Last month the Cabinet unwisely approved the extension of Sugar leases on environmentally critical Everglades wetlands. Yesterday, several environmental groups filed suit to stop the leases from being implemented. The giveaway of land by the Florida Cabinet is the latest political payoff to big sugar who has spent tens of millions on political campaigns and elected officials in both parties over the past two decades. This comes at a time when as contributor Elroy John pointed out in a guest column last week, little progress has been made on restoring the historic hydrology of the Everglades ecosystem.
Rick Scott and the current cabinet has compromised the previous good work of many Republicans on issues related to the Everglades. The lawyers and lobbyists from southeast Florida who worked hard to promote, protect and preserve the Everglades in the 1990s and 2000s were disproportionately Republicans. (While those interested in preserving the Everglades from outside southern Florida were disproportionately Democrats) While many Republicans, including Jeb Bush remained bad on the environment, Governor Charlie Crist was excellent on Everglades related issues and he could draw his lineage from Republicans who as conservationists put protection of our natural resources over campaign cash and polluters.
On the Democratic side, former Chairman Rod Smith has brought Florida’s Democrats in close alliance with Big Sugar over the past two years. But even before that, many Democrats were addicted to sugar money. In the past some Democrats have told me that sugar money is essential to funding the party and legislative candidates because the Republicans have all the other corporate money locked up. Democratic candidates, party executive committees, local Democratic clubs and partisan functions have all been recipients of sugar’s generous contributions in recent years. That’s why support for lawsuits like this are difficult to discuss at Democratic Party functions. It seems everyone, particularly in southeast Florida has some ties or fear of sugar.
Nobody believes sugar should be prohibited to playing politically. But when the influence of one industry trumps the greater good as it has for years, Democrats have to think twice about whether this money is worth taking. It is disappointing to see so many progressives not understand the importance of protecting the Everglades and restoring Florida’s ecosystem to something bordering on sustainable- something it is not right now. This lawsuit should be supported and promoted by progressive activists even if the party seeks to avoid any discussion of the issue.