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August 23 Primary Preview, Part II: Florida

We take a look at key primaries in the Sunshine State

The second part of our August 23 primary preview will look at state and federal primary elections in Florida, where major cities face looming threats as sea level rise places pressure on collapsing condominium buildings. Only Texas faces more emergency costs each year from hurricanes and other climate disasters. Living up to its moniker as the Sunshine State, however, Florida ranks among the top three states for projected clean-energy job growth.

Florida

FL-Sen: Both parties have uncontested nominees. As Florida House Speaker in 2007, Sen. Marco Rubio called for Florida to become the “Silicon Valley of [clean energy],” but he soon pivoted to typical climate denier talking points. Running for his third term, Rubio will face Rep. Val Demings, a moderate former Orlando police chief who won consideration as a vice presidential candidate and even some praise from the left in 2020 for her role as a first Trump impeachment manager and Big Tech antitrust antagonist. Rubio has seemed like a heavy frontrunner to say the least, though polls have started to show a more competitive race.

Sierra Club Florida is supporting Charlie Crist for governor

FL-Gov: Since narrowly winning his first term through a sycophantically Trumpy campaign four years ago, Republican governor Ron DeSantis has gained notoriety as one of the most hateful and dangerous demagogues in American politics. With a recent speech that unearthed several novel conspiracy theories, DeSantis placed climate at the center of his culture wars and became the most high-profile political figure to date to join in state officials’ coordinated attack on climate financial action. Just this week, DeSantis moved to commit Florida’s pension fund fully to the fossil fuel economy, after recently calling on the legislature to pass corporate-drafted legislation that would punish companies that engage in socially responsible investing. (Similar bills have passed or been introduced in about a dozen states and are already proving costly).

Despite Florida’s importance as a big swing state, the dysfunction of the Florida Democratic Party had until very recently raised questions about whether this race would be meaningfully contested—or whether DeSantis would cruise to re-election on his way to a presumed presidential bid. Polls have tightened in recent weeks, and the general election here could be close, especially if the election between Rubio and Demings turns out to be competitive.

The Democratic primary here features Congressman and former Republican governor Charlie Crist, whose 2008 interview with Grist harkens back to a time when there was such a thing as a moderate Republican position on climate. Amusingly, Crist expressed his belief at the time that the state’s major utility, Florida Power and Light (FPL), wanted to be a partner in expanding clean energy. (Earlier this year, FPL pushed through a sweeping bill to gut rooftop solar, which DeSantis vetoed in a trademark display of his faux populism and trait of not “giving a fuck” about big donors.)

Crist’s primary opponent is Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has tried to run to Crist’s left, especially on abortion rights and social issues, pointing to conservative judicial appointments that Cris made as governor. Fried— a former lobbyist who Crist has criticized for friendly ties to Rep. Matt Gaetz and other Florida Republicans— doesn’t necessarily have sterling progressive climate hawk credentials. A recent Palm Beach Post investigation examined Fried’s record overseeing the environmental justice scourge of sugar-cane burning that plagues disproportionately black and brown communities with harmful “black snow.” As the head of Florida’s Forest Service, Fried made mostly cosmetic changes to rules around “black snow” burning, then hailed them as “major” reforms. (Meanwhile, in partnership with an overwhelmingly bipartisan set of Big Sugar allies in the legislature, DeSantis signed a bill that thwarted a lawsuit challenging “black snow” burning.) Fried has been a major recipient of funding from both Big Sugar and FPL, which may explain why the Sierra Club has endorsed Crist, although Fried does have the endorsement of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida.

FL-CFO: As Florida’s state banker and insurance regulator, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has continued his record of doing the bidding of ALEC and other fossil fuel-aligned organizations. As climate disasters continue to impose growing costs on Florida’s economy, causing many home insurers to exit the market and leaving the home insurance market in Florida on the verge of collapse, Patronis has failed to take action or revive the climate risk analysis that former CFO Alex Sink initiated the last time a Democrat held this office. Instead, Patronis has joined with the State Financial Officers Foundation in aggressively opposing climate financial action. Former state representative Adam Hattersley is the only Democrat running, and will be Patronis’ opponent in the general election. Hattersley is calling attention to Florida’s homeowner insurance crisis.

FL-AG: Republican Attorney General (and Big Lie enabler) Ashley Moody is running for a second term. Moody recently joined with Republican AGs around the country in opposing the SEC’s climate risk disclosure rule. Santa Rosa Beach lawyer Daniel Uhlfelder has led the field in fundraising and newspaper endorsements, and pledges to crack down on oil price gouging and insurance company premium increases. Aramis Ayala, the former state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, says she will fight “to decrease Florida’s reliance on fossil fuels,” and has support from labor unions and many state legislators. Polls show that Fort Lauderdale lawyer Jim Lewis is also in the running, though he hasn’t waged much of a campaign.

FL-10: With Rep. Val Demings running for Senate, this Orlando-based district is open. The frontrunner is 25-year old Maxwell Frost, a former ACLU organizer who is running a very Gen Z campaign as a gun violence survivor and gun safety activist. A Green New Deal champion, Frost has broad support, from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Friends of the Earth, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but also more establishment-friendly organizations such as LCV Action Fund. Similarly, organizations spending money on Frost range from the progressive Working Families Party to crypto-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s Protect our Future. There are many other candidates, including notorious former Congresswoman Corrine Brown. Frost’s main competition seems to be from state senator Randolph Bracy, who voted for FPL’s attack on solar rooftop, and from former Congressman Alan Grayson, a self-funding gadfly and perennial candidate who was criticized for his fossil fuel investments during one of many previous campaigns.

FL-20: Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won an upstart special election on a progressive platform earlier this year, and will be the frontrunner against Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness.

FL-23: In this open seat primary to replace retiring Rep. Ted Deutsch, Fort Lauderdale Councilmember Ben Sorensen has attempted to pierce Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz frontrunner status by pointing out that his pandemic emergency management role was done at the behest of Gov. DeSantis. Between his overwhelming establishment support, including from AIPAC and the New Democrat Coalition as well as Sierra Club and LCV, plus significant crypto-backed outside spending, it’s hard to see Moskowitz losing.

Local Races

Climate Cabinet priority down-ballot candidates in Florida

The Climate Cabinet has endorsed climate hawk city councillor David Arreola for Gainesville mayor in a wide-open race, sustainability advocate Kristin Dozier for Tallahassee mayor against incumbent John Dailey, and climate hawk Tallahassee city commissioner Jeremy Matlow for reëlection against real-estate-backed cop David Bellamy.

Here are the Sierra Club Florida endorsements across the state.

For a detailed rundown of more state legislative and local primaries, go to Primary School.

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