Sugar-allied mailer sour about Davis' record
His votes are "a record of shame," says a group funded by U.S. Sugar, a backer of his rival Smith.
By ALEX LEARY
Published August 25, 2006
As U.S. Rep. Jim Davis blasted his opponent during Wednesday's debate for accepting help in the campaign from Big Sugar, the industry launched a new missile intended to help Rod Smith become the Democratic nominee for governor.
A mail piece sent by a third-party political group funded by U.S. Sugar Corp. calls attention to Davis' "record of shame when it comes to people of color" while holding up Smith as a proven fighter for justice and equality.
"When it comes to his record on issues important to our community, Jim Davis should be ashamed," reads the mailer, clearly intended for African-Americans.
The mailer was sent to more than 100,000 homes by a group calling itself the Coalition for Justice and Equality. State records show the group formed July 29 and received $100,000 three days later from privately held U.S. Sugar in Clewiston, one of America's leading growers of cane sugar.
Stuart Rosenfeldt, who heads the coalition, said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times that the goal was "to point out to the African-American and other minority communities the unattractive aspects of Jim Davis' record when it comes to the issues of justice and equality."
The Smith campaign acknowledged Thursday that it provided a photo of Smith for the piece but said it insisted the ad be accurate and not a personal attack.
Even before the mailer, the Davis campaign estimated U.S. Sugar had put $1-million into supporting Smith. "His campaign would be all but over if it weren't for them," spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The mailer lists several votes Davis cast, including one from 1990 against a restitution package for Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, convicts who had been pardoned for the 1963 murder of two service station attendants. Smith raised the issue during Wednesday's debate, and Davis responded that he did not feel there was enough evidence at the time (he was a member of the state House) to support the payment. Eight years later, the Legislature compensated the men.
Another vote raised in the mailer asserts that Davis voted to deny "certain low-income workers the minimum wage after taking fat contributions from huge corporations." A similar claim was made in a TV ad shown this week.
Earnest said the vote was a side issue on whether some white-collar workers, including computer programmers, would be included, "all of whom don't need it."
A third vote criticized was Davis' support of legislation making it harder for some people to file for bankruptcy. The ad says he voted against limiting the amount of interest credit card companies can charge, "squeezing poor people and the middle class." Earnest said Davis felt the previous rules of bankruptcy were being abused by those with adequate means.
A few other votes are cited, but Earnest said he could not respond to questions about their accuracy because citations at the bottom of the ad (he had a faxed copy) were illegible. But "I'm skeptical," he said.
"This is yet another Republican special interest attempting to influence this campaign and benefit Rod Smith," Earnest said.
Davis contends that Smith had already sided with U.S. Sugar by backing a 2003 bill that pushed back pollution standards for the Everglades.
During the debate, Smith said he was aware of ads on his behalf and refused to back away from them, saying he felt they raised fair concerns about Davis. Smith denied he was beholden to special interests. "Polluters will pay," he said.
Smith spokesman David Kochman defended the new ad as well. "There are some votes in there that it's legitimate to question Jim Davis about," he said. "A lot of voters won't be really happy to find out."
The flip side lauds Smith, saying he "dramatically increased" the number of minority lawyers in the state attorney's office he worked in before becoming a state senator, among other things.