Monday, March 21, 2016

Pollution and the Republican voter in Florida: an underestimated menace ... by gimleteye

Republican voters are in full rebellion against the GOP in Florida. In last week's presidential primary, GOP voters treated Marco Rubio as a stand-in for the special interests who dominate party politics. They might not know the names but they know the outcomes.

As a result, the party establishment has been thrown into a panic. This one is filled with voter anger at both Florida coasts coated by a layer of toxic scum, as the state's rivers, bays and estuaries are turning to collateral damage by the state's most powerful special interest group, Big Sugar.

Leading up to the primary last week, from Stuart to Fort Myers, GOP voters flocked to social media like Facebook where many are posting short videos and photographs to document the damage: dolphin and manatee carcasses, waterways clogged with dead fish floating white bellies up. Pages like the SWFL Clean Water Movement and and Save the Indian River Lagoon are attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers.

These are the counties and primary results for those most impacted by the billions of gallons of toxic water spewing from Lake Okeechobee, as a result of historic January rainfall and the Big Sugar's rigid control of the state's water management practices.

Republican voters are rebelling at having their taxes used against them by insiders and their property used as Big Sugar's sacrifice zones. They know Florida's political leaders are shielding Big Sugar by refusing to complete the one action voters already ordered into the Florida Constitution: buy billions of dollars of agricultural land now in private ownership in order to stop the state's waterways from being turned into toxic waste sites.

Donald Trump did not recognize the broad based civic revolt against pollution in Florida today. Nor, for that matter have Democrats grasped how the issue is connecting Republican and Democratic voters on both the east and west coasts of the state.

What is clear is that voters wanted a divorce from Marco Rubio. His too facile, too slick, and too evasive talking points on issues of deep voter concern -- including Big Sugar -- didn't stick. On the failure of state party leaders to protect people, property, and public health, Rubio was held to account by primary voters.

Take the southwest coast of Florida, for example, where Republican voters have traditionally followed the course set by very wealthy development and agricultural interests -- like the family of former Secretary of State Katharine Harris. Another top Bush supporter from Southwest Florida, Al Hoffman, provides an even clearer example how GOP self-dealing runs straight through the varsity business associations like the Florida Council of 100 that Hoffman once chaired, to the junior varsity, local county Chambers of Commerce and business councils. The ordinary GOP voter does not know Al Hoffman's name, or the deep traps that siphon campaign contributions to establishment candidates, but they know the outcomes.

Big Sugar and its lobbyists enforce this point to elected officials: never rock the boat but you do, expect consequences. This is what happened in Lee County when a 24 year veteran county commissioner was "taken out" of political office by U.S. Sugar Corporation contributions in 2012 -- the election cycle after Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court. Ray Judah, a Republican, was made to pay a price for his long-standing criticism of Big Sugar's dominance of water management infrastructure. In 2012, Big Sugar flooded hundreds of thousands in negative TV ads. Although the tactic is well known at state level, this was the first time dark money from Big Sugar had targeted a local county commission race in Florida.

In 2016, GOP voters returned the favor.  From Fort Myers, to Sanibel, and Sarasota, the spasms of  awful, algae laden and toxic waters suddenly manifested in a convulsive vote against Rubio and the billionaire special interests he represented from Clewiston and Palm Beach (corporate addresses of US Sugar Corporation and the Fanjul's Flo-Sun and Florida Crystals' empire).

In Lee County Donald Trump left votes on the table in the relatively wealthy communities of Sanibel, Captiva and Boca Grande; places where bad water is harming local tourism-dependent businesses, property owners and taxpayers.

  • Donald Trump: 47.6 percent
  • Marco Rubio: 22 percent
  • Ted Cruz: 17.6 percent
  • John Kasich: 7.9 percent
  • 108,622 ballots cast, 60.7 percent turnout
  • Best Showing: 58 percent of vote, Buccaneer Mobile Estates in North Fort Myers
  • Worst Showing: 24.4 percent of vote, Boca Grande Community Center in Boca Grande
  • Where he lost: Sanibel, Captiva, Boca Grande, Shell Point Village in Fort Myers
  • Poor showing, but still won: Bonita Springs

Big Sugar's response has been to deploy tactics from its playbook developed decades ago: carefully orchestrating press events, attacking harmless environmental groups as "extremist", rallying economic councils around soft and expedient "solutions", and misdirection. Today Big Sugar is forcing the public acquisition of lands south of Lake Okeechobee now in sugarcane production to the deep, dark. Instead, it floats peripheral issues to the surface, supported by the industry's chief allies; Gov. Rick Scott, his hand-picked Big Sugar governing board, and Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam: all is well, progress is being made, be patient, stay the course.

Staying the course, however, is exactly what millions of Florida GOP voters rejected by vaulting Donald Trump ahead of Marco Rubio.  Big Sugar's Tallahassee advocates like Putnam, Representative Matt Caldwell, Senate President Joe Negron, and Gov. Scott married their political careers to a few billionaire recipients of corporate welfare: the descents of the Charles Stewart Mott fortune who control U.S. Sugar Corporation and the Fanjuls.

The Republican establishment is panicked by the thrashing of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. The rift between the base and the party has created an opportunity for clean, fresh water advocates that hasn't existed in the thirty years. This time it is not environmental groups, but disaffected GOP voters recruited by their party leaders' own mistakes.

With Marco Rubio's defeat, GOP voters in Florida demonstrated the capacity to overturn expectations. That's not enough. GOP voters ought to now insist that elected officials support the efforts to buy Big Sugar lands and send clean, fresh water south. That is the message GOP voters want their candidates to deliver in 2016.


Anonymous said...

Who are Big Sugar's next shill...errr...GOP representative: 2016 US Senate, Governor 2018 and statehouse? Where will the money coalesce?

Anonymous said...

The photo of the massive fish kill and the hospitalized kayaker are do damning.

Unknown said...

What companies are the largest clients of Big Sugar?