Friday, August 01, 2014

For Florida voters, the GOP Rick Scott scandal will not go away … by gimleteye

There is no good spin the Republican Party of Florida, GOP legislative leaders, or Gov. Rick Scott can put on the exposure by the Tampa Bay Times that all received gilded trips to the King Ranch in Texas, paid for by the state's shadow government, Big Sugar.

Now more news: a month after Gov. Scott's secret hunting trip he appointed the top manager of the King Ranch operation in Florida to the board of the South Florida Water Management District.

Call it:  crony capitalism at its most explicit. Florida voters would not know it even happened, except for a pair of intrepid reporters at the Times and the support of their newspaper.

There is a further point to make about the King Ranch. In Texas, water has been privatized just like oil. The King Ranch is as powerful in Texas as the oil industry.

The rest of the nation conceived the public responsibility to manage water resources differently. Private utilities have always played a small role, because water was first recognized as a public right. That's exactly the kind of thinking that crony capitalists despise.

Florida conceived the water management districts, all supervised by boards appointed by the governor, in order to balance the allocation of water resources. Clean, affordable fresh water: ring a bell?

In Texas, dominating water resources is a neat business model when cities and the environment are thirsty. So why not change Florida to the way things work in Texas?

Voters don't need to track back much further than 2011 -- that's three years ago for those who can subtract -- when Governor Scott's environmental chief, Herschel Vinyard, debunked the notion to the Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman (one of the reporters who broke the King Ranch/Big Sugar/Rick Scott scandal), "... he's interested only in saving the taxpayers money through greater efficiency, not seizing control of the water supply. "I'm not a conspiracy theorist."

The follow up question would now be: if you are not a conspiracy theorist, in light of the recent scandal, what exactly are you?

Influence peddling, crony capitalism, and deceit (redistricting, anyone?)  is all part of Florida's GOP program.

It is time for voters to take ownership of the mess we've permitted; that's the real take-away from serial scandals roiling the GOP.

Tampa Bay Times

After Scott's secret trip to King Ranch, he tapped ranch employee for state regulatory board

July 31, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — A month after Gov. Rick Scott took a secret hunting trip to the King Ranch in Texas last year, he faced a big decision.

A seat had come open on the board that oversees Florida's efforts on the multi-billion-dollar project to repair damage to the Everglades caused by agriculture. To fill that position, Scott picked a corporate executive named Mitchel A. "Mitch" Hutchcraft.

Hutchcraft's major qualification for a seat on the South Florida Water Management District board: He is the vice president in charge of the King Ranch's Florida agricultural acreage.

"That's astounding," said David Guest of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which has repeatedly sued the agency over its protection of Lake Okeechobee and other water-related issues.

Scott's announcement of Hutchcraft's appointment in March 2013 made no mention of what the governor's staff called a fundraising trip the month before. Scott's trip wasn't listed anywhere on his official calendar, nor is there any mention of King Ranch donations from that period in his campaign finance reports.

Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and several current and former leaders of the Florida House took secret trips to the famed Texas ranch that were financed at least in part by the sugar industry. Those confirming that they went refused to provide details about the trips.

Instead they referred reporters' questions to the Republican Party of Florida, although party leaders said they did not go on those trips. A party spokeswoman, Susan Hepworth, said she did not know if anyone other than sugar lobbyists and executives accompanied the politicians, and said the party never discloses any details of its fundraising.

In response to questions from Times/Herald reporters, a spokesman for Scott's re-election campaign, Greg Blair, issued a statement this week that said while Scott was at the ranch "no state business was discussed." He also said Scott killed a buck that he paid to have mounted as a trophy.

Hutchcraft, who has worked for King Ranch since 2007, declined to be interviewed about his appointment. His boss, King Ranch CEO Robert Underbrink, did not return calls.

Hutchcraft was one of 11 applicants for three openings on what's been described as the "most powerful unelected, unpaid government seats in South Florida." He told the Fort Myers News-Press that his top priorities were "polluted water flows from Lake Okeechobee and area Everglades restoration projects" -- two subjects dear to the heart of sugar companies such as his employer.

King Ranch's holdings in Florida are extensive. In southern Florida, it owns 40,000 acres in a dozen separate citrus groves that make it the state's largest grower of juice oranges. It also owns 20,000 acres near Belle Glade, 12,000 of which is devoted to sugar cane and the rest to sod, sweet corn, green beans and specialty lettuce.

Two of King Ranch's corporate entities, Consolidated Citrus and Running W, have been reliable contributors to Republican candidates in Florida, chipping in $41,450 since Hutchcraft came aboard in 2007. Democrats have received only $500 during the same period.

Hutchcraft's Linkedin profile says his King Ranch position puts him in charge of "land acquisition, protection of assets from changing regulations, long term value enhancement of real estate assets, public policy, and operational enhancement through real estate projects."

In his application for the South Florida Water Management District seat, Hutchcraft said his years with King Ranch and land development .prepared him well for the board.

"I had to learn how to work with natural and economic systems to ensure efficient use of water and natural resources, and with a variety of stakeholders," he said in his Jan. 9, 2013, application. "As a member of the 'regulated community', I am well versed in the role (SFWMD) serves in protecting the public interest."

His identification as part of that "regulated community" is explored further in a 2012 book he co-wrote for the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management that argued agribusiness needed a greater say in water policy.

"The vast majority of the U.S. population does not know what goes on beyond the water faucet and the grocery store," according to an excerpt from Agricultural Water: Protecting the Future of Our Nation. "Only agricultural producers can tell the whole story first hand and have both the knowledge base and the need to do so."

His 2013 application was his second bid for appointment to the board. He tried in 2011 but Scott picked someone else.

Despite the opportunity for conflicts, appointing industry insiders to boards that oversee and regulate their interests is not unusual. At the same time Scott appointed Hutchcraft, he also appointed a development consultant named Rick Barber to another open seat on the board. Hutchcraft replaced Joe Collins, vice president of Lykes Brothers in Tampa. Lykes is one of the largest landowners in the U.S., with large cattle, citrus and sugar holdings throughout Florida.

Hutchcraft is well known to environmental activists in Southwest Florida, who opposed his push for a growth plan in Hendry County that allowed greater development of the ranch's property there, according to Andrew McElwaine, former head of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

But Eric Draper, of Audubon Florida, wrote a letter in support of Hutchcraft's 2013 application, stating his "collaborative and science-based approach to land and water management will make him a valuable member of (SFWMD)."

A seat on the water management district board offers no salary, but considerable influence. The South Florida district is the largest of the state's five water management districts, with a budget of more than $700 million and about 1,600 employees. Its jurisdiction stretches across 16 counties, from Orlando to the Florida Keys.

In addition to overseeing such issues as who gets permits to pump water from the ground and how much can be pumped, the district is overseeing the state's part of the massive, multi-billion-dollar, Everglades restoration project. This work has the sugar industry's full attention, in part because state officials have bought some sugar acreage for restoration projects.

Prior to taking his job with King Ranch in 2007, Hutchcraft spent six years working for one of Southwest Florida's biggest developers, Bonita Bay Properties. He also served as campaign treasurer for a county commissioner making decisions on Bonita Bay's controversial development plans. After overseeing development of thousands of homes there, he left in 2007 after he saw "the fundamentals in the real estate market changing," he told the Naples Daily News.

Although Guest was surprised by the timing of Scott's hunting trip and Hutchcraft's appointment, he said he sees it as part of a pattern of Scott administration hires: "Let's get a representative of the folks who want someone in here to run the store."

Information from the Fort Myers News-Press was used in this story. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Michael Van Sickler at Follow @mikevansickler. Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.

After Scott's secret trip to King Ranch, he tapped ranch employee for state regulatory board 07/31/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 6:08pm]


Anonymous said...

Experts agree. Rick Scott is a scumbag!

Geniusofdespair said...

Mitch Hutchcraft got the endorsement for the SFWMD board by none other than "I'll Greenwash anybody": Audubon's Eric Draper.

Dave said...

What % of Florida voters would you say are aware that this whole scandal happened? I'd put the over/under at 5%.

Former Democrat and Obama Voter said...

While he was governor, Charlie Crist handpicked his unqualified friend Jim Greer to take over the Florida State GOP organization. Greer proceeded to engage in massive fraud and embezzlement in his position. If you are looking for a scandal, you need look no further than Charlie Crist.

Anonymous said...

We gonna kick Scott out of office!!!! I got my absentee ballot today, and I am going to feel real good on Monday when I mail it in.

Christopher Kennard said...

I am an Independent Voter who has been both a Republican (opposing the LBJ’s Vietnam War), and a Democrat who has served as a Local Union President and AFL-CIO officer in Florida, heavily involved in Florida and national politics.

Now, I am an Independent Voter who has lost faith in both of the major political parties.

I began this election primarily supporting the two citizen’s ballot initiatives Constitutional Amendment # 1 “Water and Land Conservation and Constitutional Amendment # 2 “Use of Marijuana For Certain Medical Conditions”.

I work as a volunteer coordinator organizing citizen support to approval these laws on election day. Both measures now enjoy wide voter support. They will be voted into law this year.

The failure of the Democratic Party not to insist upon primary debates between primary election candidates causes more damage and has far greater impact to our election process than Charlie Crist or any other one individual candidate’s refusal to engage in debate.

The Democratic Party must come to realize that it is creating and abetting negative precedents of great potential harm to come back to haunt all voters further. It is destroying the party and upsetting the balance in elective politics.

On the other side of the coin is the recent guilty conviction of the Florida Republican Party for fixing district voting boundaries for political gain and to protect incumbent politicians running for reelection.

It appears to this voter that both major political parties, Democrats and Republicans, are corrupting the political process in Florida. I believe this negatively affects everyone residing in Florida - Democrats, Republican, Independents, Libertarians and all others who live in Florida.

What can voters do under these circumstances?

I cannot do much regarding the Republican Party and their corruption of our political process, other than vote in the primary elections on November 4th, 2014 to throw out everyone now who is in office running for reelection, and to elect the best new candidates I can vote for.

But I can do something about the Democratic Party. I just switched my voter registration from being an Independent Voter to be a Democrat so I can vote in the Democratic primary.

Two years from now, I will repeat and complete the process of throwing the rest of this “tainted” pack of politician out of office and, by then, hope to have honest people who can think for themselves and better represent the citizens of Florida, on the local, state and federal levels of elective office.

I encourage everyone to vote for Nan Rich and bypass Charlie Crist unless he engages in meaningful, respectful primary debates and get off his high horse that people will vote for him if he hides from Democratic voters during the primary, and thereby secure the Democrats endorsement to run for Governor. If he doesn’t win the primary, he does not run at all.

Does the Charlie Crist camp and Democratic Party really believe that we will be stampeded into voting for Crist otherwise?

Guess again.

Let’s turn this mess from being a Lemon of an election to becoming a wonderful glass of Lemonade that we share together as we celebrate different election results than the party politicos have attempted to thrust down our throats.

Who says money counts more than people’s votes! After all, the money is to buy the prize, which is our vote. We need to consider our vote, and the whole elective voting process to be sacred and redeeming. This country does not have to lie in the gutter with corrupt politicians.

Hope to see y’all at the voting polls this year. “Double” your personal impact upon these elections and bring someone who may not otherwise have voted with you to go vote.

Peace Love Light within and with you and yours, always . . . .

Anonymous said...

EOM continues to be the best blog in Florida. Please keep up the good work. We appreciate your timely and factual posts.

Anonymous said...

Let's just get to the nitty gritty on this. Nan Rich has run a piss poor campaign against Crist. If she can't even run a simple campaign and get people to support her and give her money, how in the world can she run a winnable campaign against Scott? Or govern the state of Florida?

Just putting your name on the ballot is not enough. We have got serious business to take care of ---- send Scott back home. When this election is over we need to look at Rich. Will she run hard to get Crist elected, or will she throw rocks from the side line and help Scott? The answer will turn on exactly why she is in this race.

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope Nan will never support Crist.
Crist is not a Democrat and never will be. Who knows under which party's flag he will run next time.

Anonymous said...

Scott supporter above, do you think she will abandon the Democratic party's nominee Crist and support Scott, the republican, in the general election?