Florida Congressional Candidates Are Standing Up to Big Sugar

It’s no exaggeration to call this a tectonic shift in the district that is home to U.S. Sugar.

Nine candidates pledge not to accept Big Sugar money.

Traditionally, few Florida candidates or public officials on either side of the aisle have been willing to stand up to Florida’s notorious sugar industry.

But in the race for U.S. House District 20, we’re witnessing a tectonic shift. Not only are some politicians willing to buck “Big Sugar” — they may be gaining ground for it.

Last week the Sun-Sentinel newspaper endorsed Omari Hardy, a first-term state representative from West Palm Beach, for the seat formerly held by the late Alcee Hastings. Hardy checks many of the progressive boxes in the deep-blue district, the paper noted — but it’s his willingness to stand up to Big Sugar that sets him apart.

During an interview with the paper’s Editorial Board, Hardy was unequivocal in his condemnation of Senate Bill 88, the “right to farm” measure that sailed through the Florida Legislature earlier this year. Hardy was one of only seven state representatives to vote against the bill, which shields the industry from lawsuits related to the harmful effects of sugarcane burning.

“We know how this works,” Hardy told the Editorial Board, noting the industry supports both Democrats and Republicans and makes “a very serious effort to stop folks from holding them accountable.”

Hardy also said his support for the Black Lives Matter movement compels him to object not just to police misconduct, but also “when multi-billion dollar corporations are harming the health of Black people and other people of color, and that’s happening out in the Glades,” he said.

Tough words — but Hardy isn’t alone in uttering them.

Another District 20 candidate, Elvin Dowling, a public speaker and author, told the Miami Herald he opposes sugar cane burning, thinks Big Sugar “ought to be held more accountable” and would support legislation “that calls for stiffer compliance and enforcement of U.S. environmental regulations, with a special emphasis on exposing bad actors and ensuring that they are held to the highest legal standards.”

A third candidate, retired Navy officer Phil Jackson, told the Herald he was “deeply troubled” by the pre-harvest burning and that everyone should be “embarrassed” that Brazil and other sugar-producing countries are moving to “green” harvesting while American sugar’s industry lags behind.

Not all candidates in the district, where Big Sugar owns tens of thousands of acres, have been willing to criticize the industry. Yet in a Bullsugar/VoteWater survey sent to all candidates in the race, the nine who responded — Democrats Hardy, Dowling, Jackson, Bobby Dubose, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Emmanuel Morel and Priscilla Taylor, Republican Gregory Musselwhite and Libertarian Mike ter Maat — all said they wouldn’t accept Big Sugar campaign money.

And some who’ve defended the industry have expressed concerns about sugarcane burning, and suggested they would work with the industry to reduce the impact of the black smoke and “black snow” that’s caused health problems for some in the Glades.

The tide definitely seems to be turning against the harmful, unjust practice of pre-harvest burning — and maybe even against Big Sugar itself.

Tectonic shifts do have a way of triggering tsunamis, after all.