Where Do The Candidates Stand on GMO Mosquitoes?

No issue is more important than GMO mosquitoes in the upcoming elections for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. Yet candidates in every district have skirted the issue for months, failing to address GMO mosquitoes in their advertising or public speaking unless prompted by journalists or citizen input.

Our Mosquito Board Election Guide

These unclear positions make it hard for the public, which is overwhelmingly against GMO mosquitoes being released in the Florida Keys, to choose how to vote. We oppose GMO mosquitoes anywhere in the Florida Keys. We’ve tracked all the candidates’ positions since the beginning. Here are our findings and recommendations.

How Mosquito Board Voting Works

In Monroe county, mosquito board positions are county-wide votes, meaning every registered voter gets to vote for every seat regardless of the district in which you live. Some of the candidates were eliminated in the primaries and other board seats, such as Chairman Phil Goodman, are not up for replacement in this round. Goodman is staunchly pro-GMO mosquitoes, making it critical that we use our November vote to elect our recommended candidates who will vote against the GMO mosquito test.

District 1: Cranney-Gage vs. Watkins vs. Kofoid

This race is the most important in defeating GMO mosquitoes. Incumbent Jill Cranny-Gage has a long history as a supporter of GMO mosquitoes, echoing Goodman’s views on the subject at several mosquito board meetings. In September, she told the public she was “still in favor of the GM project.” Later, under pressure from citizens and business owners, Jill flip-flopped and claimed she would support the citizens’ referendum and vote NO if the people of Key Haven voted no.

As a resident of Key Haven, Jill can see numerous NO CONSENT signs in the neighborhood as she drives in and out of the area every day. Although it’s clear that Jill Cranny-Gage cannot support a Key Haven test, she has left herself open to testing in other areas of the Florida Keys. We oppose the rearing and release of GMO mosquitoes anywhere in the Florida Keys, and therefore we cannot endorse Cranny-Gage for this seat.

Oliver Kofoid, who goes by “Ollie,” is openly opposed to the use of GMO mosquitoes in the Keys. He is one of the only candidates who has been strong enough in his own convictions to say that he would vote NO on GMO mosquitoes even if the referendum passed, just because it’s not good science and it’s not yet been shown to be a safe technology. Although we agree with Ollie’s position 100%, his opponent Kathryn Watkins has strong local support and has a better chance of winning the election and the important NO vote seat.

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We endorse Kathryn Watkins for Mosquito Control District 1.

Kathryn Watkins is strongly opposed to the use of GMO mosquitoes and has committed to voting NO on any use of the unsafe technology here in the Florida Keys. Watkins, known for her “Spill the Water” campaign, is well-informed on the most effective ways to combat mosquitoes. Getting rid of standing water, known among mosquito folks as “boots on the ground” has always been and will always be the most important preventive measure we can take. Watkins also supports the safer Wolbachia option, which suppresses mosquito-born disesease without the risks of GMOs.

A win for Kathryn Watkins is also a “2-for-1,” as she’s been called in the media. Recently married to local physician Dr. John Norris, Kathryn has access to medical expertise in her own household. This can be nothing but a benefit as mosquito board members are called upon to make important public health decisions. Dr. Norris also strongly opposes a GMO mosquito test, citing concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria which the insects can carry as a result of being raised in tetracycline. Because of her committed stance on NO to GMO mosquitoes, we endorse Kathryn Watkins in District 1.

District 3: Pinder vs. Smith

Brandon Pinder, an IT consultant in Key West, recently published a lengthy statement against the use of GMO mosquitoes which echoes many of our concerns. But his official campaign profile says that he would like to eventually see a trial of GMO mosquitoes in our community. At last week’s meeting of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, Pinder stated that he would not be opposed to GMO mosquito test here. It appears that the candidate wants to ride the wave of publicity against GMO mosquitoes, even though he really supports them.

Brandon Pinder has run a well-funded campaign. Filings with the Supervisor of Elections show he received $5,000 from the Republican Party of Monroe County and an additional $700 from other local Republican groups. Debby Goodman, the Chairman of the Republican Party that made the $5,000 donation, is married to Phil Goodman, Chairman of the Mosquito District. Mr. Goodman is on-record as committed to pushing through a GMO mosquito agenda, regardless of how the public votes in the referendum. In June, Goodman tried to scrap the referendum altogether and force the issue through the board. Could this be why the party is funding Pinder? Given these doubts, we cannot endorse Brandon Pinder in this race.

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We endorse Steve Smith for Mosquito Control District 3.

Steve Smith is the incumbent in District 3 and running for reelection. His primary focus has been the connections between mosquito control, tourism, and our economy. Steve has campaigned alongside Kathryn Watkins and supported her position against GMO mosquitoes. In a recent Facebook post, Smith said that, while the referendum is non-binding, he would vote against GMO mosquito trials here at this time.

Smith has joined over 170,000 people in signing the petition against GMO mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. In an editorial comment in The Blue Paper, Steve is quoted as pointing out other problems with the proposed GMO mosquito test, such as the continued use of pesticides and the need for a 2-year long trial to evaluate even a small area like Key Haven.

Because of his willingness to honor the GMO mosquito referendum in November and his support for Kathryn Watkins, who will also vote NO, we endorse Steve Smith for Mosquito District 3.

District 4: Wood vs. Zuba

Dr. Stanley Zuba’s first-time bid for mosquito control is extremely well-funded, with the candidate himself spending over $15,000 on his own campaign, about half of the total raised. Although Zuba’s emphasis has been on his medical background, his official website is short on facts about GMO mosquitoes and offers no commitment on how he will vote, only a promise that he will “study the issue carefully.” With this issue on the table for nearly 5 years, the time for study is passed. Now is the time for action.

During the primaries, when activist page Never Again asked each of the candidates to take a stand on GMO mosquitoes, Stanley Zuba declined to answer. At the last Hometown candidate’s forum, Zuba went on record saying he would still be open to GMO mosquito trials here. Even more recently, Stanley Zuba spoke at the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce meeting where he said he “liked the science” (a risky approach which hasn’t been vetted by any outside scientists) behind GMO mosquitoes. Because of Stanley Zuba’s unwillingness to take a stand against GMO mosquitoes and his wavering public statements, we do not endorse this candidate for the Mosquito District.

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We endorse Janet Wood for Mosquito Control District 4.

Janet Wood’s campaign Facebook page shows a history of speaking out against the GMO mosquito test. Citing concerns about safety, democracy, and transparency, Wood has promoted the NO on GMO mosquitoes campaign and the safer Wolbachia option. In an interview from August, Wood reiterates that Florida Keys residents should not be subjected to any test without consent.

In election materials submitted to Keys Weekly, Janet Woods lists public health as her main concern in taking a mosquito board position. Janet has a long history of community and charity involvement, including seven years with the Guardian Ad Litem program. Because of her commitment to family and environmental organizations and her clear position against GMO mosquitoes, we endorse Janet Wood for Mosquito Control District 4.

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Vote NO on GMO Mosquitoes

In Monroe County, there are three ways to vote: by mail, early voting in person, or at a precinct. Find out about all your voting options and lookup your registration status online in this companion post. Here’s how to mark your ballot:

  • Mosquito District 1: Kathryn Watkins

  • Mosquito District 3: Steve Smith

  • Mosquito District 4: Janet Wood

  • “Non-Binding Poll”: NO (on GMO Mosquitoes)

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