Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Angry Bees need to ignite a swarming strategy: the "take no money from Sugar" pledge is a place to start … by gimleteye

Florida's top GOP officials are tight lipped and indignant that civic activists and environmental leaders continue to press for the purchase of lands owned by US Sugar. Call the protesters, the Angry Bees.

The politicians and governing board appointees for the South Florida Water Management District have offered up a thousand excuses, why there is no fix to relieve the pollution spewing from Lake Okeechobee by using lands for storage in sugar production south of the lake, in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

But the biggest excuse they have is a political one: Gov. Rick Scott won re-election in November 2014: to the victor, go the spoils.

It is a curious assessment, given that Scott won by barely one percent. Yet it is one that prevails. For Big Sugar, there has never been a political climate more favorable to its interests than today's.

If the Angry Bees had managed to persuade 1 percent of voters that their cause was truly Florida's future, the result would have been vastly different for Big Sugar.

There would have been a governor at least willing to carry the torch for land acquisition in the Everglades Agricultural Area, rather than one -- Rick Scott -- willing to use a torch to set fire to every village in the state.

This metaphor captures how Scott's policies are doing so much harm to Florida's future; but specifically, torching the hopes to fix the Everglades and the estuaries within the lifetime of anyone reading this blog. What's worse: Gov. Scott and his lieutenants and the GOP hierarchy all seem immune -- utterly oblivious -- to criticism from the press.

Nearly every editorial board in the state of Florida has clearly announced its support for purchasing more sugar lands in order to protect people, protest the estuaries and the Everglades.

The election eve disclosure by the Tampa Bay Times -- that US Sugar had been ferrying top GOP legislators to secret hunting trips on the King Ranch in Texas -- might have nudged the electorate. But voters did not have the chance to connect how King Ranch properties in Palm Beach County block the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee through to the Everglades. (See the oval and arrows, for how the King Ranch interests work: they stand in the way of any assemblage of acreage to provide a southern flow way and water storage from the Lake to the Everglades.)

For Florida's GOP, ignoring the press has been standard operating procedure for many years. The dismal conduct began with Jeb Bush whose predetermined outcomes could not be swayed by any logic by the Fourth Estate. Charlie Crist was also oblivious to outside pressure. It is a phenomenon, though, that Gov. Rick Scott has elevated to virtue.

It is not just that reporters, editorial board members, and bloggers don't count: in Rick Scott's world, they don't count at all.

This is what the Angry Bees need to factor into a new strategy: GOP leaders have concluded, based on the overwhelming influence of unlimited campaign contributors, that the public doesn't count. The only way to change this conviction, is through violent revolution, a Constitutional Convention (for real campaign finance reform), or at the polls.

Big Sugar and vested interests are overplaying their hands, swatting at the Angry Bees, and that makes one of these outcomes more likely; change "at the polls".

The area the Angry Bees need to focus is not the Indian River but the other side of the state: the counties in Southwest Florida.

These counties: Charlotte, Manatee, Lee, Sarasota and Collier mostly voted for Rick Scott with a 51 percent margin. In contrast, the eastern counties : Indian River, St. Lucie, Marin and Palm Beach -- gave Crist a 56 percent vote. Miami-Dade and Broward, the two population engines of the Florida electorate solidly supported Crist by nearly 60 percent of the vote.

The best way for the Angry Bees to turn the tide in 2016: voter registration drives based on their area of interest. The only way to overcome the shock and awe of unlimited campaign contributions is through voter awareness.

This explains why voter suppression is a key tactic of the Florida GOP. The Angry Bees -- many of whom are Republican -- have the motivation, because Gov. Rick Scott, his governing board appointees at the South Florida MAnagement District, and key GOP legislators have already made clear, to the public and to the press: we hear you and we don't give a fuck.

US Sugar agreed to sell its properties to the public in 2010. The other principal component of Big Sugar -- Florida Crystals owned by the billionaire Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach -- opposed the strategy to put more agricultural land to the purpose of remediating its pollution. Big Sugar also complained there was no money other than tax revenue and made very certain through unlimited campaign contributions that its chosen proxies -- mostly but not exclusively Republican -- would not raise taxes for any purpose despite the fact the entire industry is supported by government subsidies.

So what did the people do? They went to the ballot, created, and passed an amendment to the Florida Constitution guaranteeing a source of funding for land acquisition for environmental purposes -- from the documentary sales revenue from real estate transactions. Big Sugar (mostly) sat on the sidelines during the run up to the 2014 vote, when 78 percent of voters approved the measure. Why? Because industry insiders knew, some day, some part of those funds -- over twenty years, a bondable net of close to $200 billion -- would trickle into their net worth statements. But that moment will only happen as the very last resort, after intense litigation should any government ever endorse the seizing of sugar lands in the EAA.

The Angry Bees who showed up to the water management district have a long way to go. But at the very least it is now established that Florida's Republican leadership will not follow the science, will not obey the facts, and will not start the process to direct Amendment 1 funds to purchase significant acreage in the Everglades Agricultural Area, beginning with the US Sugar option that expires later this year.

In Tallahassee, there is so little dissent that the Republican leadership operates in an echo chamber where all it hears are the sounds of its own voices.

The Angry Bees need to break through where the GOP is looking the other way. They could start by swarming.

One tactic: that they will not support any elected official or candidate for office who takes money from Big Sugar.

Although the "Take No Money From Sugar" pledge will elicit guffaws in the Palm Beach cozies of Big Sugar, it sends a signal. It sends a signal just like the well-attended protests at the water management district.

It takes momentum to build a movement. Thanks to overreaching by Big Sugar and its proxies in the Florida legislature and the Governor's Mansion, momentum is building.

But for 66,000 votes, Florida would have a governor who both believes in man-made causes of climate change and supports fixing the Everglades with vastly expanded water treatment marshes, to protect the estuaries.

So, it is up to the Angry Bees to turn out more voters for their candidates and causes in 2016 and to take their battle from the east coast, where voters are persuaded, to the west coast of Florida where they are not. (By the way, Big Sugar already understands this reality. Look no further than the political hit job on Big Sugar's steadfast critic, Ray Judah, former Lee County commissioner and the ascent of Matt Caldwell (R-Turbinado). One of the great unanswered questions, why did US Sugar invest nearly a million dollars in a county commission election in 2012 to defeat one of the biggest supporters of the buyout that US Sugar had agreed to, with the state.)

The Angry Bees have more work to do. They cannot ask or expect -- by the way -- non-profit environmental groups to do it for them. Most of the big environmental groups cannot directly participate in elections. Many are disinclined to, and the most pernicious reason is that some of the most visible groups, like Florida Audubon, suffer from Stockholm Syndrome.

No, the Angry Bees will have to do the heavy lifting on their own.


Unknown said...

Thanks Alan, this will leave a mark. We tried with all our might to make a difference in the last elections.. I am still trying to cope with the 76% that voted FOR Amendment 1, and then re-elected the turds that made it necessary to put it on the ballot. If you are ever up this way PLEASE give me a shout would love to have lunch with you. Best! Marty Baum Indian Riverkeeper.

cem said...

Up in Martin County, where the discharges are the worst, We voted for Rick Scott - 55%. We also voted for Joe Negron (75%). Negron is perceived as a champion of our waters by most, but he has received tons of cash from US Sugar, and he has stymied discussions about buying the land for years. It's beyond frustrating. There are some incredible 'Angry Bees' that understand what is happening to their homes and why, but even at ground zero we are badly outnumbered. We have some nasty local folks who operate as double agents for Big Sugar, and then there is the majority that is willfully ignorant, and easily distracted. We need to find a way turn more of the last group into Angry Bees, a LOT more, if we ever hope to get this mess right. And if it is not too late.

cem said...
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Linda A Miller said...

Thank you for this raw & very real perception of the battle we fight. Those that you have shone your light on will have to answer to a higher source.
They have laughed @ us, hidden behind doors not even having the courage nor the manners to meet us eye-to-eye. They have called us stupid, mispronounced names of some of this State's finest people (now who's stupid?)and ignored us at every turn. We have barely just begun Tallahassee, SFWMD,and Big Sugar and we are picking up steam! This community of determined activists are not going away. One day our BZZZZZZZZZ will be heard, and we will all remember today and smile!

Kenny Hinkle Jr. said...

As one of the leaders of the River Warriors here on the Treasure Coast, we are Angry and fighting everyday. Sugar has infiltrated and tried to take over our grass roots movement. They were exposed. We will continue to keep up the pressure. We NEED help from Miami. This is your water too. We only have 40+ days to get this land deal done. This for ALL of our futures.

Jennifer Rubiello said...

Thanks for writing this piece. Couldn't agree more: it comes down to mobilizing folks for elections. West coast especially. Although I do think the advocacy, protests, rallies, etc. in between elections are critical to bringing more people into the fold beyond the usual suspects.