Manuel Quiñones: Hey, everyone. We're back here talking about E&E News coverage of the midterm elections. And, today, we want to focus on one of the more important states this year, Florida. Tons of races with particular importance to energy, environment and climate politics. And here we have Mark Matthews, who just got back from the Sunshine State.
Mark K. Matthews: I did. A little bit of tan. [Laughter].
Manuel Quiñones: [Laughter]. Even when -- it was kind of cloudy down there, right?
Mark K. Matthews: It was not bad. I mean, I was in Miami so there was plenty of sun.
Manuel Quiñones: So, yeah, tell me a little bit about where you went, what you were looking for, and what you ended up finding.
Mark K. Matthews: Sure. So I went on a road trip swing that began in Sarasota, bounced over to Orlando, dropped down to the Fort Lauderdale area, and ended in Miami. So I put a lot of miles onto the rental car but that was fine. And the reason I started in Sarasota was because I was looking at Florida's 16th District race between incumbent Vern Buchanan and his challenger David Shapiro. And why I'm interested in that race is because that is an area where you have seen a lot of red tide. And red tide is this like toxic algae outbreak that has spread across particularly the Gulf Coast, although now it's popping up a little bit on the Atlantic side. And it has been going on for months. It has devastated like the industry down there. Tourism has dropped. At one point, I was in Sarasota, which is this sleepy well-off town on the Gulf Coast, and I was talking to some people there, and they said like the downtown was a ghost town when it was that bad because the smell was terrible. People didn't want to go to the beach. If you had asthma and you went there, you would have trouble breathing.
Manuel Quiñones: Wow.
Mark K. Matthews: I mean, this is like what is Florida other than its beaches?
Manuel Quiñones: Right.
Mark K. Matthews: And for so much of the state, it had been knocked out. And you're seeing kind of red tide pop up in a bunch of different races across the state -- in the governor's race, in the Senate race, in the House races like Vern Buchanan. So that's where I wanted to drop in because it felt to me that Sarasota was one of the areas that had been most hard hit.
Manuel Quiñones: And how is it making a difference?
Mark K. Matthews: So David Shapiro is trying to make an issue of this. He took out an ad that was blaming Vern Buchanan for some of the problems, for not doing enough for environmental protection. Trying to tie him to Florida sugar industry, kind of known derisively in the state as Big Sugar for a lot of their work around like Okeechobee and everything on there.
So he's kind of pushing on that and trying to put that blame there. He's having some trouble. I mean, this is a Republican-leaning district. You know, Buchanan has been in office for several terms. But, you know, it's trying to make a punch. People are noticing. And it's not just because of the very like, I guess, 10,000-feet, well, we care about the environment. These are people's livelihoods.
I just got a follow-up phone call today with a political science professor down in Broward College in Florida. And she was saying that, you know, this type of thing is not just affecting like the beaches and hotels. It affects folks who are like musicians down in Florida.
Manuel Quiñones: Oh, wow.
Mark K. Matthews: Because here's the thing. You know, if you have this beach community that's not getting the tourists, that means the restaurants are going to not need as many workers, and they're not going to be able to pay musicians who normally play. I mean, to say that tourism is important to Florida's like economy is understating. It is integral to the economy. And red tide gets at that. And that is a big problem.
And so, you know, Vern Buchanan first party, he's pushing back. He's saying that like he's supported some research into red tide. He flagged kind of amendment that he got to a bill. But, you know, Shapiro is one of many, many -- like lawmakers -- sorry, politicians that are trying to make that argument. You're seeing it, too, in Brian Mast's district. He's been affected not by red tide but green slime.
Manuel Quiñones: Right. And we should kind of stress that these are different issues. Red tide it out in the ocean.
Mark K. Matthews: Right.
Manuel Quiñones: The green slime, it basically starts in Lake Okeechobee and then runs out from there out into the coast.
Mark K. Matthews: Yeah, more of the waterways, and it's affecting, you know, again, the tourism but also just people's quality of life in Florida, right. So I mean, if you're well-off enough in the state, you're going to get -- you own a boat, and that's why you moved to Florida so you could have a boat. But if your boat and the canals are all covered in slime, like that makes for like not a good day.
And so people are starting to take these issues and talk about it in all these different races. And, you know, while I was in Orlando, there was a rally there that Joe Biden did for Bill Nelson, who is running for Senate against Governor Rick Scott, as well as a couple local candidates, including Stephanie Murphy, who is a local congresswoman in Central Florida. And, you know, Nelson has been in office forever. I mean, 30 years, 40 years; he's been in office for a very long time. And so he gets in front of the crowd, and doesn't get that -- you know, like typical old stump speech but he gets everybody fired up by talking about "Red Tide Rick." That was the most animated I saw the crowd while he was there at that Biden rally because everyone is concerned with red tide, and Democrats and liberals are trying to attach that label to Governor Rick Scott.
Manuel Quiñones: Is it working?
Mark K. Matthews: I mean, I feel that all of the climate change or environmental or political issues, the biggest potency, I think, is this red tide issue. And I think it's -- it matters to folks.
Again, going back to like this is not some nebulous thing like polar bears not having like a habitat. This is, frankly, like people's own self-interest. Like, I can't go to the beach. This bothers me. Who do I got to vote out or what do I got to do to be able to make a difference?
Manuel Quiñones: And is it harder for the Democrats to point blame since, you know, the research shows that the reason or the red tide, it's murkier than something like the blue-green algae. You know, my understanding is that there is still a lot of research to be done on the red tide, and the connection with agriculture is less direct.
Mark K. Matthews: Yes. There is a, I think, you know, in terms of like also like talking about how much carbon in the atmosphere affects red tide buildup. I guess the warmth of the water, also these factors. But, again, this is politics. This is campaign season. At some point, you don't have to overexplain it, you know. And I think the Dems are just trying to use is at a bludgeon to try to get them to do it. And worry less about trying to explain, well, you know, red tide, if you carry the wand, you do this and this.
Manuel Quiñones: [Laughter].
Mark K. Matthews: You be like Red Tide Rick, you say that enough times, it starts to make a difference. And that's why I think there's potency because you don't have to explain it. It's just a catchy slogan. I think they even have a song about it.
Manuel Quiñones: Ah.
Mark K. Matthews: You know, about what's happening.
Manuel Quiñones: And so, and it was interesting, too, like at that same rally, Biden was talking about climate change for a good long time as being a major national security issue. So, you know, if and when he goes/pursues this 2020 run, I think you're going to see him make a case for climate change as a national security issue.
Mark K. Matthews: And try to win over Florida, which [crosstalk] the Democrats. One of my conversations while I was down there was with former Senator Mel Martinez, you know, a Republican. He represented the state for several years. And he had the same thought. He was like, look, you know, this is a landmark election for Florida. Whoever runs for president in 2020 is going to have to address these issues in the state. Because they're not going anywhere. This is here to stay. And here's someone like Mel Martinez, like, a Republican, likely person in the state, I think is significant. I think it's starting to change, and you're starting to see some of the other candidates talk about stuff like this.
Manuel Quiñones: Now, here's an interesting question is we've been talking about Florida and climate change. It seems that the red tide and the blue-green algae, while extremely important, it's kind of taken the attention a little bit away from climate change. Any perspective on that?
Mark K. Matthews: Well, I mean, they are related in a way.
Manuel Quiñones: In a way. Yeah.
Mark K. Matthews: And so, but I think all of these things come together. And don't forget the hurricane. You know, Hurricane Michael, you know, slammed the Panhandle, you know, a couple weeks ago. And people are, again, are trying to make that argument about climate change that, you know, you have this storm that rapidly intensified into almost a Category 5. And people say, again, the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico contributed to that. That's part of the reason.
And, frankly, you know, if there is going to be a direct impact on climate change on the election in Florida this year, it may just be the fact that, you know, a rapidly intensified hurricane slammed Florida's Panhandle where Rick Scott, you know, and Ron DeSantis count on a lot of their support. And you can see that the early voting returns from the counties that were hit by the hurricane are way low, by far the worst in the state. And so, you know, if you have another election decided by 500 or votes in Florida, you know, you might look to simply just like the disaster that is the Panhandle right now.
I mean, it's terrible. We were looking to go up there, but right now, you know, in terms of just getting around, the lines for the gas, it's nuts. It's nuts. And so that's what I was doing in Orlando. When I went down to Davie, Florida, and the Fort Lauderdale area, that I got a chance -- I got front row seats -- well, not quite front row ...
Manuel Quiñones: [Laughter].
Mark K. Matthews: I was there for like a knock-down, drag-out fight between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis in their debate for governor.
Manuel Quiñones: Right. Right.
Mark K. Matthews: And these guys, you know, gloves off. It was just all the way. And it's really interesting to hear the two of them kind of talk about environmental issues. So, you know, Ron DeSantis did a couple significant things in his upset victory in the Republican primary. So he was running against Adam Putnam. And I knew Putnam when he was still a congressman up here. I mean, total wonder kid. I mean, young guy. He got to the echelons of leadership here in the House and decided to go back to Florida eight years ago. And the reason was he had a young family, and he was going to go and become Florida's commissioner of agriculture. You know, his family was in the citrus business for a long time. Here was a chance for him to leave D.C., probably at about the right time before things got [crosstalk].
Manuel Quiñones: [Laughter].
Mark K. Matthews: You know, raise his family, build his profile, get his support. Everybody knew that Adam Putnam was running for governor for like 10 years. He sets everything in motion after Rick Scott, and he just gets completely blindsided by Ron DeSantis. And that happened for two reasons. The first is that, you know, President Trump, you know, like got big behind Ron DeSantis, you know, to the point where DeSantis did that television ad everybody remembers, like showing this kid like how do you build that wall with building blocks, right? And the second thing, and the more interesting thing for our purposes, is that he took on Big Sugar, that, you know, Big Sugar was all behind Ron DeSantis -- I'm sorry -- all behind Adam Putnam. And DeSantis took it on, and he did the thing of tying Big Sugar to red tide and tying Adam Putnam to Big Sugar and red tide. And that seemed to have an effect.
I mean, something else about Mel Martinez, he's like no one has ever done that, especially not a Republican, to take on Big Sugar. And those combinations then, you know, like put DeSantis over the top in the Republican primary.
Manuel Quiñones: And that's interesting having a conservative, pro-business Republican being against one of the state's top businesses.
Mark K. Matthews: Absolutely. It's a seismic change in a way. And so, you know, I was kind of joking around with some other folks about like, OK, what does that mean for climate change policy in the race for governor? And I was saying that if DeSantis had a slogan, it would be build that sweet wall.
Manuel Quiñones: Ah.
Mark K. Matthews: He doesn't, in a way, he doesn't really talk about climate change. In fact, when I try to get some people to like his campaign, they're like, well, does he believe the climate science? I haven't really even got a clear answer on that. But when he does talk about it, he talks about resiliency. He talks about building seawalls. He talks about, you know, preparing like the place for daytime flooding down there, and doing all that and doing all of that. And so it's less about mitigation and more about adaption.
Manuel Quiñones: And is that enough to convince a lot of people down there?
Mark K. Matthews: I mean, it's a way, I talked to a political professor today, it's a way that you can try to begin to talk about it, about maybe alienating some people who are more conservative, like center-right, that kind of thing. Meanwhile, the Dems are having none of it.
Manuel Quiñones: Exactly.
Mark K. Matthews: Like, they're like no. This is not enough. This is not happening. I mean, you can, so another race that I was looking at is Carlos Curbelo's [crosstalk] fight to keep in Florida's 21st District. This includes the Keys. And if there's a part of the U.S. that's going to be underwater in terms of climate change, you know, the Keys are going to go first. They're going to be the ones that go first. And so Curbelo, you know, is well known to us here at E&E News. You know, he put forward a carbon, one the first Republicans in like a decade, he put forward a carbon tax bill. He voted against Steve Scalise's resolution that described carbon tax as detrimental to the U.S. economy. And, you know, he's pushing back against his opponent. And what she's doing is, she's like, no, no, being a good-enough Republican is not good enough. And that is the argument that she's trying to make in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 16 percentage points. And, right now, I think I saw that spending in that race is one of the biggest in the country for a House race by far.
Manuel Quiñones: And what she's trying to do is basically -- I heard an interview saying convince as many people as possible that Curbelo is not, I guess, right enough on the issue, and then turnout.
Mark K. Matthews: Right. Right. And that's what, and she appeared at this rally that I appeared at in Florida International University. She was there with Gillum. She was there with Bill Nelson. They were all trying to get the students to come out and vote. You know, Sierra Club was there all talking about, it's great to talk about resiliency or to put forward a carbon tax bill but that is not what is needed to be able to address some of the warnings raised in the latest U.N. report. You need to go beyond that. You need to do more of that. And they were making a very partisan argument here. They're like, look, you know, if you want to deal with climate change, all you can do is trust Democrats here. And, you know, in a base turnout election, that might be enough.
I mean, I know a lot of like the special interests groups and the lobbying groups up here, they don't like that idea. They would rather have like some sort of bipartisan social push, but, you know, not on the campaign trail. You're not seeing that right now. It's impressive. And so I mean, I think that Florida is going to be so important for people who watch the environment, and watch climate on election night, that people need to pay attention to it. And not just because of all these issues -- because of red tide and green slime, and rising sea levels, and hurricanes. I think it's important to watch because you're starting to see a state and its political apparatus deal with climate change, and then address it. And how they address it is interesting.
You know, do they take a Ron DeSantis approach of build that seawall? Do they just go for resiliency? Do they no worry about it? They're like, hey, it's Florida. We've dealt with swamps, and mosquitos, and hurricanes, and the humidity for as long as people have been there. We can deal with climate change, too. We'll just build more walls. Or will you actually see an effort to try to mitigate it more through carbon taxes and other examples? And I don't know.
But, I mean, really, this is, you know, there was a county mayor or county commissioner down there that appeared at a convention, who said, very true, we're the canary in the coal mine. And it's very true. I think, politically, and as well as like the infrastructure down in Florida.
Manuel Quiñones: One of the things I want to ask you is, you know, there's a lot of conventional wisdom up here in D.C., and we go down to the states to, you know, try to see what things are. One of them was that Trump was the only thing that got DeSantis, you know, to win the primary, and you mentioned that another factor was his opposition to Big Sugar. What's another thing that might have surprised you or that surprised you when you went down to Florida?
Mark K. Matthews: Well, I think that it's still a lot of, I talked to a couple of folks who are involved in the maritime industry. I talked to a guy who does kayak tours, you know, right in the Sarasota area that got hurt pretty badly by red tide. I spoke to another guy who does fishing tours and charter tours. And I felt like with these folks, well, you know, what do you think about climate change? What do you think about red tide? Like, who's to blame? What do you want to see happen? And, you know, the line that I heard from at least these two folks, again, not a huge sample size, but thinking of some of the few people I talked to, is like this is just part of the natural cycle. You just have to understand this more. This doesn't have to do with whatnot. And it was interesting. I felt that some of these folks might have been maybe more kind of in touch with the science and more, but they're not. Well, at least these two people were not.
Manuel Quiñones: Ah.
Mark K. Matthews: And so that tells me, I wonder if, you know, Democratic messaging on this is being tuned out, that some of the folks who are going to try to talk on this, about being tuned out. You know, in a way, I want to talk to kind of like Tom Steyer's group, which is spending loads of money trying to get Andrew Gillum elected. You know, are they encountering the same doubt there? Are they encountering that same resistance of, you know, this is just what happens, you know?
Manuel Quiñones: Exactly, as we've seen elsewhere in the country that you have people who are seeing the effects, and still are not buying the ...
Mark K. Matthews: The science.
Manuel Quiñones: .. the science.
Mark K. Matthews: Yep.
Manuel Quiñones: Exactly.
Mark K. Matthews: Yeah. It's wild. And, you know, again, the kayak guy, I was like, well, what do you think about, you know, Governor Rick Scott? He's OK. I was like, well, what do you think about Senator Bill Nelson? He's OK. I was like, well, who are you going to vote for? Hmm, I don't know. [Laughter].
Manuel Quiñones: Are there still a lot of undecideds that you know of?
Mark K. Matthews: You know, I haven't looked at the poll recently to know exactly. But I would be surprised if, at this stage of the game, if there were a large number of undecideds, particularly since voting has already started.
Manuel Quiñones: That's true. That's true.
Mark K. Matthews: You know, people are already putting ballots in. So, I mean, it is, like I said, if you follow the climate change space, if you follow the environmental space, you should be watching Florida on election night because that is going to be the state that is going to be the most interesting.
Manuel Quiñones: And you will have a story on it coming up in Climatewire, a preview set up from your trip?
Mark K. Matthews: Yes.
Manuel Quiñones: In the coming days?
Mark K. Matthews: In the coming, my editor would like to know specifically when I'm going to finish it, but right now, you know, it's a thought piece about a state with climate change. You know, there's a lot to talk about.
Manuel Quiñones: And the elections are next week so it's going to happen before that, sometime before that.
Mark K. Matthews: Exactly. Before Tuesday. [Laughter].
Manuel Quiñones: Thank you very much.
Mark K. Matthews: Thank you.
Manuel Quiñones: Thank you. And, yeah, you can catch Mark's story in the coming days in Climatewire, and for all our coverage of the midterm elections, just go to eenews.net. There's a report button on the right side of the page, and that should take you to our report page, which we're actually working on making even more user-friendly. So we might have an update on that in the next, also, coming days. Thank you very much for watching. We'll be back here soon.