Hillsborough GOP says Kathy Castor is a communist. That’s ‘completely false’

PolitiFact | Communism refers to the government takeover of private industry. Castor has not proposed changing the United States’ system of governance to communism.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, left, listens to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, right, during a press conference Aug. 18, 2020, outside the USPS branch in downtown St. Petersburg.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, left, listens to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, right, during a press conference Aug. 18, 2020, outside the USPS branch in downtown St. Petersburg. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Times ]
Published Dec. 21, 2021

As Florida Republicans seek to redraw congressional boundaries to give them an advantage in 2022, they are targeting a Democrat in what could become a swing district by hammering her with the communist label.

A billboard in Hillsborough County shows a photo of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and says: “Communism: Tampa’s #1 Enemy.” It adds: “Vote Republican.”

The chairman of the county GOP group, Jim Waurishuk, told the Tampa Bay Times that it labeled Castor a communist because of her position on the Green New Deal, a sweeping resolution that seeks to propose solutions to climate change. But that rationale doesn’t make sense.

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 ]

The GOP group’s attack on Castor follows a series of Republican attacks on Democrats calling them communist sympathizers or socialists. Such attacks, reminiscent of the McCarthyism of the 1950s, have resonated with some Latino voters, including in Florida, whose families fled authoritarian regimes. A Democratic polling firm, Equis Research, found that four in 10 Latino voters in 2020 were concerned about socialism and that their concern was a predictor of supporting Donald Trump.

Such attacks could carry weight in Hillsborough during the midterms. Castor, first elected in 2006, has easily won elections in a safe, left-leaning district. But Republican state senators are seeking to redraw congressional boundaries in a way that could pull in more conservative areas to make it a swing district.

The Hillsborough County GOP, which brought former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to headline its annual fundraiser six years ago, has veered to the right. The group is now defined by its loyalty to Trump and some of his loudest supporters, such as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Castor isn’t a proponent of the Green New Deal

When the Tampa Bay Times asked Waurishuk for the group’s rationale for calling Castor a communist, he noted Castor’s role as chair of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, which he said is “the leading proponent for the Green New Deal” which he called “a Trojan Horse for Communism.”

Waurishuk described the Green New Deal as legislation with an “ultimate objective to give government total unprecedented power over people’s lives and our entire economy.” He said “small business owners and entrepreneurs would be forever crushed under the enormous costs and bureaucratic inefficiencies and enforcement tactics of a Marxist styled economy.” (We contacted Waurishuk to ask if he had anything to add to his comments he sent to the Tampa Bay Times and we did not get a reply by our deadline.)

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That’s a distortion of both Castor’s record and the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a resolution — a non-binding proposal — and not actual legislation. And Castor was not among the roughly 100 cosponsors of the resolution when U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced it in 2019 and in 2021. Senate Republicans killed the resolution in 2019, and it hasn’t moved forward this year.

Castor has been a leader on proposing solutions to climate change. In late 2018, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, named Castor to serve as chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Castor told E&E News in December 2018 that Green New Deal advocates “have some terrific ideas,” however “that’s not going to be our sole focus.”

In June 2020, Castor’s committee released a 500-page report that shared some goals with the Green New Deal, such as cutting carbon dioxide emissions. It also called for improving the flood insurance program, helping farmers adapt to climate change and adding jobs.

Experts say Castor’s climate change work does not make her a communist

But Castor’s work to address climate change doesn’t mean she is a communist, professors who are experts in political theory or taxation told PolitiFact.

“I will be blunt. The claim is just ridiculous,” said Oxana Shevel, who teaches at Tufts University about the formerly Communist region surrounding Russia. “Communism is a political system centered around one-party rule and state ownership of all economic resources. To assert that supporting any particular solutions to climate change — be it the Green New Deal or anything else for that matter — equals communism makes no sense whatsoever.”

Ted Henken, who teaches sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College, told us that “regulating economic activity for the common good (as in environmental legislation that limits pollution) is actually beneficial for sustainable economic growth over the long term and completely different from the government takeover of the economy via state companies and the elimination of the market.”

Communism is the elimination of the market and private property and their replacement by an all-powerful, bureaucratic plan, Henken said. Communism seeks to establish a system of collective control over the means of production and resources.

“Nothing in Castor’s record even remotely hints that she advocates this,” Henken said.

Daniel Shaviro, a professor of taxation at New York University, told us that calling Castor a communist based on her position on climate change is “completely false and indefensible.”

“There is a broad scientific consensus that climate change is potentially disastrous and needs to be addressed,” Shaviro said. “To call this ‘communism’ is not only false and insane, but seems to imply, falsely, that only communists want to save humanity. It’s like saying that the polio vaccine, or good nutrition and exercise, or trying to get a good night’s sleep, or taking care of your children, are ‘communist’ ideas.”

An advisor for Castor, Clay Phillips, sent us a statement in which Castor described herself as a “progressive capitalist” and a “lifelong Democrat.” The statement pointed to efforts by Castor to protect the environment, including a bill to ban oil drilling in federal waters off Florida’s coast, and said the climate action plan would “create millions of good-paying jobs in future years.”

Our ruling

A billboard by the Hillsborough County GOP refers to Castor as a communist.

The billboard provides no explanation for its conclusion, but the group’s chair told the Tampa Bay Times that it used the label because Castor is “the leading proponent for the Green New Deal.” That’s wrong on many levels.

First, Castor isn’t a leading proponent of the Green New Deal or even one of the roughly 100 House members who cosponsored the resolution in 2019 and 2021.

Second, communism refers to a system in which a government takes over private property and controls production. We haven’t seen any evidence that Castor has called for anything remotely resembling that type of political system. Castor’s work to propose solutions to combat climate change does not make her a communist.

Pants on Fire
Pants on Fire [ PolitiFact ]

We rate this statement Pants on Fire.