Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis today cast himself as a conservationist capable of fixing the blue-green algae problem in south Florida, and suggested his opponent made too many enemies to do the same.
“My opponent wants to impeach Donald Trump,” DeSantis says. “Will he be able to go to the White House and work with them on this?”
DeSantis made the remarks after a meeting with higher education officials at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
The closed-door meeting, according to those in attendance, touched on a range of issues including higher education structures, but also steered toward the algal blooms dominating political discourse in Southwest Florida.
DeSantis noted he’s no friend of Big Sugar, an industry he said spent millions trying to thwart him from winning the Republican primary. “That industry has been part of the problem,” he said. “I’ve been willing to stand up to them.”
He noted he, Naples Republican Francis Rooney and Palm Beach Republican Brain Mast were the only members of Florida’s congressional delegation to vote against government subsidizing sugar.
Of course, groups like Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, a community where DeSantis campaigned immediately after his FGCU meeting, have stressed that red tide is a naturally occurring phenomenon.
DeSantis doesn’t dispute that but neither dismisses pollution as part of the problem.
“It’s indisputable that red tide to some extent is a naturally occurring,” he said. “The question is why the problem is so acute. Is that natural or is it nutrients mixed in? What’s the reason why it is this acute? I wouldn’t rule out some of these things getting into the water contributing to the severity of red tide.”
As for blue-green algae, a problem predating red tide, DeSantis suggested that can be tied to discharges from Lake Okeechobee authorized by the Army Corps of Engineers, and on that front, he says he’s working toward a solution.
“I will work with the White House to accelerate funding for a reservoir south of the lake, and then we won’t have discharges anymore,” he said.
And with Democrat Andrew Gillum calling for Trump’s impeachment, that goal won’t be attainable for a Democratic governor, DeSantis said.
At the rally in Sarasota, Republican Party of Sarasota chairman Joe Gruters said DeSantis’ environmental message will resonate with coastal voters. “Right now, the number one issue is the environment,” he said.
But will a Republican candidate be able to pull that off in an age when climate change denial seems part of the GOP brand?
DeSantis says most Floridians relate more to conservative conservationists than to left-wing environmental radicals.
“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt conservative,” he said. “Conservationists want the environment protected so the people of Florida can enjoy it. More radical left-wing environmentalists see humans as part of the problem.”
But he did broadcast a shift from Gov. Rick Scott’s handling of the state Department of Environmental Protection should he succeed the Republican leader to the governor’s mansion. He said he would let science guide appointments to water management districts and would pay close attention to air quality amid algal scares.
FGCU President Mike Martin said he was happy to have DeSantis sit down with university leaders. Gillum visited the campus for a debate before the primary but has yet to do a roundtable like DeSantis did today.
“I hope every candidate comes and asks our opinion,” Martin said. “Whoever ends up in the big house, we have to have some influence.”