The latest PR splash for the South Florida Tea Party pairs the conservative activists with a strange bedfellow, the New York Times. Even weirder, the much-ridiculed protest group appears to have chosen a worthy cause.
Tomorrow, the activists plan to protest Charlie Crist's $536 million proposal to help
restore the Everglades by purchasing tens of thousands of acres of land owned by United States Sugar.
A Times investigation, published in March, found that if the deal goes through, the State of Florida will vastly overpay for the land. Plus, the deal is so expensive that the South Florida Water Managament District won't be able to afford other projects designed to restore the Everglades. The article said bluntly:
In its current form, the deal's only clear, immediate beneficiaries would be United States Sugar, a privately held company based in Clewiston, Fla., and its law firm, Gunster, which is expected to collect tens of millions of dollars in fees for its work on the sale, according to current and former United States Sugar executives.
Now, Tea Party leaders are calling the deal "Charlie's bailout of U.S. Sugar" and fear that property taxes will rise to pay for the boondoggle.
They make a good point. But one can't help but notice that the Tea Party furor sounds strikingly similar to Marco Rubio's criticism of the sugar deal. Rubio, Crist's Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race, said in March: "This deal is nothing more than a massive taxpayer-funded bailout for a top Charlie Crist campaign donor and a profitable bonanza for Crist's inner circle."
Which was interesting, because Rubio got thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Florida Crystals Corp., a rival of U.S. Sugar and a vocal critic of the Everglades deal. And Rubio, of course, has benefited from the support of Tea Party activists in the past.
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Whether the Tea Party minions are somehow trying to parrot Rubio, discredit Crist, or simply fight a bad deal for taxpayers remains to be seen. (Tim McClellan, the group's outreach coordinator, has not yet responded to the Juice's request for comment.) Either way, the activists have finally discovered a cause that even left-leaning, New York Times-reading elitists can get behind.
UPDATE: McClellan just called back, and contends that the Tea Party's interest in the deal is purely practical.
"It has nothing to do with Florida Crystals, it's just a bad deal all the way around," he says. "I would think everybody would be upset about this. This isn't a partisan issue."
If the deal is approved, he says "it should be completely renegotiated based on current economic conditions and current property values."