Smith lets Big Sugar do the dirty work

Published August 10, 2006

How nice that U.S. Sugar, which has done so much for - sorry, I meant to - the state of Florida, now is telling people how to vote in the governor's race.

I'm talking about a sleazy mail piece aimed at Jewish voters with the headline, "Jim Davis Fails to Condemn Attacks Against Israel."

The brochure was sent by a group with the name of "Florida's Working Families Inc." Sounds noble, doesn't it? Working families.

But if you look it up, you'll find that the group has been bankrolled this year by a $50,000 contribution from U.S. Sugar and another $50,000 from a U.S. Sugar subsidiary, both based in Clewiston.

Davis, the target of the brochure, is a member of the U.S. House from Tampa. He is one of two Democratic candidates for governor.

The other Democrat is Rod Smith, a state senator from Gainesville and a self-described friend of agribusiness.

The anti-Davis attack features a photograph of bomb wreckage. The brochure states:


After the vicious attacks by Hezbollah against Israel, Congress voted to condemn the attacks. Even though Jim Davis was elected to represent our values and interests in Congress, he did not even bother to show up.


That refers to an anti-Hezbollah resolution passed by the House on July 20. The vote was 410-8. Davis was in Florida.

The Davis campaign didn't help itself when it sent out, by mistake, an internal e-mail on how to explain the missed vote. The attack brochure quotes the e-mail and says it proves that Davis was trying to "deceive the public."

Bull. Every spokesperson in politics, from the president's and governor's down to the mayor's, has a conversation like that almost every day, asking his or her bosses: "What are we going to say about so-and-so?"

Now, I am not defending the practice of missing votes in Congress. Davis has missed more votes than most members, and it is fair game to criticize his track record.

Fair game to criticize them fairly.

This isn't that.

Davis has been a strong supporter of Israel. In fact, two Jewish members of Congress from South Florida already have risen to his defense and condemned the brochure.

The fact that the resolution passed 410-8, instead of 411-8, does not lend comfort to the enemy or weaken Israel. It does not mean Jim Davis is soft on bombing Haifa.

This is the worst kind of politics - sleazy attacks under a made-up name, paid for by special interest money. Jim Davis is weak on Hezbollah? Hezbollah? Are you kidding me?

Add to that U.S. Sugar's historical role in Florida, the fact that it peddles empty calories to a haplessly addicted nation, and that it enjoys outdated federal protections. In a sense, we all footed the bill for this attack.

This brings us to the matter of Rod Smith, Davis' opponent.

U.S. Sugar wants Smith to be the Democratic nominee instead of Davis. By itself this sets off warning bells and whistles.

So here is what I waited and hoped to hear from Smith. Something like this:

"This attack was made by a group independent of my campaign, and I had nothing to do with it. I am disgusted by its tone. I repudiate it. I denounce it.

"This is what's wrong with politics today. I want Florida to be better, and I am not willing to slosh through the sewer just to win.

"Today I am demanding that the group and its donor, U.S. Sugar, apologize and set the record straight. If they don't, then I will do it myself, and I will remember them unkindly when I am governor."

But Smith didn't and won't say any of that.

I asked his campaign for a statement Wednesday and received this reply from spokesman David Kochman:

"Congressman Davis has the second-worst voting record in Congress and continues to dismiss the importance of being there to represent his district. He's missed 35 percent of the votes in Congress this year, and in this case his campaign compounded the error by making up misleading excuses. This wouldn't even be an issue if he simply showed up to do his job."

So, that is how Smith chooses to play it. His buddies at U.S. Sugar spend big money under a fake name accusing his opponent of being soft on Hezbollah - Hezbollah! Good grief! - while Smith, our own Little Jack Horner, purports to sit in the corner, his fingers in the sugar-pie, calling himself a good boy.

Senator, is this how you will be governor?