NextGen Climate PAC vows not to go away despite expensive losses in Florida

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One of the key donors behind anti-Rick Scott political advertisements this election was the political committee NextGen Climate. As of late October, the group dumped $3 million into ads trying to get Scott out of Tallahassee.

The group made Scott one of their key mid-term targets calling him a climate change “denier.” The group also dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars in political strategizing and media attack efforts for issues pertaining to climate change. One of their benefactors was also the failed Greenlight Pinellas transit initiative that was killed overwhelmingly by voters rejecting a sales tax increase.

It’s no surprise then that conservative websites are musing the PAC and its founder, philanthropist Tom Steyer, wasted an awful lot of money. NextGen Climate raised nearly $20 million in Florida. But in a press release from the group, they are claiming quite the opposite.

“Like many Floridians, we are concerned by Governor Scott’s denial of science and his cozy relationship with corporate special interests, like Big Sugar and Duke Energy,” the release read. “With his victory last night, we are hopeful that he will heed the thousands of voters calling for climate action and take concrete steps to represent the interests of all Floridians.”

One of the group’s targets was Duke Energy. This agenda served several purposes. For starters, it drew negative attention to state lawmakers and Governor Crist, for supporting a utility giant in its continued conquest of rate payers who are now on the hook for $3.2 billion for two nuclear projects that have been cancelled.

That much money is easy to get people riled up about – especially when you can campaign under the auspice of caring for the environment. Make no mistake, Steyer does indeed care about the environment and he’s dumping tens of millions of dollars of his own money to prove it. However, the message more forcefully put elected officials who have enjoyed campaign contributions from Duke Energy on the hot seat.

NextGen Climate funded a campaign TV spot attacking Crist for failing to do something to stop Duke Energy from continuing to collect advanced nuclear fees. A law was passed in 2006 allowing utility companies to do that, but NextGen’s ad put the blame on Scott. Politicfact didn’t debunk it entirely saying that the law had nothing to do with Scott, but he does control who is on the Public Service Commission, the sole group with the authority to stop Duke from continuing to collect funds.

The efforts may not have been successful in Florida this time around. Scott pulled a hard-fought victory by a narrow margin less than 2 percent. But they want to make sure voters know they’re not going away.

“NextGen Climate is proud of the 100,000 committed Climate Action Voters that we identified who recognize that climate change is a serious problem. Our organizers have worked tirelessly to bring together these voters and build a robust, grassroots movement through over 1,854,000 door knocks and phone calls.”

And they claim the campaign against Scott did some good, writing, “after studiously avoiding mentions of the environment and climate change for four years, Scott is now on the defensive about these critically important issues, and Floridians will be watching.”

Doing something about climate change and rising sea level rise is something Republicans are only just starting to warm up to. Many have come to acknowledge it exists but stop short at admitting the problem is manmade. That next step is crucial in beginning to implement policies that will slow the effects of climate change.

“The fight against climate change in Florida is just beginning, and NextGen Climate will remain engaged and continue to keep climate on the ballot,” the group concluded in its email.

South Florida is considered to be one of the biggest at-risk areas with some projections showing parts under water eventually. The problem is so feared by leaders, the city of South Miami passed a resolution supporting secession from Florida as the 51st state in the union. Maybe NextGen can fund that battle next.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.