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Alan Farago: Big Sugar has conservatives chasing their tails

For decades, conservatives have lamented federal subsidies in American farm policy accruing to Big Sugar. Strangely, the wailing falls silent south of the Georgia border. In Tallahassee, the glad-handing and back slapping by Big Sugar for its supporters is ubiquitous.

The application of sugar money to lobbyists’ and lawyers’ net worth statements, contributions to lawmakers, and entertainments like secretive hunting trips for compliant legislators has created a shadow government impervious to complaint, whether by Republicans or Democrats.

At a recent Palm Beach teach-in, Big Sugar summit by Sierra Club, a packed conference room was informed about Big Sugar’s predatory influences, including the most pernicious of all: the trillion dollar cost imposed by excess sugar consumption on public health.

The conservatives’ opposition to sugar’s subsidies has neither to do with childhood obesity, nor Florida’s threatened Everglades, rivers and estuaries despoiled by inadequate environmental regulations, nor public health, ruined by consumption of too much sugar, and certainly not with the state of our democracy, made toxic by super-sized doses of sugar money.

A recent editorial by Bloomberg (“Grover Norquist finds a sweet spot”, July 22)  remarks on the conservative icon joining the battle against sugar subsidies in the Farm Bill. Norquist opposes the sugar subsidy in the U.S. Farm Bill because it is “cronyism in its undiluted, inexcusable majesty.”

Norquist is famous for the firebrand ideology that burned the moderate wing of the Republican party to a crisp. He trenchantly warned, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

How Big Sugar controls the state Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, measured by the GOP’s permanent war against water quality law and altering water infrastructure to its needs is not Norquist’s concern.

Bloomberg, too, strains the state from the federal: “The sugar industry lobby accounts for more than one-third of all lobbying funds spent by crop producers, even though sugar represents less than 2 percent of the value of all U.S. crop production. Most of the benefits of high prices flow to three firms that produce about 20 percent of U.S. sugar supply.” What Bloomberg ought to have added: two of those firms are Florida sacred cows: U.S. Sugar Corp. and Florida Crystals, owned by the billionaire Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach.

The profits guaranteed by sugar subsidies afford Big Sugar profits, deploying lobbyists to influence state legislators already softened by its campaign contributions, and push water quality and environmental regulations even further into the fetid ditch.

That puts Norquist and his radical extremist colleagues in the position of opposing in principle the cronyism it otherwise supports. For example, conservatives despise federal environmental protection mandates of the U.S. EPA. Conservatives who support knee-capping the EPA oppose subsidies that nevertheless accrue to their advantage. It is the same way with the Norquist “no tax pledge” committing elected legislators to undermine the government they serve.

In a logical world, the enemy of your enemy is your friend, but in the upside down GOP world, the friend of your friend is also your enemy. The cake baked for the American people by the conservative right ends up all over our faces. It is a spectacle filled with too much sugar.

How much easier if Norquist, the Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity, the American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation among other conservative entities embraced the mantra learned here in Florida: Big Sugar poisons people, poisons Democracy, and poisons the Everglades.

Can we say it all together? The time to end Big Sugar’s implicit subsidies that enrich a few at the expense of many, that weaken environmental laws and protections that protect Floridians and future generations, is now.

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades. Column courtesy of Context Florida.  

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