Saturday, December 16, 2017
Politics

Romano: Big Sugar bagged big names with secret King Ranch hunting trips

In some quiet town in southeast Texas, business must be looking up.

Trophies from King Ranch, a nearby hunter's paradise, are presumably arriving daily at all the best taxidermy shops. And these are not your run-of-the-mill mounts.

We're talking exotic game. Prized targets.

We're talking about the coveted House Speaker of Florida. A preening Agricultural Commissioner. Even the elusive Florida Governor, a breed more skittish than most.

Yup, those political hunters from Big Sugar have bagged 'em all.

In case you missed the story in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times, reporters Michael Van Sickler and Craig Pittman detailed how the biggest names in the Florida Republican Party have apparently been wined, dined and undermined by Florida's sugar industry.

I say apparently because most of the politicians refuse to acknowledge they have been feted at the famed King Ranch. Some refused to admit they even knew King Ranch existed. Or, for that matter, the state of Texas.

These trips were all funded by the same sugar barons that lobby Florida politicians for favorable legislation when it comes to pollution issues that can either cost their companies millions of dollars or cost Florida its most precious environmental resources.

So you can see why the politicians might be wary of copping to the airfare, access to exclusive hunting property and whatever other freebies were provided. Because the money was funneled through the Republican Party in the name of fundraising, there is likely nothing illegal about this Guns and Poseurs tour, but it certainly makes one wonder what kind of quid pro quo we're seeing here.

And, of course, your elected leaders don't make it any better by acting as if they got caught with their hands in the sugar cookie jar.

None of them had the decency, or common sense, to answer simple questions about these junkets. They could have been defiant and explained that this is simply the way big-time politics works, and fundraising events are crucial. They could have been apologetic and acknowledged that, no matter how innocent, these trips certainly give the appearance of donors buying the influence of politicians.

Instead, the most important people in state government hid behind their handlers.

Now in this polarized age of politics, too many of us (and I am as guilty as anyone) are too quick to condemn officials for perceived mistakes, slights or philosophical changes. That tendency can be both unfair and unproductive.

Our leaders make mistakes. Our leaders sometimes have different opinions. Our leaders change their minds. That's all normal and natural.

What is not normal or excusable or tolerable is leaders who cannot be trusted. Leaders who treat constituents like spectators at a magic show. They get you so focused on what they are doing over here that you never see their sleight of hand over there.

If these trips are as harmless as they would have you believe, then where is the harm in explaining that? This isn't a simple policy decision; it's a referendum on trust.

I'm guessing you didn't vote for these people with the hope that they would be granting special access and favors to the wealthy, and then refuse to even talk about it.

And you certainly didn't vote for them so they could be tracked, bagged and mounted for show like some trophy in a lobbyist's den.

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