Monday, July 23, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Visions of sugar dance in legislators' heads

It's merely an idea, but perhaps the oath of office for our state's elected panhandlers should be rewritten to read: "I do solemnly swear that I will support, protect and defend the sugar industry interests of the state of Florida; that I am duly compromised to hold office under the legalized bribes of various vested interests in this state, and I will well and faithfully perform the duties of a compliant shill and will to the best of my abilities follow the hunting laws of the great state of Texas for which I am about to board an airplane for an all-expense-paid trip by agricultural lobbyists to butcher unsuspecting critters, so help me (a lot!) the Republican Party of Florida."

Are there any elected power-hungry wannabes among Florida Republicans who haven't received an invitation to secret hunting vacations at the sprawling King Ranch in Texas courtesy of the state's big sugar daddies?

As Tampa Bay Times reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler have reported, it's been an air shuttle service akin to the Berlin airlift. Prominent Republicans have been filling the skies between Florida and Texas to make their way to King Ranch for several days of bloodletting in pursuit of animals and plenty of schmoozing with sugar industry executives once everyone runs out of bullets.

Gov. Rick Scott schlepped around King Ranch. So did former House Speaker Dean Cannon, current Speaker Will Weatherford and future Speakers Steve Crisafulli and Richard Corcoran. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has been there, and so have House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel and House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee Chairman Matt Caldwell.

Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland also spent time getting his snout nuzzled by sugar honchos at King Ranch. It must have felt really good, because Southerland just introduced a bill that would block federal oversight of waterways and wetlands, which just so happens to be where a lot of sugarcane is harvested.

The trips are paid for with legalized bribes. The sugar industry gives money for the Tammany Hall-on-the-Prairie holidays to the Republican Party of Florida, which launders the cash back to the invited guests for travel expenses under the flimsy guise of "fundraising" activities. Still, if it walks like a bagman and talks like a bagman, it's still a bagman.

Neither the governor nor any of the other elected officials who were more than happy to accept sugar industry hospitality at King Ranch have been willing to discuss the trips in detail, name whom they spent time with during their contrived "hunting" excursions where the prey is practically propped up for them to shoot, or recount what subjects were discussed. But it's probably not unreasonable to assume when one of these chaps asked a lobbyist to please pass the sugar, it came with a check sticking out of the bowl. Fundraising.

Southerland has entered the cone of silence, refusing to reveal who invited him to King Ranch and whom he socialized with in between pretending to be Ernest Hemingway on safari. What should we call these junkets? "Islands in the Scheme"?

Incoming House Speaker Crisafulli referred questions about his King Ranch busker vacation to none other than Brian Hughes, a Tallahassee flack who also flacks for — ahem — Florida Sugar Farmers, U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals and the Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative.

Hughes crafted a statement saying everything was perfectly fine. Whew, for a moment there, one might have thought these King Ranch sleepovers with lobbyists could have involved improper influence-peddling.

Crisafulli is notable in Tallahassee for his reluctance to speak to reporters, which is understandable since these snoopy scribblers want to ask about the speaker-designate's playing spin the scruples during his big sugar sabbatical.

Imagine the sense of worthlessness for those Republican lawmakers eager and willing to sell themselves out for a 16-point buck who have yet to earn an invitation to trade air kisses with the swells at King Ranch.

It's not fair. But isn't that the appeal of public service — the chance to dream of all those sugarplums yet to come?

Comments

Editorial: Renting an apartment should not be a pipe dream for low-income workers

A modest apartment should not be financially out of reach for full-time workers in America. But a recent report reveals no one working full-time for minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in Florida or the rest of the nati...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Editorial: NFL calls wise time-out on disciplining protests

The National Football League kept an embarrassing situation from becoming even worse by shelving its new policy clamping down on players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.The league announced late Thursday it would suspend the 2-month old p...
Published: 07/20/18
Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is shoring up his final year in office with the proposed city budget he released Thursday. The plan includes no big-ticket items, opting instead to maintain ongoing investments in parks, roads and other basic public services....
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18

IRS making ‘dark money’ darker

Under a perverse interpretation of federal law, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations supposedly devoted to "social welfare" can spend large amounts of money to influence elections without publicly disclosing the identities of their donors. But instead ...
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

The CrossBay Ferry appears headed for another round of rides across Tampa Bay, with local governments pledging one more year of financial support. But as more taxpayer money is steered into this project, it’s important to recognize what purpose the f...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott says he is considering requests to order an independent investigation of how Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office screens applications for concealed weapon permits. It’s a reasonable request, and the governor h...
Published: 07/18/18
Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

July in Florida. The height of summer tourist season. Rental cars clog the highways and tourists crowd the beaches, motels and all-you-can-eat shrimp joints. Many of our neighbors are off to North Carolina or somewhere cooler. So it’s an awfully inco...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Maggy Hurchalla joked this spring that all she could offer a billionaire who won a $4.4 million judgment against her after she exercised her free speech rights were "two kayaks and an aging Toyota.’’ The billionaire didn’t laugh. This week, Martin Co...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/18/18
Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

In one of the most surreal news conferences of our time, President Donald Trump actually stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday and called the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election "a disaster for our coun...
Published: 07/16/18
Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

The St. Petersburg City Council made the appropriate but difficult decision to reject a contract with renowned artist Janet Echelman for one of her aerial sculptures. It would be wonderful for the city to have one of her signature works, but Spa Beac...
Published: 07/13/18