|It causes obesity and environmental degradation, but if you're running for office sugar works wonders. (pixabay.com)|
Group ties top GOP lawmaker from Tampa to South Florida sludge nightmare
Creative Loafing Tampa // Kate Bradshaw
The Tampa Bay area may be miles and miles from the algae-choked waterways that have been making national headlines of late, but decisions of local lawmakers in leadership positions may have had a hand in the havoc.
Leading up to the 2016 elections, the left-leaning political action committee Florida Strong has been hitting Republican lawmakers hard on policy decisions. The group has been targeting State Rep. Dana Young, a powerful Tampa Republican currently serving as House Majority Leader. Young is running for Senate in a newly redrawn district against Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner, and observers think the race will be a tight one.
The PAC has found a pretty obvious way to hit Young on her record: tally up the money Young has taken from Big Sugar, namely U.S. Sugar, and tie that to her support of crap environmental policies, including one that ignores an obvious solution to the slime mess.
(EOM NOTE: For more on U.S. Sugar: "When charity that begins at home, wrecks the home".)
Like other leading Republicans in the State legislature, Young backed a creative interpretation of the voter-approved 2014 state constitutional amendment asking the state to buy up land for conservation (with money already in the state's budget).
They could have used the money to buy Big Sugar-owned land south of Lake Okeechobee, overflow from which is a major source of the algae plague. If they'd done so, polluted water could have been treated on that land before naturally percolating through the Everglades.
But instead of using the money for conservation, these legislators played a shell game: They shifted funding for basic functions out of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and replaced it with the conservation money.
Why would she and so many others support such bad environmental policies?
The answer, much like the sludge that drove visitors away from Atlantic coast beaches over the 4th of July weekend, is apparently green.
Florida Strong noted that U.S. Sugar gave the PAC Friends of Dana Young $20,000 in June, something Florida Division of Elections records back up.
There's more to the story, though.
Turns out U.S. Sugar twice donated $10,000 to the PAC in 2015 — first in early February (one of the first donations to the PAC since its inception, apparently) and then in November. Florida Crystals, also under the Big Sugar umbrella, donated $10,000 in January of 2016.
What's more, Mosaic, a major fertilizer manufacturer (the stuff that helps grow things like sugar and algae outbreaks), gave her $5,000 in February of 2016.
"Growing Florida's Future," a PAC that took a $25,000 donation from U.S. Sugar in December of 2015 (as well as dozens and dozens of other companies), gave $10,000 to Young's PAC in June.
So, that's a lot of money, and we're not even counting how much her actual campaign raked in from the industry. Yet.
Turns out that while U.S. Sugar may have only given $500 to her State Senate campaign, at least three apparent subsidiaries of Florida Crystals — Closter Farms, Inc., South Florida Industries and Vandergrift Williams Farms — gave $1,000 apiece. So there's that.
Much as a thick slurry of algae obstructs a manatee's path to clean drinking water, all that money may fog one's attempt at policymaking, a Florida Strong spokesperson suggested in an email.
"Rep. Dana Young has refused to use her power perch in the legislature for the sake of conservation," read the email. "As Majority Leader, Young has shaped policies that help U.S. Sugar’s bottom line, proudly taking big campaign cash from the special interest in return – including $20,000 just last month. Rather than cave to special interests yet again, we demand Rep. Young take real action on the environmental crisis facing Floridians. Our economic stability and public health depend on it."
Florida Strong went on to criticize Young, who was trained as a land use attorney, for implying that she has expertise on the matter; expertise that's used for good, anyway. (By the way, they want everyone to sign this petition.)
The group has also gone after State Sens. Jeff Brandes and Anitere Flores as well as State Reps. Frank Artiles and Richard Corcoran, all of whom are Republicans.