Don’t underestimate the importance of Treasure Coast congressman Brian Mast’s pledge to support Sugar Program reform this week.
It’s the latest confirmation that clean water politics are forcing lawmakers to confront the sugarcane industry’s impact on Florida.
Until now, for all the evidence that the US Sugar Program delivers the cash and the cover for Florida water policy to use our rivers as toilets, no federal official from an affected district has ever bothered to question it. Rep. Mast ended that streak on Monday.
Why haven’t Mast’s predecessors spoken up? The 2016 and 2017 discharge disasters on the St. Lucie were hardly the first or the worst the estuary has seen; and experts have said for decades that fixing our water requires dealing head-on with our sugar problem. Is this another sign that voters are recognizing the industry--and the politicians that work for it--as the real source of our water crises?
More important, who else will stand with Mast? We’ll find out this month.
During the week of May 14th the House of Representatives is scheduled to take up the Farm Bill, which includes the US Sugar Program. That means 27 Florida congressmen will cast a vote on a set of reforms proposed in the Sugar Policy Modernization Act.
The reforms are mainly symbolic: make the industry repay loans, don’t force taxpayers to take a loss on sugar sales for ethanol, let USDA adapt quotas to market conditions. The details are here. Sugarcane companies’ government-supported cash supply stays in place--the industry keeps its subsidies.
But the votes are more than symbolic. Our elected officials will go on record this month for or against the status quo, showing the world where they stand on the biggest source of corruption poisoning Florida’s politics, the Everglades, and our water.
Sugar subsidies are NOT a partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats oppose them. Free market conservatives condemn the Sugar Program for embodying crony capitalism and Soviet-style command and control policies, basically the definition of Big Government and corporate welfare. The program has been a job killer around the country. And consumer advocates don’t want American families to pick up the tab for it.
In Florida, as the most influential source of cash behind our water management decisions, the US Sugar Program is a business killer in real estate, tourism, boating, and fishing. It funds policies that threaten public health and drinking water supplies… and THEN there’s the millions the industry spends opposing Everglades restoration, on top of the dark money it spends--all paid for by American taxpayers. Reforming the US Sugar Program should be one of the rare issues that unites the parties.
This month we’ll see where our representatives’ loyalties lie. All 27 have seen this letter; they know what’s at stake. Who else will vote for reform?
- Gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis (R-FL6)--the only member of Florida's delegation who voted for sugar reform in 2013?
- Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26) whose district includes the Keys and Everglades National Park, where Florida Bay is collapsing because the freshwater it needs is diverted for sugarcane?
- Francis Rooney (R-FL19) on the Gulf Coast who, like Brian Mast, represents people whose lives and livelihoods were impacted by toxic discharges in three of the past five years?
- Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL25) in Miami, where drinking water supplies are at risk because there’s no longer enough flow into the Everglades to recharge the aquifer?
- Bill Posey (R-FL8) on the northern Indian River Lagoon, whose own water issues are making headlines?
- Darren Soto (D-FL9) from south of Orlando where the Everglades once began, and whose constituents the sugarcane industry routinely scapegoats?
- Stephanie Murphy (D-FL7) in Orlando, who faces a tough reelection bid after edging out a 12-term sugarcane-funded politician?
- Charlie Crist (D-FL13) in Clearwater/St. Petersburg, whose landmark Everglades restoration deal with US Sugar was scuttled by Florida Crystals and a massive campaign, which the Sugar Program funded?
Everyone’s watching now. Voters and media are following the money from the billionaire families who buy political influence to the elected officials who let them. This vote will help us all see who’s compromised--in time for primaries.
WE NEED YOU TO DO MORE THAN WATCH. Here’s how you can help today: Call 844-505-2887 to connect directly to YOUR representative.
Ask your congressman to vote for the Sugar Policy Modernization Act and reform the US Sugar Program. This government program was never intended to subsidize billionaires, or fund political campaigns, or block Everglades restoration, but that’s what it’s doing. Sugar reform doesn’t touch farmers’ incomes. It’s a small step toward making the Sugar Program work fairly, without costing American jobs or corrupting our politics.
We said last week that Florida politics are changing. Taking money from sugarcane billionaires has already become an election issue. Now giving money to sugarcane billionaires is, too.