Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Big Sugar Has A Political Problem In Florida, For First Time ... by gimleteye

Big Sugar has operated as a shadow government in Florida for decades, using the heavily protected sugar subsidy in the Farm Bill to buy off incumbents and candidates for public office. The formula has worked extraordinarily well. Legislatures protect Big Sugar's domination of the water supply infrastructure in Florida in return for campaign cash and predictable employment as lobbyists or in the Big Sugar supply chain once they leave office.

For the first time, this election cycle Big Sugar oligarchs like the Fanjul family and descendants of Charles Stewart Mott, owners of US Sugar Corporation, face political uncertainty in Florida. The trigger for its Florida problem began with massive winter rains -- unprecedented -- that exposed the deep flaws in the state's flood control infrastructure supervised by political appointees of the Rick Scott administration at the state's taxing authority; the South Florida Water Management District.

In essence, the huge property tax base on Florida's east and west coasts is being held hostage to pollution caused by policies that favor a single industry: Big Sugar. Put even more simply, taxpayers, residents and visitors supporting Florida's tourism based industries, that depend on clean water, were sacrificed to keep Big Sugar's fields dry. Sugarcane would not be grown in Florida but for corporate welfare cemented into the Farm Bill ("Cronyism in its undiluted, inexcusable majesty", is how GOP leader Grover Norquist describes the sugar subsidy).

Severe flooding caused the worst toxic algae blooms in Florida's history. The algae blooms animated a multitude I've called Florida's Arab Spring. The character of the multitude is qualitatively different from any opposition Big Sugar has faced in the past. For the first time, the opposition to Big Sugar is broad-based and diverse, drawing from the millions of residents and visitors to Florida and not just environmental groups who proved over time to be both limited in terms of diversity and easily marginalized by standard divide-and-conquer tactics.

Groups like, Captains for Clean Water, and the SWFL Clean Water Movement used social media to reach hundreds of thousands of viewers, bypassing advertising driven media whose content and opinions largely reflected the interests of Big Sugar.

Worse, for Big Sugar: since the Jeb Bush era -- beginning in the late 1990's -- Big Sugar has doubled down on its political bets on the GOP and its leadership. The oligarchy has spent millions cultivating a Republican majority in the state legislature and in the Florida delegation to Congress. Under normal political circumstances, its bets would continue to pay off. But maybe not this political year.

Big Sugar's first problem is Marco Rubio. Rubio's role in the Big Sugar political alignment is well-documented. As a leader in the state legislature in 2003, he proved his mettle by shepherding a new law to delay Everglades restoration, supported by Jeb Bush. He was called by the oligarchs to run against former Gov. Charlie Crist, who infuriated the Fanjuls by cutting a deal to buy US Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee. Rubio's senate seat was bought and paid for by Big Sugar.

Big Sugar's second problem is Donald Trump. The oligarchs locked up not one, but two Republican candidates in the March presidential primary: Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Trump badly defeated both, exposing the same deep divisions in the base that had been triggered in key constituencies on Florida's east and west coasts. Although another of Big Sugar's allies is racing to Trump's rescue -- Gov. Rick Scott heads the superPAC supporting Trump -- the GOP nominee is a wild card.

In some ways, Hillary Clinton would be preferable to Big Sugar as president. She is a known quantity: her husband has a enduring, close, and affectionate relationship to Big Sugar through the Fanjul oligarchy and has, in particular, connected through Clinton to Florida's African Americans who really don't need persuasion to vote for Hillary in 2016.

The third problem is the most vexing: US Senator Bill Nelson and Congressman Patrick Murphy. Until this year, Big Sugar could always count on Bill Nelson to walk a centrist line that protected Big Sugar's privileges and authority. By betting so heavily on Gov. Rick Scott -- the most tone-deaf politicians to ever hold the executive office -- Big Sugar gave the Democrat no choice but to deal with his 2018 opponent -- Scott -- now. Senator Nelson recently endorsed the call for eminent domain proceedings to begin, to legally take and compensate Big Sugar for enough lands to finally save the Everglades and the coastal estuaries that have been devastated by this year's toxic algae catastrophe.

Congressman Murphy, who recently signed the NoworNeverglades declaration urging land acquisition where sugarcane is farmed, will defeat Alan Grayson in the upcoming primary and face Rubio in November.
Rubio, who will not sign the declaration and only received 15% of the GOP vote in the March presidential primary, a few months ago expressed his determination to leave the US Senate but reversed himself and now supports Trump who belittled him. Marco Rubio is turning into Big Sugar's political death star.

Big Sugar's latest tactic is hedge its bets by currying favor with Florida's African American Democrats. The hedging is not going to play well with the state's Republican leadership either. The tactic worked for Big Sugar in the past. In 1996, Big Sugar effectively killed off the effort by environmental groups to levy a penny-a-pound tax, through a state constitutional referendum; by funding and enlisting Bill Clinton's key African American allies during his re-election campaign.

Big Sugar is attempting to conflate the "Black Lives Matter" movement with "Glades Lives Matter"; pitting coastal residents who number in the millions against poor communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee who have been oppressed by sugar oligarchs for decades. Deploying this tactic, though, is so patently transparent that it could force Donald Trump into the anti-sugar camp. All of Big Sugar's options this election cycle look like parachutes that won't open. And it is all because of the industry's pollution and its refusal to bear the costs in its product pricing of cleaning up the mess it's made.

The bottom line: this election cycle all of Big Sugar's bets are high risk. Still, no one will shed a tear for the industry if it changes course. Big Sugar has banked billions in profits and stands to make even more by selling its lands.

Florida's shadow government has had a long winning streak, but past performance is not a guarantee of future results.


Anonymous said...

The Fanjuls. Anyone ever visit West Palm Beach and Palm Beach? The Sugar Barons and the Fanjuls dominate the environment. And of course, they are involved in killing the Everglades every day.

Anonymous said...

What was the guy Charles Stewart Mott convicted of? I searched, can not find it.
It must be part of the Pardon file and available via Sunshine law. Anyone know?

Guessing, DUI accident with injury?

Anonymous said...

Murphy is an reliable ally of anyone. DINO. Do some research.

Anonymous said...

edit of previous post: UNRELIABLE

Unknown said...

Shared this on all my FB pages and you said it all right on the nail. we have been trying to stop them since 2013 and before. Thank you for all you do!!!

Anonymous said...

The new documentary Black Tide covers a lot of these issues, including the political power of Big Sugar. The trailer is here:

Anonymous said...

The political earthquake underway may be of even larger amplitude. There is a Libertarian ticket for Prez that has real appeal. Two former Governors, both competent and well spoken, fiscal conservatives, social liberals.

Johnson/Weld are not be beholden to sugar or anyone else in the pay to play arena. Voters fed up with status quo cannot do better than these guys.

Of course the R/D monopoly will say a vote for a 3rd party ticket is wasted.

But if you have a conscience, a vote for either of the R/D monopoly candidates is wrong. At some point, the electorate has to say no to voting for the least objectionable candidates.

This may be the year.

Anonymous said...

If you vote for them you will be throwing your vote away. Voters have to stay focused. There is a tremendous amount at stake here. Trump has asked his military and foreign affairs briefers "Why don't we use our nuclear bombs?". He asked this question THREE (3) times. If anyone in the world uses their nuclear bombs, it is the end of life on the earth. You can't depend on others to save your life. You have to try to save it for yourself. Don't put yourself at risk of a mad man pulling the trigger if he gets mad with someone. (he is very vindictive, and likes to seek revenge). Vote for Sec. Clinton.

Unknown said...

Senator Nelson has always been our Luke Skywalker who --> plans to "legally take and compensate Big Sugar for enough lands to finally save the Everglades and the coastal estuaries".

Marco Rubio has always played a role in managing the Big Sugar "death star" against Florida's environment and clean water causes. I hope with all my heart that the death star implodes. That Floridas beloved lands and waters and everglades will endure on despite the horrid and self serving plans of Marco Rubio and the Fanjuls.

Anonymous said...

This pollution problem goes a lot deeper than just polluted rivers. No one will look into what is going on with the our federal Gov. gives these people every year.....WHY IS THAT.....? I would like someone to follow that money down to the Dominican Republic and see where it goes....I know where it goes....Sugar looks a lot like something else that has turned in to a plague here in South Florida, but no one is willing to jump on that third rail and get toasted...!!!

Anonymous said...

Our nuclear arsenal is a deterant. America alone has enough to destroy the planet, and it would just be particles of dust and debris floating around in space around our sun. You add up the nuclear arsenals of other countries, the earth dust may go completely out of our solar system. So no one in their right minds even asks about it. When you elect a President, that person alone has authority to push the button and begin the destruction of earth. Which one do you want there? Trump or Clinton?