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Backroom Briefing: Global Warming Heats Up Governor's Race

August 27, 2014 - 6:00pm

A political committee linked with California tycoon Tom Steyer unleashed its fifth television ad attacking Republican Gov. Rick Scott this week.

Steyer has pledged to spend plenty of green -- $50 million in seven states, including $10 million in Florida -- targeting climate-change skeptics like Scott.

When asked about global warming recently, Scott told reporters: "I'm not a scientist."

Steyer and enviros are hoping to make global warming a wedge issue in the November elections, something that could give Democratic nominee Charlie Crist a boost.

One ad links the governor to Duke Energy Florida customers being forced to pay higher fees to underwrite a never-built nuclear power plant. The Republican Party of Florida countered with its own ad accusing Crist of signing the "nuclear cost recovery" law, but Jeb Bush was actually governor when the 2006 law went into effect.

The latest attack highlights stories by the Tampa Bay Times revealing a secret hunting trip Scott took last year to King Ranch in Texas. Scott later appointed Mitch Hutchcraft to a spot on the board overseeing the Everglades restoration project. Hutchcraft works for King Ranch, a major player in Florida's citrus and sugar industries.

"What was Rick Scott really hunting for in Texas? Campaign cash from the sugar industry," a voiceover says while a rifle targets -- and blasts -- a stack of money. "The same industry that got a massive bailout from Rick Scott, sticking taxpayers with the bill for cleaning up Big Sugar's water pollution. Rick Scott: sweet deals for the powerful few -- not you."

Scott and supporters have taken nearly $750,000 in campaign contributions from Big Sugar, the ad proclaims. The ads are paid for by NextGen Climate Action Committee Florida, which has thus far collected more than $1.8 million in contributions, almost exclusively from other committees affiliated with Steyer, a hedge-fund manager and philanthropist.

The spots don't mention Crist, who, as Florida's Republican governor from 2007 to 2011, pushed policies aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. After taking office, Crist convened a two-day energy summit in Miami, attended by then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The event earned private rebukes from Republicans.

Crist himself was once the sweetheart of Big Sugar. As governor, he struck a deal with U.S. Sugar to pay $1.75 billion to purchase land considered critical to cleaning up the troubled 'Glades. As the state's economy tanked, so did the deal. In the end, the state purchased just 73,000 acres -- a fraction of the original 187,000-acre plan -- for about $500 million.


Scott is touring the state once again -- only, this time, it's as governor and not as a candidate for re-election.

Over the last several months, Scott has gone across Florida to promote his plans or accomplishments on tax cuts, education, transportation and the environment, among other topics. But those were promoted by Scott's campaign; the governor's decision to go along with Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on her "back-to-school" tour this week has been announced by the governor's office.

Crist's campaign cried foul.

"Floridians should not be fooled by Rick Scott's shameful, taxpayer-funded campaign events this week," spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said in a statement. "Scott's back-to-school tour should be an apology tour for the $4.8 billion he wanted to cut and the $1.3 billion he did cut from education."

Then again, Crist has also faced questions about how he's promoted his own education agenda. The former governor has come under fire for taping an ad at a public school and for using a school bus for a campaign tour. Republicans have slammed both moves, saying they are inappropriate and, in the case of the school bus, possibly illegal.

The visual appeal of schools and buses is undeniable, especially in a campaign where education funding is emerging as a key issue. Risking the political equivalent of detention -- a negative press release from the other side -- might well be worth it.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "George Sheldon at close of victory speech says it's time to give @PamBondi the job she really wants: To be anchor for Fox News." --- Gary Fineout (@fineout)

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