Florida Gov. Rick Scott was chased away from a campaign event by demonstrators criticizing him for the toxic algae bloom that, for many months, has been killing marine life and apparently triggering respiratory issues among some residents.
The Herald-Tribune reported that Scott, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in the state, was confronted by angry protesters Monday at Mojos Real Cuban restaurant in Venice, about 80 miles south of Tampa, where dead animals have been washing ashore. Protesters crowded outside the restaurant holding signs reading “Redtide Rick” and calling the governor a “coward” — forcing him to enter and, only minutes later, leave, through the back door, according to the newspaper.
Video shows Scott quickly leaving and getting into a black SUV as supporters held up signs reading “RICK SCOTT FOR SENATE” among a crowd of protesters.
Herald-Tribune reporter Zac Anderson wrote on Twitter that “You could smell the red tide in the air as crowd chanted 'Hey hey ho ho red-tide Rick has got to go.’ ”
It comes as Scott is running for the Senate seat against Bill Nelson (D), the three-term incumbent.
Scott’s campaign spokesman Chris Hartline said in a statement Tuesday to The Washington Post that the governor is “working hard to find solutions.”
“While red tide is a naturally occurring algae that has been documented along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1840s, Gov. Scott is fighting to use all available resources to help impacted communities, including declaring a state of emergency and providing millions of dollars in grant funding to Southwest Florida counties for cleanup and recovery efforts. Gov. Scott is working hard to find solutions while Bill Nelson is nowhere to be found,” Hartline said.
He then redirected the attention to Nelson.
“Nelson promised 30 years ago in a campaign ad that he was going to fight to protect Florida’s environment,” Hartline said in the statement. “We’re still waiting to see anything besides empty promises.”
Residents told the Herald-Tribune that Florida has been plagued by an “extreme amount” of toxic algae and although it’s not Scott’s fault, he has been exacerbating it.
At issue, according to the newspaper, is the governor’s multimillion-dollar budget cuts to environmental agencies. In fact, PolitiFact reported that during Scott’s first term in 2011, he cut $700 million in funding from Florida’s water management oversight. Some argue that had the state had that funding, it could have taken steps to lessen the effects of the toxic algae bloom, according to the Herald-Tribune.
The algae, Karenia brevis, releases toxins that can attack the central nervous system in animals and can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation in people, according to a fact sheet from Florida’s Department of Health. The fact sheet says that when the algae occur in large numbers, called blooms, it’s commonly known as a “red tide” for the reddish-brown color that it turns the ocean water.
A red tide is a natural phenomenon that develops miles offshore before making its way to the coast, where it feeds on a variety of pollutants, including phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer, along with other runoff and wastewater. The toxins can aerosolize in the wind that drifts ashore, triggering respiratory problems or worsening conditions such as asthma.
What is not clear is whether climate change and pollution from humans near the shore has made this outbreak severe and prolonged. Scientists have found that the algae thrive in warmer waters and increased carbon dioxide levels.
The red tide prompted the governor to issue a state of emergency last month across seven counties along the state’s southwestern shore, promising to provide $1.5 million in emergency funding.
Scott did not speak about the issue — or anything else — at the rally Monday in Venice, according to the Herald-Tribune.