In 2015, the Republican state legislature fundamentally weakened water pollution standards, in a re-write of state water quality law that put the interests of big polluters, like Big Sugar, first. In Congress, Florida Republicans, lead by Senator Rubio, have continuously rejected efforts by the US EPA to tighten standards on water pollution. Rubio, in 2010, was pulled off the back bench by the Fanjul/ Florida Crystals interests to stand as a bulwark against environmental rules and land acquisition plans that conflicted with the family's business model; to shift pollution containment costs to the maximum extent possible to taxpayers.
In early 2016, historic flooding, likely exacerbated by climate change, denied by Rubio -- caused the massive lake in the center of the state, Lake Okeechobee, to rise rapidly during what is normally dry season in Florida. The consequence of the rainfall forced state and federal water managers to release hundreds of billions of dirty, contaminated water down Florida's coastal estuaries, impacting both property owners on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts who are, unsurprisingly, mainly Republican.
The solution to the water crisis in Florida had been in hand, through the plan to acquire US Sugar lands and funding secured through a multi-billion dollar pool of public money, approved by more than 75% of Florida voters in a 2014 constitutional referendum. In 2015, Republican lawmakers refused to allocate the money as voters demanded and water managers, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, x'd the deal made by his predecessor, Charlie Crist. Scott -- who plans to run for US Senate in 2018 -- is strongly embedded in the Big Sugar camp.
Then the rains fell, all the way from north of Lake Okeechobee to Miami-Dade. The pain materialized immediately in local areas impacted by polluted runoff from Lake Okeechobee, laden with decades of fertilizer back pumped from sugar fields south of the lake.
In a Republican county on the Atlantic coast, a Republican challenger emerged in a local county commission race to fight for clean water. Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch is a well-known Martin County realtor who had been mayor of a small town in Martin County. She had all the qualifications to take on a incumbent local county commissioner, Doug Smith, who formed a bulwark protecting Big Sugar's interest in controlling local government, especially where water pollution upstream could impact downstream politics.
Thurlow-Lippisch advocated for and strongly supports taking significant land out of sugarcane production to use for water treatment and storage so that Florida's fragile coastal estuaries, rivers and Everglades don't need to be used as escape valves in order to keep Big Sugar's profits intact at the expense of taxpayers and downstream businesses. Marco Rubio, Florida's US senator from Miami, is the strongest ally of Big Sugar in its aim to squeeze the last cent out of sugar production, including its protections through federal corporate welfare.
Thurlow-Lippisch raised a competitive war chest and was polling favorably to win the GOP primary in August when, unexpectedly, a high school student named Chase Lurgio joined the race as a spoiler. Lurgio, according to a recent blog post by Thurlow-Lippisch, was likely recruited by a Big Sugar loyalist and director of the Jensen Beach Chamber of Commerce.
In a analysis after her loss, Thurlow-Lippisch decoded how political action committees tag-teamed against her. Using the fake candidate Lurgio and a series of last-minute, attack mailers to likely voters, Big Sugar made sure that taxpayers would be denied an elected officer whose stated aim was to protect their shared interests. The attacks were indirectly funded by Big Sugar through a series of political action committees that legally launder contributions so that corporate identities can be effectively shielded until after the election.
On her blog, Thurlow-Lippisch published a series of analyses culled from publicly available information on the state election data site to show what happened to her campaign. Her work is a public service, including this recent documentation:
Crystal Mills Lucas is now facing a similar "hit job" by Big Sugar, involving the same political action committees nested like Russian dolls that took out Thurlow-Lippisch. Lucas is a Democrat running for state house district 83, also in Martin County.
A former school teacher who loves the outdoors, surfs and fishes and recreates on Florida's once pristine coast, Lucas became outraged and energized to run for public office as a result of the devastating pollution now coursing through waterways she shares with so many Floridians and tourists and local small businesses. Her website describes her reason for running:
Crystal Lucas was born and raised in Florida. She has a deep connection to this state and wants to fight to protect it and help it to prosper. Crystal has been on the forefront of speaking out for the Treasure Coast in the last 10 years and will continue that effort when she is elected. She brings the outlook of a community leader and servant. She proudly serves as the Vice-Chair of the Martin County Local Planning Agency and the Chair of the Martin County Affordable Housing Committee.
She brings the outlook of an educator. Crystal has taught High School in Martin County public schools and now is teaching at Indian River State College. She understands what it means to be a business owner. Crystal and her husband own and operate a marine woodworking business that has thrived and grown. She is a mother who understands the issues facing families today. She is raising her daughter to be an independent leader and wants to work to protect the rights of women.
She is involved in the community. Speaking out against the discharges from Lake Okeechobee, founding a marine focused youth film festival, acting as the route director for the Marathon of the Treasure Coast and diligently working to get Amendment 1 passed in 2014.
A recent attack mailer against Lucas is filled with straight-out lies, claiming that she is, herself, a polluter. The allegations against Lucas is a flat-out lie.
The sad fact is that Big Sugar is spending to protect its profits ahead of taxpayers in Florida's polluted coastal areas. Big Sugar depends on Florida's fragmented media markets to ensure that the trail of tears is never fully mapped to connect voters with what manifestly harms their own interests.
This is a form of psychological warfare that only educated, informed voters can bring to a stop by refusing to return office-holders who are bought and paid for by powerful, wealthy insiders.
The first on that long list: US Senator Marco Rubio. If you are a Republican angry about the status quo, take this first step: stop voting for a Republican ticket that works against the interests of taxpayers. That list begins with Marco Rubio.