In Florida race, climate change divides DeSantis and Gillum

Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis, left, and Andrew Gillum during a CNN debate on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, in Tampa. (Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP)
Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis, left, and Andrew Gillum during a CNN debate on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, in Tampa. (Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP)

The heat is rising in the Florida governor’s race.

During Sunday night’s contentious debate between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis the two candidates expressed markedly different positions on whether human-caused climate change is real and a mounting threat to the state.

Noting the destructive power of Hurricane Michael, which many scientists believe was made stronger by above-average water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, CNN moderator Jake Tapper pressed DeSantis over conflicting comments in which the candidate said he isn’t a climate change denier but doesn’t want to be known as a believer in climate change, either.

“Given the threats Florida faces from intense hurricanes and rising sea levels, don’t Florida voters deserve to know where you stand on this issue?” Tapper asked.

DeSantis, who trails Gillum in the Real Clear Politics average of polls by 3.7 percent, responded to the question without actually mentioning the words “climate change.”

“What I said is I don’t want to be an alarmist. I mean, I want to look at this and do what makes sense for Florida,” DeSantis said. “So, for example, for the people of Northwest Florida, I will be there for you. You guys are resilient. You’re fighting. [Hurricane Michael] was a terrible storm, and we will rebuild. But I also think you just have to look at facts. The fact is, you look at South Florida, we need to do resiliency. You have more water; you have flooding. So as governor, that’s something that I’m going to take on full throttle. But what I don’t want to do is do things like Andrew wants to do, which is a California-style energy policy that will cause our electricity rates to skyrocket.”

Gillum, who declares on his campaign website that he “believes that climate change is a real and urgent threat,” responded by taking a shot at Gov. Rick Scott, who has largely avoided any mention of climate change during his tenure, as well as in his Senate campaign against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

“What Florida voters need to know is that when they elect me governor they’re going to have a governor who believes in science, which we haven’t had for quite some time in this state,” Gillum said. “I’m not sure what is so California about believing that the state of Florida ought to lead in solar energy. We’re known as the Sunshine State. At the very least what we can do is be a global leader here. We’ve got to teach the other 49 states what to do and what it means to have a state that, quite frankly, leans into the challenges of the green economy and builds one and at the same time builds an economy that lasts.”

A 2016 study by Zillow found that if sea-level rise estimates for a climb of as much as 6 feet by 2100 are correct, the Sunshine State faces property losses of $413 billion.

Still, climate change is an issue whose impact on the midterms remains difficult to gauge in Florida.

“Climate here means different things to different people,” Democratic strategist Steve Schale told Yahoo News. “For some, it is an environmental issue; for others, like those impacted by red tide, it is an economic issue; and for others yet, like those in Miami Beach and towns like my hometown, St. Augustine, it is a problem where flooding is stressing infrastructure. So I don’t know that climate on its own is a winnable issue — but candidates who are able to draw the connection between climate and these other issues can make climate a winning issue.”


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