GOP billboard blasts Kathy Castor as a communist

The attack comes as redistricting proposals look to reshape her congressional district to be more Republican friendly.
This Hillsborough Country Republican Party billboard is on northbound Dale Mabry Highway just north of Hillsborough Avenue.
This Hillsborough Country Republican Party billboard is on northbound Dale Mabry Highway just north of Hillsborough Avenue. [ David Lubin ]
Published Dec. 14, 2021|Updated Dec. 17, 2021

Is Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor, the longtime South Tampa congresswoman, former county commissioner, Florida State University-trained lawyer, mother of two and daughter of a judge and a university president, also a “communist”?

The Hillsborough County Republican Party says so.

At a cost of around $5,000 a month, the party is paying for a billboard on a heavily traveled stretch of North Dale Mabry Highway that shows a picture of Castor and the words, “Communism: Tampa’s #1 Enemy.” It adds: “Vote Republican.”

If that sounds odd, it also looks like the first shot across Castor’s bow in what could be her toughest reelection in years, depending on the shape of the congressional districts being drawn by the Republican-dominated state Legislature.

Castor’s Democratic-leaning district would become a swing district under a plan proposed by the state Senate.

According to political insiders of both parties, the possibility of a more Republican-friendly district is tempting state Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, to consider running against Castor.

Castor’s current District 14 went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump 57-42 percent and was designed by the GOP Legislature to concentrate Democrats in one area, making the surrounding districts more Republican. She has won the seat in every general election since 2006 by at least 20 points and run unopposed twice.

Related: Waurishuk dismissive of letter from Florida GOP Chairman Joe Gruters

The proposed district, still centered in South Tampa but extending across the bay into northeast Pinellas County, would cover areas that voted narrowly for Biden, 52-47 percent, according to Democratic political mapping expert Matt Isbell.

Hillsborough County Republican Party Chairman Jim Waurishuk said the billboard, on northbound Dale Mabry Highway at Humphrey Street, is being funded by “a number of private donors.” It went up Nov. 22 and will stay up through Jan. 2.

He wouldn’t reveal the cost, and a spokesman for the billboard company, Outfront Media, declined to say.

Ben Lee of Tampa’s Schifino Lee advertising agency, which frequently buys billboard advertising, said a full-size billboard in that location, north of Hillsborough Avenue, would cost around $5,000 a month.

At a recent county Republican Party meeting, according to attendees, party officials passed out similar yard signs and sought donations for more billboards.

Waurishuk declined to say whether Toledo was involved in any way in the attack on Castor. Toledo didn’t respond to questions via phone and text message.

Asked the rationale for calling Castor a communist, Waurishuk noted Castor’s role as chairman of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, which he said is “the leading proponent for the Green New Deal … a Trojan Horse for Communism.”

He repeated an exaggerated version of GOP criticism of the defunct Green New Deal.

He called it “legislation” whose “ultimate objective (is) to give government total unprecedented power over people’s lives and our entire economy,” and that “small business owners and entrepreneurs would be forever crushed under the enormous costs and bureaucratic inefficiencies and enforcement tactics of a Marxist styled economy,” with “unelected decisionmakers” deciding what people can eat and drive.

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In fact, neither Castor nor the committee supported the Green New Deal, which was a short, non-binding resolution stating ambitious goals proposed by environmental advocates in Congress. It was never voted on in the House and voted down unanimously in the Senate in March 2019.

Castor’s committee has proposed legislation including some of its goals, most with long-term timetables, such as reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In an emailed statement through her spokesperson, Castor called the billboard “an example of how extreme the Republican Party has become.”

She noted her support for pandemic stimulus legislation and said she has been “fighting to keep small businesses and restaurants afloat during the pandemic.”