To believe the campaign rhetoric from Florida Democrats, one also must believe that algae blooms and red tides never happened in Florida until Rick Scott became governor – and that he is personally cultivating the stuff and sliming the state’s waterways with it in his spare time.

But old newspaper clippings, some more than 100 years old, tell a much different story: that algae blooms and red tides have always been around. But that doesn’t stop politicians like incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and  Democrat Gwen Graham from pretending the issue is brand new.

Nelson wants to keep his job in the U.S. Senate, while Graham wants to follow in her father’s footsteps to become the next governor. Her father, former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, was elected Governor of Florida in 1978 and held the post through 1986. 

The the finger-pointing by Nelson, Graham, and other Democrats over algae has even garnered national media attention, including recent mentions in the Washington Post, and this blurb in the New York Times:

A few steps away from the St. Lucie River, which has been choked lately with thick blue-green algae that made neighbors sick, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida sat solemnly with a group of elected officials, scientists and activists who had anxious questions about the toxic bloom.

But “sitting solemnly” while doing little to fix the problem is something Senator Nelson has been accused of by Rick Scott. Many of Scott’s campaign ads against Nelson point out that Nelson has accomplished little during his nearly 50-year long political career. And old newspaper clips prove he’s known about algae blooms for decades.

“Washington politician Bill Nelson made a pledge 30 years ago to solve this problem, but Nelson’s a talker, not a doer,” Scott says in a campaign ad. “With Bill Nelson, we get more waiting, more talk, and more algae.”

Nelson was first elected to the state legislature in 1972, and later to the U.S. House of Representatives, before winning his current U.S. Senate seat. 

Meanwhile, Graham has based much of her own campaign on the record of her father, while he was governor. But like Nelson, she, too, has blamed Scott for the algae blooms, even going so far in a letter saying he could become the first governor who “actively worked to harm Florida’s environment.”

Of course, Graham has been called out before for lying about Scott’s environmental record, even by the left-leaning PolitiFact website.

But even more embarrassing for Graham and Nelson: a treasure-trove of newspaper clips that undercut their charges against Scott, while proving that algae blooms have been happening long before Florida’s mid-century population boom.

Perhaps most embarrassing is a headline proving Bill Nelson has long tried to use the regular Lake Okeechobee algae blooms as a campaign prop. He campaigned on the same issue during a failed bid for governor in 1990:

Democrats might be inclined to ignore the text in the article, which reads, “Algae blooms are common during the summer,” while being quick to point out that this particular bloom happened on Republican Governor Bob Martinez’s watch. 

But if Democrats blame a Republican governor for that algae bloom, they’ll have to own this one, which exploded in Lake Okeechobee during the eighth year of Democrat Bob Graham’s term as governor:

Palm Beach Post, August 14, 1986

Apparently at that time, many Floridians did lay the blame at Gwen Graham’s father’s feet, accusing him of all talk and no action. Here’s a clip one month after Graham left the governor’s mansion to become a U.S. Senator:

Tampa Bay Times, January 25, 1987

Both Askew and Graham were, of course, Democrat governors. Interestingly, Bill Nelson served in the Askew administration as a legislative aide in the 1960’s. 

To be fair, of course, the algae blooms are not Bill Nelson’s fault. Or Gwen Graham’s, or her father’s fault. But both Nelson and Graham held power decades ago when algae blooms choked state waters.

Concerned Floridians have debated the imminent doom of Lake Okeechobee and other state waterways for decades, and newspapers around the state have chronicled the comings and goings of red tides, the stench of fish-killing algae, the “anger” of local residents, and the fight against algae in local reservoirs for at least 114 years, including one article dating back to 1904, proving once and for all that politicians have long used algae and red tides as political fodder:

The Madison, Florida New Enterprise, December 8, 1904

Tampa Daily Times, April 3, 1924

The Miami News, December 15, 1931

Palm Beach Post, May 26, 1965

Fort Lauderdale News, June 8, 1970

St. Petersburg Times, June 2, 1971

Pensacola Journal, August 14, 1971

Tampa Tribute, September 26, 1971 

The debate was raging when Bill Nelson first ran for office 47 years ago…

Florida Today, April 19, 1972

And citizens have been mad about it long before 2018:

Tampa Tribune, July 26, 1977

The next time Bill Nelson, or Gwen Graham, or the Florida media, which is equally complicit in the finger-pointing, tries to blame a specific political candidate, administration, or official, remember: algae blooms and red tides have been around for a very, very long time.

Like, for 200 million years:

That’s only a little bit longer than Bill Nelson has been in Washington, sitting solemnly while promising to do something about it.


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