"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." -- Abraham Lincoln
On March 15, Marco Rubio will run out of Florida voters to fool. Today he is looking forward to a day he expects: "Marco Rubio is Florida Country." In fact, as he looks inwards, he and Republican state officials will have to question a tenet of Florida's GOP majority: that voters don't care, don't know about, or are indifferent to Big Sugar's control by proxy of property values and taxes.
The secret handshakes between the state GOP and Big Sugar concern water policy. In 2014 the Tampa Bay Times documented secret hunting trips paid for by US Sugar Corporation to the King Ranch in Texas. Only Republican legislators were invited to partake by private jet, luxury accommodations, free wine and booze and what else. It wouldn't be a big deal today, but for historic January rainfall that sent a tidal wave of water pollution across the thresholds of mainly GOP voters at the wrong time of year.
Today in Florida, the GOP's mismanagement of Florida's water resources is a silent version of Flint, Michigan.
No issue more clearly connects voter anger at the GOP hierarchy than Big Sugar's lockdown of politics in Florida. It is classic insider-dealing: two billionaire families (Fanjuls/ Flo-Sun and Florida Crystals and the descents of Charles Stuart Mott who control US Sugar Corporation) control outcomes of property values and businesses owned by millions of residents and visitors.
Marco Rubio is the Florida elected official most clearly connected with Big Sugar. Take a look at the text of the following encounter between Rubio and a protester in Martin County -- Republican voter country -- on June 20, 2014.
As Senator Rubio arrives at the entrance to a public meeting hall, the crowd erupts, "Save Our Rivers!", sick and tired of waterways turning into sewage sumps for Big Sugar's pollution. He stops to speak to a protester.
River Warrior: You have to show up, you haven't been here enough, man. We've been trying to get you involved.
Rubio: We've been involved in the issue. We are fully up to date on what is happening and all the work that's been going on. And of course ... the ultimate solution would involve the Central Everglades Planning Project.
River Warrior: Are you willing to stand here in front us today and say you won't take Big Sugar money?
Rubio: Well, this is more complicated than that. (Crowd erupts) There's more than just that. You have to recognize there are residential issues involved. Agriculture? No, agriculture is an important part of our state. They need to be part of the solution as well.
Here is the meaning of what Rubio claimed and continues to claim. The Central Everglades Planning Project began in recognition that significant additional water storage marshes needed to be constructed in order to handle stormwater runoff from sugar fields to avoid damaging rivers, estuaries, property values and businesses on both Florida coasts. But in 2014, Big Sugar thwarted plans by Floridians and by Congress to get CEPP, as it is called, into the long-term budget for the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Floridians were furious on three counts. First, that the industry had stopped up a plan that had the support of the Congressional delegation from Florida. Second, that Rubio did nothing about it. And third, and most damningly, CEPP had already been neutered by Big Sugar so that the lands that would be added to water cleansing marshes was insignificant compared to the need.
When Marco Rubio told the protester in Martin County that "agriculture needs to be part of the solution", what he left unsaid -- but understood by the angry crowd -- is that in Florida, Big Sugar dictates the solution.
It was an easy lie for Rubio. In 2010, his Senate victory had been mortgaged to a massive influx of campaign cash from the Fanjul/Flo-Sun/Florida Crystal's fortune. Their goal: to stop the acquisition of 187,000 acres of lands offered to the state by its competitor, US Sugar Corporation. Unsurprisingly, the Fanjuls are now Rubio's most numerous family campaign contributors. (See: "Choosing Winners and Losers: Marco Rubio picks Big Sugar over rivers, clean water, and you")
If 187,000 acres of US Sugar Corporation had been purchased by the state -- a plan negotiated by Rubio's competitor for the 2010 Senate election, Charlie Crist -- Florida would be on the way to the ultimate solution of the stormwater problem that has turned both Florida coasts and tourism-related businesses into sacrifice zones for Big Sugar. So Marco Rubio has truly been hoist by his own petard.
Historic rainfall in January caused the state's largest water body -- Lake Okeechobee -- to overfill. In the distant past, floods would have emptied over the rim of the lake to the Everglades and to Florida Bay ninety miles south. Now, sugar is grown on 450,000 acres between the Lake and the Everglades. Because farm runoff is too dirty to be injected directly into the River of Grass, state water managers and the federal partner, the US Army Corps of Engineers, caused 60,000 gallons per second to spew into coastal estuaries, and from those estuaries down both the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.
Back in 2014, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that secured a funding source for the Florida legislature to buy Big Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee. Since that time, Florida's GOP legislature has actively obstructed the will of voters expressed through Amendment 1.
Big Sugar and its allies who control the South Florida Water Management District stubbornly contend that buying additional sugar lands for pollution-cleansing marshes isn't necessary. To this effect, they have launched wave after wave of expensive, taxpayer funded PR campaigns. Most recently, one of Big Sugar's mouthpieces, Representative Matt Caldwell, recommended using Amendment 1 funds to fill gaps in the general budget.This time, it is citizens organizing on social media; on blogs, Instagram and Facebook. Bullsugar.org and SWFL Clean Water Movement and individual activists. This isn't "divisive chatter" or a few environmental groups, as claimed by Big Sugar. Video clips and citizen reports, bypassing traditional media, are being viewed by voters hundreds of thousands of times.
As the GOP presidential primary rolls into Florida, Marco Rubio's hopes are turning stagnant as the coastline he -- as a state legislative leader and absentee Senate seat holder -- is sworn to protect. On March 15, Marco Rubio will run out of oxygen and Florida voters to fool. As time goes by, unlike the majority of Florida voters, Marco Rubio will be just fine.