During the Jeb Bush era as governor of Florida, Cantons was the Republican water carrier for a massive effort by Big Sugar to undermine and re-write water quality protections for the Everglades. Those protections -- after decades of litigation -- were finally memorialized in the 1994 settlement agreement between the state and federal government; an agreement that resulted in the 2000 Everglades Restoration Plan. Undoing decades of effort to protect the Everglades, based on solid science, was one of Jeb's dimmest achievements. While those changes scattered environmentalists howling and sent some back to federal court, Cantens resigned and was appointed by the Fanjuls to attend their court, a rich reward for his work on their behalf.
When Charlie Crist became Florida's next governor, as a Republican, he pointedly ignored the Jeb! legacy on many fronts, especially the one related to the Everglades and the operations of the South Florida Water Management District. The district, whose governing board is appointed by the governor, is the sole taxing entity that provides money -- lots of it -- to the state side of the restoration equation. Since sugar began to be farmed in nearly one million acres of the Everglades Agricultural Area, the district has been controlled by Big Sugar.
The complete story of what happened in 2008 when Crist reached out to the Fanjul's competitor, US Sugar Corporation, to buy more than 130,000 acres of lands in sugar production for eventual return to the Everglades has never been written. But it is surely the subtext if not overtly so, of Crist's meeting with Alfy Fanjul.
"Mr Fanjul, Governor Crist is in the anteroom. How long shall we have him wait?"
The Fanjuls were outraged by Governor Crist's effort to tip the scales of Everglades restoration back towards the public interest in clean, fresh water for the Everglades by taking a big chunk out of sugar production. The New York Times wrote at the time, "When Gov. Charlie Crist announced Florida’s $1.75 billion plan to save the Everglades by buying out a major landowner, United States Sugar, he declared that the deal would be remembered as a public acquisition “as monumental as the creation of the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone. … Standing amid the marshes at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in June 2008, Mr. Crist said, “I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, the people of Florida and the people of America — as well as our planet — than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration."
It is not going to be so easy to let bygones be bygones even if the entire story remains obscured. What can be pieced together is this: the enmity of the Fanjuls accrued to the advantage of Jeb!'s wing man in the legislature, Marco Rubio, who was propelled over challenger Charlie Crist to the US Senate thanks to Big Sugar money in the 2010 campaign. (In an interesting sidebar, the Democrats supported in that race Congressman Kendrick Meek, whose family connections to support from Big Sugar virtually guaranteed that Rubio would speed by Crist. And he did.)
Big Sugar is the most powerful dark force in Florida politics. It has allies, of course: the rock mining industry and forces allied with the Koch brothers / Tea Party for example. Billionaires like billionaires. With the legislature and executive office held by the GOP, it is very hard to imagine why the Fanjuls would even entertain shifting their allegiance in the governor's race, except that the incumbent, Rick Scott, has among the lowest approval ratings in the nation. Then, too, the public outrage in south Florida to water management practices that favor Big Sugar at the expense of billions of dollars of real estate on Florida's estuaries give Charlie Crist an opening. Much of that real estate on the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee, stretching down to Naples, is owned by angry Republicans.
As for the Everglades, the restoration plan remains hostage to the profits guaranteed by the worst of corporate welfare embedded in the Farm Bill. You would think the GOP in Congress and Tea Party acolytes would be racing to evince their support for free markets and opposition to subsidies by eliminating the sugar program, the one that pays for the billionaire's domination of Florida politics. They won't and don't. The GOP support for Big Sugar is inviolable, the same way as land ownership is in the Everglades Agricultural Area; about a million acres that holds Everglades restoration hostage. The preternaturally sunny Charlie Crist would like bygones to be bygones with the Big Sugar billionaires, but with that he will need the help of Florida voters.