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. Citizens for Safe Science opposes 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 criticalthat 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 concerned citizens and business owners, Jill flip-flopped and claimed she would support the 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. Citizens for Safe Science opposes 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.

Citizens for Safe Science endorses 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, Citizens for Safe Science endorses 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, Citizens For Safe Science cannot endorse Brandon Pinder in this race.

Citizens for Safe Science endorses 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, Citizens for Safe Science endorses Steve Smith for Mosquito District 3.