Fabiola Santiago: Big Sugar bags trophy with politicians at King Ranch

08/01/2014 6:35 PM

08/02/2014 9:14 AM

The name — King Ranch — seems fitting given that the Florida politicians who frolicked at the famed Texas hunting ground during junket trips sponsored by Big Sugar act more like monarchs than elected officials of the Sunshine State.

Google images if you have the stomach for dead animals and picture the scene: Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and some of the Legislature’s gun-loving GOP leaders running around shooting up game in a secluded preserve where they can’t fail because the prey is readily available.

Scott reportedly bagged a buck and paid to have it mounted as a trophy.

It’s dark political comedy.

We could roll out a good laugh and leave the tale at that, were it not for the pesky and disturbing details unveiled by Tampa Bay Times journalists surrounding the secret trips to the luxury hunting lodge built on acreage that U.S. Sugar leases on King Ranch.

The hunting trips — a perfect setting for private dealings and influence-peddling — were financed all or in part through donations to the Republican Party of Florida by U.S. Sugar, which ended up benefiting from a bill passed by these same legislators and signed by Scott.

By limiting Big Sugar’s liability, the legislation saved the company millions it would’ve had to spend in cleaning up the pollution that the industry heaped upon the Everglades.

Through analysis of documents (travel logs, hunting licenses, campaign contributions) and dogged interviewing, reporters Michael Van Sickler and Craig Pittman pieced together ethically questionable behavior that politicians and the GOP are trying hard to hide.

From Scott — whose reelection campaign has received $534,462 from U.S. Sugar and $25,000 from King Ranch, also a player in Florida’s sugar and citrus industries — Big Sugar got more than favorable legislation.

A month after Scott returned from his February 2013 hunting expedition, Scott appointed a King Ranch executive, Mitchel A. Hutchcraft, to fill a vacancy on the board of the South Florida Water Management District, the agency overseeing the multibillion dollar Everglades clean-up.

Since we’re talking hunting here, let’s just say Scott couldn’t have picked a better fox to guard the hen house. Hutchcraft is the King Ranch vice president in charge of the Florida agricultural acreage.

Looks like the ones who bagged a trophy were Big Sugar industries.

As the scandal played out this week, Scott campaigned in Hialeah as if nothing of importance to Floridians was happening.

He basked in the glow of adoring senior citizens oblivious to Scott’s refusal of needed federal Medicaid dollars or his hunting escapade. He flaunted some Spanish, pandering, as did his lieutenant governor, who brought to the event the obligatory Castro brothers reference.

King Ranch business in the news. Little Ranch on the campaign trail.

No matter the setting, nothing of substance is ever said in public by the governor facing reelection. Talking serious state business, apparently, is what he does while aiming his shotgun at a prized buck.

What else can a Floridian expect from the King of the Gunshine State and his court of hunters?

About Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago

@fabiolasantiago

Fabiola Santiago was born in Cuba. She was exiled to the U.S. in 1969 on one of the historic Freedom Flights. She has been a Herald reporter and editor since 1980.

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