Politics & Government

Buchanan, Shapiro trade blows over who is ‘sweeter’ on the environment

In a television spot that launched in July, David Shapiro, a democratic congressional candidate for the FL-16 seat, said he vowed to stand up against bullies when he was 10 years old. Now, he plans to take that same fight to “career politicians” in Washington.
In a television spot that launched in July, David Shapiro, a democratic congressional candidate for the FL-16 seat, said he vowed to stand up against bullies when he was 10 years old. Now, he plans to take that same fight to “career politicians” in Washington.

While Rep. Vern Buchanan has spent the past few days seeking emergency funding for businesses dealing with red tide, a new attack from a Democratic challenger says the congressman doesn’t have the environment’s best interest in mind.

According to the Federal Election Commission, in the 2018 cycle Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, has accepted $25,000 from U.S. Sugar, which has been accused of contributing to Florida’s recent toxic algae bloom problems by dumping waste into waterways. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Buchanan has accepted $106,948 throughout his political career.

“Florida’s water, wildlife and way of life are under attack and our community deserves leaders with the courage to fight back — not Washington insiders like Vern Buchanan, who are beholden to special interests,” said David Shapiro, who is running for the Democratic nomination to take on Buchanan for the 16th Congressional District seat in November.’

Buchanan sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday, imploring him to seek disaster loan funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help suffering business owners cope with red tide-related losses.

On Monday U.S. Rep Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, held a news conference with researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota to discuss efforts to mitigate rampant red tide plaguing the southwest coast.

In a statement, Shapiro touted his endorsement from Bullsugar, a watchdog organization dedicated to “stopping damaging discharges” into Florida waters, promising to enact regulatory legislation if elected.

“Big Sugar has bankrolled Vern Buchanan’s political career to the tune of $106,000, and he’s returned the favor by voting in Congress to block and dismantle critical safeguards meant to prevent environmental disasters, like red tide blooms,” Shapiro said. “In Congress, I’ll stand up to the big sugar special interest and fight to preserve our state’s beautiful coasts for future generations of Floridians.”

Experts say Shapiro’s comments on red tide might not be completely accurate, given that the sugar industry’s alleged connection to toxic algae has more correlation to water farther south. Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium president Michael Crosby explained the difference at a Wednesday afternoon meeting with business representatives in Sarasota.

“I think it’s important to underscore that we are dealing with two different harmful algal bloom events,” Crosby explained. “Both of them devastating, but two different ones. Different causes, different methodologies, different life cycles and different responses. One is the blue-green algae bloom that is very directly connected to the outflow from Lake Okeechobee. The other is the red tide that is not caused by the outflow from Lake Okeechobee.”

ALgae Gator.jpg
An alligator swims through blue-green algae on Lake Okeechobee in July, when blooms covered most of the lake and were released into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. CHARLES TRAINOR JR. Miami Herald

Red tide is naturally occurring and there’s nothing humans can do to stop it, Crosby said. While the algal bloom does use nutrients in the water to sustain itself, the waste from sugar cane cultivation in South Florida isn’t a contributor to red tide issues in Manatee and Sarasota.

In response to the allegations, the Buchanan campaign pointed again to Shapiro’s stock investments. In a Thursday afternoon release, Max Goodman, Buchanan’s campaign manager, said Shapiro owns stock in some of the most prolific companies contributing to global warming.

A recent study by the Climate Accountability Institute found that 100 corporations are responsible for 71 percent of the planet’s industrial carbon emissions. Shapiro’s financial disclosure statement filed with the Clerk of the House show that he owns individual stock in nine of those companies, including Exxon, Chevron and Conoco Phillips. These holdings, Buchanan’s camp says, undermine Shapiro’s promise to combat climate change and sea level rise.

“These stock funds were purchased individually and not as part of a broader mutual fund, just like Shapiro’s ownership of Halliburton Corp., a military and energy contractor once headed by Dick Cheney and found negligent in the Gulf oil spill,” Goodman said. “Congressman Vern Buchanan does not own individual stock in any of the companies listed on the report’s top 100.”

Buchanan does own mutual funds whose holdings include stock in some of the same companies, according to his financial disclosure forms.

“Congressman Buchanan is so desperate to cover up the fact he’s using his position in Washington to line his own pockets, including voting for a tax bill that helped finance his new $3.5 million yacht, that he’s attacking David over stock he also holds,” said Alex Vuskovic, Shapiro’s campaign manager.

Both candidates have traded direct attacks in recent weeks, even before Shapiro has officially won the Democratic nomination. National pollsters have shifted their predictions and say the district could flip to the Democrats in November.