This congressional district is drowning. Will voters choose a Republican to save it?

Rep. Carlos Curbelo's district is drowning.The South Florida Republican represents the low-lying 26th...

Posted: Oct 15, 2018 3:03 PM
Updated: Oct 15, 2018 3:03 PM

Rep. Carlos Curbelo's district is drowning.

The South Florida Republican represents the low-lying 26th District, which encompasses southwestern Miami, the Florida Keys and the Everglades — areas most at risk of rising sea levels as a result of climate change. Tidal flooding, or flooding that occurs during high tide, has become common in coastal areas like these, a phenomenon scientists attribute in part to sea level rise.

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The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported this month that the world's temperatures are on track to increase past an important marker as soon as 2030. That would speed up the risk of flooding, extreme weather and more in places like the 26th District.

Curbelo's political survival could now depend on his ability to convince voters most threatened by climate change that he is their best choice to combat it. For Curbelo, that means convincing a skeptical electorate that a Republican can be an effective voice in combatting a threat that much of the party's rural base well inside the coasts -- and even its President, who has called global warming a Chinese hoax -- prefers to ignore.

Again casting doubt on scientists' conclusion that humans are causing global warming, Trump said on "60 Minutes" Sunday night that scientists "have a very big political agenda."

"I don't want to give trillions and trillions of dollars" fighting climate change, Trump said. "I don't want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don't want to be put at a disadvantage."

Running for a third term in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 16 percentage points in 2016, Curbelo is among the most endangered Republicans in the House. But operatives in both parties see him as unusually strong for a Republican in such a blue district -- largely due to his willingness to buck the GOP on issues like climate change.

"If people try to dismiss me, I'll say, 'Hey, that's OK. When my district is under water, I'll go to yours and run against you," he joked in an interview with CNN last week.

His task could be difficult, however.

"Carlos Curbelo is amazing. We love him. He has done so much, as far as bringing the conversation about sea level rise and climate change to the floor," said Elizabeth Jolin, the director of Florida Bay Forever, an Everglades restoration advocacy group.

Yet the group endorsed Curbelo's Democratic challenger, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Jolin said that's because she can't separate Curbelo from "the context of what's happening nationally under this President's policies."

"We see Carlos as one of very few Republicans who has been willing to speak out, quite vocally, about good science, real science, the facts of climate change," Jolin said. "And it's not enough. We want to see his party do more."

Matt Bellinger, a fishing guide with Bamboo Charters, said he is a moderate Republican who is "looking real hard at a lot of Democrats."

"I voted for Trump. I like some of the stuff he's doing. But his environmental stand, I'm not real thrilled with. If I took him out on the boat today, I'd show him," Bellinger said.

"People need to be out here in the environment, all around the United States and around the world, to see these changes," he said. "Cause once you see them, it's hard to deny."

One Republican who has seen the threat facing Florida's environment, Bellinger said, is Curbelo. He said Curbelo visited his marina and "after talking to him, my vote was with him."

Curbelo has highlighted his break from the GOP on climate change in campaign ads. Mucarsel-Powell, meanwhile, has made protecting the environment a leading issue in her ads.

Mucarsel-Powell, a former associate dean at Florida International University, said that "what we cannot afford to have is a Republican majority that still denies that climate change exists."

Curbelo says he is slowly winning over Republicans -- particularly younger House members.

Along with Democratic Florida Rep. Ted Deutsch, Curbelo launched a bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which now has more than 80 members. To join, House members are required to pair with a member of the other party -- a rule intended to eventually create momentum behind legislation that members of both party's bases might dislike.

His case to fellow Republicans is often to compare the environment with fiscal responsibility. "If we pass on an unsustainable environmental debt to our kids and grandkids, it's going to crush them," he said.

"You're not going to get from 0 to 100 in six months or in a year, but over the course of a few years of working and convincing colleagues and educating colleagues, you can actually get some good outcomes," Curbelo said.

"This is how you build coalitions and convince people by explaining things in ways that they can relate to them and understand them, and not by trying to scare them or threatening them," he said. "But certainly time is running out and more and more colleagues are becoming aware of that."

Climate change wasn't at the forefront of Cubelo's 2014 campaign for Congress. And in 2016, he voted to support a House GOP resolution opposing a carbon tax.

But this year, Curbelo changed tack, introducing a bill that would tax carbon emissions and, in the process, raise $700 million for infrastructure spending. The bill replaces the federal gas tax and would place a moratorium on environmental regulations if carbon emissions targets are met. The bill, Curbelo said, includes carrots to attract Republican support. It pumps money into infrastructure -- a goal of Trump's. It includes a border adjustment tax, an idea advocated by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, on countries that don't have policies to protect the environment.

Curbelo said Republicans' interest in climate change has grown as lawmakers representing agriculture-heavy districts have seen farmers' concerns about changing weather patterns grow. He also argued that GOP interest in his bill has grown as Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt was ousted from Trump's administration and the President withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord.

"Some of that recklessness has actually helped build the bipartisan coalition that will be needed in Congress to meaningfully address the environment," he said.

Mucarsel-Powell argued that there's no time for Curbelo's slow, methodical approach to an issue that is "a real threat to the existence" of the district.

"We need a caucus that's actually going to bring a bill to the floor, and we haven't seen any action," Mucarsel-Powell said.

"The only way that we're actually going to bring a bill that's going to be considered and possibly voted on is if we have a Democratic majority," she said. "It's been one of our top priorities for decades now, for Democrats, and we don't have any time to waste."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
Pearl River9098221
Lafayette8241137
Hancock7514112
Washington7102150
Oktibbeha6964124
Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
Bolivar6115144
Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
Adams4416116
Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
Yazoo423386
Covington415792
Sunflower4148104
Marion4099104
Leake397586
Coahoma3957100
Newton370875
Grenada3556104
Stone350860
Tishomingo336289
Attala325387
Jasper314162
Winston304691
Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
Montgomery172454
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 784484

Reported Deaths: 13921
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1111691760
Mobile707171225
Madison49549625
Baldwin36108489
Shelby36062314
Tuscaloosa33661547
Montgomery33066676
Lee22407219
Calhoun21041405
Morgan19734334
Etowah19001459
Marshall17619274
Houston16697382
St. Clair15361303
Cullman14506257
Limestone14505187
Elmore14387260
Lauderdale13436280
Talladega12855234
DeKalb12140236
Walker10524329
Blount9649156
Autauga9642137
Jackson9325156
Coffee8793175
Dale8529172
Colbert8482182
Tallapoosa6616177
Escambia6553120
Covington6420165
Chilton6342143
Russell602455
Franklin5758101
Chambers5370133
Marion4769117
Dallas4676187
Pike460096
Clarke459878
Geneva4371116
Winston422994
Lawrence4107108
Bibb407380
Barbour343270
Marengo325683
Monroe317152
Butler316490
Randolph304456
Pickens301873
Henry300357
Hale291584
Cherokee288353
Fayette277973
Washington245148
Crenshaw237069
Cleburne231150
Clay226765
Macon218658
Lamar193342
Conecuh181346
Lowndes170758
Coosa168033
Wilcox159736
Bullock148842
Perry136336
Sumter124336
Greene120642
Choctaw73326
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While some cool mornings are again in store for the weekend, afternoons start to warm up a bit, so plan on dressing in layers if you're heading to the MSU or Bama games, because you'll need to utilize them in different ways.
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