By Brian E. Crowley
It is time to stop blaming Big Sugar.
Yes, Big Sugar is winning. It owns the governor’s office, the cabinet, and the Florida Legislature. It has power over much of Florida’s congressional delegation.
Formidable Tallahassee reporter Mary Ellen Klas did a masterful job this week with an in-depth story in the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times about the power of Big Sugar.
Between 1994 and 2016, a review of state Division of Elections records by The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau shows, the sugar industry — led by United States Sugar and Florida Crystals — has steered a whopping $57.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions to state and local political campaigns.
The Sugar industry has been masterful. No matter what successes the environmental community has had – passage of the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, the 1996 Polluter Pays Amendment to the Florida Constitution, the 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (sign by President Bill Clinton with then Gov. Jeb Bush by his side), or the 2014 Water and Land Conservation Act – the Sugar industry has been able to either slow down implementation or thwart the intent.
By owning a stable of elected officials. By hiring top teams of lobbyists. By having connections in critical government agencies.
And, nothing they do is illegal. Sugar simply plays the game of politics better than their opponents.
As Klas reported:
“I can tell you, first hand, that the industry is directly involved with every decision this Legislature makes,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation which for decades has fought the sugar industry over the causes and solutions of the Everglades and was a chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist. (Note: I previously was a media consultant for the Foundation.)
Eikenberg works hard to make sure the Foundation’s voice is heard in Tallahassee but it is an often frustrating experience.
Eikenberg was part of the Crist team that put together the deal to buy U.S. Sugar land. At the time, the company applauded the deal and was eager to get out of the sugar business. But when U.S. Sugar wanted out of the contract it fought hard. And they found a willing ally in the newly elected governor, Rick Scott (to whom they contributed handsomely) who said hell no about buying the land.
No matter the setback, the sugar industry always comes out ahead.
But it is time to stop blaming them. Perhaps it is time to blame the environmentalists.