Despite coastal flooding, more severe hurricanes, and longer, hotter summers attributed to climate change, the majority of Florida voters on Tuesday chose the presidential candidate who calls climate change a hoax.
Florida incumbents in state offices who support efforts to curb climate change fared well enough, according to state election records, but they remain in a minority largely ignored by Republicans who control the House, Senate and governor’s office.
President Donald Trump won Florida by at least 3 percentage points, capturing all 29 electoral college votes.
He and challenger former Vice President Joe Biden espouse widely different views on climate change. Trump long called it a hoax and only recently acknowledged it exists. Biden considers it an urgent matter and made climate change central to his economic recovery plan to convert the nation to green jobs and non-polluting infrastructure.
At the state level, one of Florida’s leading climate activists, Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, is in a nail-biter race likely to be decided after a recount. With 215,411 votes counted, Republican challenger Ileana Garcia led Rodriguez by just 21 votes, with provisional ballots and ballots mailed from overseas yet to be counted. A third candidate, Alex Rodriguez, running under no party affiliation, garnered 6,366 of those votes.
Since being elected in 2016, Sen. Rodriguez has worn rain boots in the Capitol emblazoned with the hashtag #ActOnClimateFL to rally support for action to slow down climate change that is causing seas to rise, flooding coastal areas of south Florida.
He represents part of Miami-Dade. This year, he became the first Florida lawmaker ever to have legislation related to climate change pass in the Legislature.
Incumbents outspoken about climate action who were reelected Tuesday include state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando, Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando, and Rep. Loranne Ausley of Tallahassee, all Democrats.
At the federal level, Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Hillsborough County Democrat, was reelected and so will continue to chair the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Also reelected was pro-climate Congressman Ted Deutch, a Democrat who serves parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties.
Defeated was Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Monroe County Democrat who championed conversion of the Sunshine State to a green, non-polluting economy that would slow sea level rise and the intensification of hurricanes affecting her constituents.
Castor, Deutch and Mucarsel-Powell — who say Florida is ground zero for climate-change impacts — want the United States to rejoin the 2015 Paris treaty on climate change, an international agreement to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases around the world. President Trump withdrew the nation from the agreement.
Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, said climate change and environmental protection did well on Election Day at the local level but that those issues were buried at the state level by outside interests.
“It’s hard to overcome the mountain of dark money dumped into state elections by special interests,” Moncrief said in a written statement responding to Phoenix questions. “The difference between local races and higher profile legislative races is that we saw outside industry and business groups fund massive fear-mongering campaigns. It’s surprising, as scary as the climate crisis is and as much as voters want to do something to meaningfully address climate change.”
Moncrief said Florida voters, left to their own devices, consistently vote to protect their environment. She pointed to six local environmental protection measures approved by voters Tuesday in Collier, Manatee, Orange and Volusia counties and the election of two climate activists to local offices in South Florida in the midst of a red wave for candidates in that region. But faced with outside money and influence in state and federal races, Florida-based environmental concerns get overshadowed, she said.