most up-to-date beach conditions, listed from north to south:

— Fred Howard Park (updated 7:45 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— Honeymoon Island State Park (updated 8 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— Caladesi Island State Park (updated 8 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— Clearwater Beach, Pier 60 (updated 8:30 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— Sand Key Park, (updated 8 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— Belleair Beach, 305 Gulf Blvd. (updated 8:50 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— Belleair Shores, 1401 Gulf Blvd. (updated 8:35 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— Indian Shores, 19418 Gulf Blvd. (updated 8:48 a.m. 10-24) – Dark water, mild odor, mild respiration irritation

— Indian Rocks Beach, 708 Gulf Blvd. (updated 9:15 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— North Redington Beach, (updated 8:23 a.m. 10-24) – Dark water, strong odor, strong respiration irritation

— Redington Beach, La Contessa Pier (updated 8:10 a.m. 10-24) – Dark water, strong odor, strong respiration irritation

— Redington Shores, 18200 Gulf Blvd. (updated 8:34 a.m. 10-24) – Dark water, strong odor, strong respiration irritation

— Madeira Beach, 15208 Gulf Blvd. (updated 7:55 a.m. 10-24) – Slightly discolored water, mild odor, mild respiration irritation

— Treasure Island, South of John’s Pass Bridge (updated 8 a.m. 10-24) – Dark water, mild odor, slight respiration irritation

— Sunset Beach (updated 9 a.m. 10-24) – Dark water, mild odor, slight respiration irritation

— St. Pete Beach, 70th Ave. (updated 8:13 a.m. 10-24) – Slightly discolored water, mild odor, mild respiration irritation

— Pass-A-Grille, 1st Ave. (updated 8:58 a.m. 10-24) – Lightly discolored water, mild odor, mild respiratory irritation

— Fort De Soto Park Bay side (updated 8 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

— Fort De Soto Park Gulf side (updated 7:50 a.m. 10-24) – Normal conditions

Republican candidates say ‘nope’ to local environmental forum

Local Republican candidates in state legislative races won’t be showing up to a candidate forum Wednesday hosted by ReThinkEnergy Florida, the First Street Foundation, Oceana and the League of Women Voters.

The coalition of groups is hosting an environmental forum at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Clearwater Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss sea level rise, flood risk and red tide.

State Senate District 16 candidate Amanda Murphy, Senate District 24 candidate Lindsay Cross, House District 65 candidate Sally Laufer, House District 66 candidate Alex Heeren and House District 67 candidate Dawn Douglas, all Democrats, confirmed they would attend.

None of their opponents are planning to attend. Some did not respond to the invitation; others said they had scheduling conflicts, according to forum organizers. 

Of all the races, the environment has been the biggest issue in Cross’s race against incumbent Jeff Brandes. Cross, an environmental scientist by trade, has been hammering down on Republican policies and deregulation she says contributes to polluted waters and is likely fueling this year’s massive red tide bloom.

Brandes also did not attend a previous forum with the Disston Heights Neighborhood Association. He said he had a family conflict.

Murphy is running against former State Legislator Ed Hooper in what has become a heated campaign. A third-party group recently sent out a mailer calling Murphy a spoiled child with an image of a little girl crying.

The two are vying for the north Pinellas Senate seat vacated by former Senator Jack Latvala who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Laufer, Heeren and Douglas are running lower-profile races.

Laufer, a retired nurse, is running against incumbent Chris Sprowls who is in line to be Speaker of the House in 2021 if Republicans maintain control of the state’s lower chamber.

Heeren, a former public school teacher, is running against Nick Diceglie who formerly served as chair of the Pinellas Republican Executive Committee.

Douglas is a former chair of the Pinellas Classroom Teacher Association’s government relations committee. She’s running against incumbent Chris Latvala.

Chris Hunter, the Democrat challenging Gus Bilirakis for his long-held Congressional 12 district in north Pinellas, is also scheduled to attend.

Pinellas County Commission candidate Amy Kedron will also attend. Her opponent, Republican Representative Kathleen Peters, will not.

Three Pinellas County School board candidates — Jeff Larson, Peggy O’Shea and Nicole Carr — will also attend, though it’s not clear what they have to offer to a conversation about environmental policy short of mitigation efforts for coastal schools and other district property.

Environmental policy has become a linchpin issue this election, particularly in Pinellas County, because red tide continues to plague Florida’s Gulf Coast. Democrats are blaming Republican policies for worsening the naturally-occurring phenomenon as well as failing to address negative environmental effects associated with climate change.

Republicans rail against those claims, pointing to several spending bills that fund red tide research and policies to clean up Lake Okeechobee, one of the state’s most prominent polluting factors.

Environmental group spends big on Andrew Gillum pitch

The political arm of Florida Conservation Voters is spending nearly $500,000 on digital advertising to back Andrew Gillum, the Democratic option for Governor this fall.

The news comes a week after Gillum’s Republican opponent Ron DeSantis scored a coveted endorsement from the Everglades Trust — support that could convince undecided voters that DeSantis is the better candidate for Florida’s environment.

The 30-second spot from Florida Conservation Voters — which had lashed out against DeSantis shortly after news of the Everglades Trust endorsement — begs otherwise.

The digital ad suggests DeSantis would “let things get worse,” while Gillum would roll “up his sleeves to fix the problem.”

That problem, according to FCV, is climate change — and by extension “red tide, algae blooms, sunny day flooding, stronger and larger hurricanes,” according to the organization’s deputy director, Jonathan Webber.

The ad repurposes a story published in August by the Sarasota Herald Tribune. In quotes referencing the article: “Climate change isn’t really a problem.” But DeSantis isn’t quoted saying that. 

The story was published two days after Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the red tide algae outbreak in Sarasota and six nearby counties. DeSantis had acknowledged to the Herald-Tribune that climate change “may be a factor” fueling stronger red tide blooms. 

The quote in the ad likely references DeSantis’ remarks about dealing with climate change at the state level. The former congressman suggested to the Herald-Tribune that the state is an inappropriate venue.

“I certainly don’t think in Tallahassee, you know, we’re going to be able at the state level to do things that are really global in nature so that’s something that I think is more of a national and international issue,” DeSantis had told the Herald-Tribune. 

Gillum, at least publicly, disagrees. The Tallahassee Mayor’s environmental policy plan reads: “Sea level rise poses a catastrophic threat to our state — and one we’re wholly unprepared to face.” It also proposes that the state reconvene climate change summits started under former Gov. Charlie Crist, and “transition our energy production towards clean, renewable sources like solar and wave/tidal.”

The climate change contrast between Gillum and DeSantis also played out on stage Sunday night during the CNN debate.

Asked about climate change, DeSantis said he didn’t “want to be an alarmist.” But he conceded that resiliency projects are needed around the state in places like South Florida, where there is “more water” and “flooding.” Gillum, however, retaliated by suggesting DeSantis does not believe in climate change science.

To watch the ad, click on the image below.

Lindsay Cross ad: ‘Put a scientist in the Senate’

Lindsay Cross launched a new television ad this past weekend highlighting her experience as an “environmental scientist and problem solver, not a politician.”

Cross is running against incumbent Jeff Brandes for the Senate District 24 seat covering parts of St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and St. Pete Beach.

“As executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, I fought for our water supply and our environment. Now I’m ready to fight for you to make sure we have great public schools, access to affordable health care a clean environment and a strong economy because what we don’t need is more red tide and empty promises,” the 30-second ad says.

It ends with Cross’s catchphrase: “It’s time to put a scientist in the Senate.”

The ad comes with a little more than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, and as Floridians are already returning vote-by-mail ballots.

Despite a giant fundraising gap between Cross and Brandes, the campaigning in that race has been hot.

The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a website and accompanying television ad blasting Cross for her “radical progressive agenda” and tying her to U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

The website and ad, which have the same imagery, say the “radicals” support open borders, higher taxes and government-run health care.

Cross has not released specifics on how to implement or fund improved health care access, but it is one of her campaign priorities. She also has not weighed in on the idea of “sanctuary cities,” what the GOP calls municipalities that don’t directly enforce federal immigration laws.

The GOP senatorial committee ad also does not offer a citation for its higher taxes claim, but notes it would be $1 billion. Cross supports Gillum, who proposed a $1 billion education package to improve public education and increase new teacher pay to $50,000 a year by raising corporate income taxes.

Meanwhile, Cross is asking voters to support other Democratic state candidates with science backgrounds this election:

Annisa Karim, a wildlife ecologist running in Senate District 28; 

Melissa ‘Mel’ Martin, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who majored in ocean engineering running in Senate District 14; 

Jennifer Boddicker, a microbiologist campaigning for House District 80; and

Parisima Taeb, a physician running for the House District 78 seat.

In a news release, Cross said the coalition “will craft legislation to reinstate rigorous monitoring and enforcement of evidence-based standards to fight red tide [and] blue-green algae blooms that threaten Florida’s coasts and waterways.”

“Let’s bring science back to state government,” Cross said. “For too long, Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers have ignored basic scientific principles, and now Florida is paying for it. It’s time to elect leaders who know what they’re doing.”

Democrats are campaigning heavily this election cycle on creating policies and funding priorities to mitigate red tide and blue-green algae blooms as red tide continues to plague Florida’s Gulf Coast, including Pinellas County beaches.

Republicans reject claims that the bloom is their fault, correctly noting red tide is a natural phenomenon that happens nearly every year and has been documented as far back as the 1840s.

Scientists agree red tide is naturally occurring, but also say it might be intensified by bad environmental policy and related runoff.

Scott’s office defends his environmental policies and points to millions of dollars directed at research and mitigation and relief funding to combat red tide.

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