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Algae, abortion and Fox News: This week in Florida politics

July 7, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s 2018 midterm election is one of the most important in years. The governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats are on the ballot; Republican Gov. Rick Scott is challenging three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson; several congressional seats will be competitive; and Floridians will vote on 13 proposed constitutional amendments, ranging from property tax cuts to banning greyhound racing. The following are items of political interest from the past week:

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OUTFOXED

Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has been on Fox News dozens of times since joining the governor’s race in January. So much so that his primary opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, has criticized him for campaigning more from a Washington, D.C., television studio than in the state.

But this week DeSantis, who’s endorsed by President Donald Trump, took Fox to Florida.

Fox News host Sean Hannity campaigned with DeSantis in Fort Myers, Tampa and Pensacola.

“The media hates that I’m here, and I’m like, too bad,” Hannity said in Pensacola. “It’s great to be on stage with the next Trump-supported governor of the great state of Florida.”

Hannity continue bashing the media, pointing at reporters in the back of the room, saying, “They just say, ‘How dare the president say that we suck?’ No, the people say you suck.”

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PETTY POLITICS

When DeSantis introduced Hannity, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” blared through the room. There’s a good chance the late musician wouldn’t have approved.

Petty once demanded Republican President George W. Bush stop using the song at political events, yet when President Barack Obama used it to walk on stage at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, he told Rolling Stone magazine it gave him chills. The good kind of chills.

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LAKE O, CAN YOU SEE?

What was on the mind of just about everybody running for anything in Florida while the United States celebrated its birthday?

Health care? Education? Immigration? Guns?

Possibly, but Lake Okeechobee took center stage as a toxic algae bloom grew worse and the Army Corps of Engineers announced it was setting aside more than $500 million to speed up repairs to the dike surrounding it.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took some credit for the funding. So did his challenger, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, as did Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, among others.

Then the finger pointing began. Scott accused Nelson of doing nothing during his 28 years in Washington to address the decades-old problem with the dike and releasing algae-tainted water to rivers that flow from the giant lake.

“Now, Bill Nelson suddenly travels down from Washington when there is good news in order to score political points during an election year. It’s a shame that Bill Nelson didn’t care to make Lake Okeechobee a priority,” Scott said in a statement released by his campaign.

Nelson replied on Twitter.

“Instead of playing politics and pointing fingers at everyone but himself, Rick Scott should visit the families who live along these rivers to understand how devastating this toxic algae is to their businesses and daily lives,” Nelson tweeted.

Democratic candidate for governor Philip Levine called on Scott to declare a state of emergency over the toxic algae.

And billionaire Jeff Greene, also a Democratic candidate for governor, wants to get a bird’s eye of the problem. He’s planning to take his personal helicopter for a spin around the lake next week to view the situation.

And DeSantis used the issue to attack Putnam for taking campaign contributions from the sugar industry, which is widely blamed for contributing to Lake Okeechobee’s woes.

“He is captive to big sugar. They own him,” DeSantis said at campaign event.

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ABORTION RIGHTS

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is using Trump’s opportunity to pick a U.S. Supreme Court justice to raise the issue of abortion rights in the governor’s race.

It’s a topic that will also come into play in Florida, where abortion restrictions have been overturned by the state Supreme Court because of privacy rights spelled out in the state constitution.

Three liberal justices will retire the same day that the next Florida governor is sworn in.

Graham is the only woman of the seven major candidates in the governor’s race, and she’s speaking the loudest on the issue.

“Our rights are on the line this November, and I’m going to fight like hell to protect women and Florida’s families,” Graham tweeted Friday.

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