Republican agriculture commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell sure got my attention Friday when he told "hate group" Bullsugar.org what they could do with their "candidate questionnaire."
Asked by email to complete and return the Bullsugar.org 2018 Candidate Questionnaire (and sign the Now or Neverglades Declaration) "to help us promote your campaign's positions on water issues that are critical to Florida voters," Caldwell abruptly declined and fired this back:
"From the base vulgarity of your name to the harassment and abuse hurled toward fellow Floridians to the constant stream of twisted misinformation spread to the public, your organization has all the hallmarks of a hate group."
Whoaaa. It was only the second sentence in Caldwell's response and already I was cheering.
"Having your organizing principle as the hatred of the 'other' is a wholly unacceptable premise for any organization, whether the 'other' is Jews, migrants, or, in your case, farmers," wrote the state representative from North Fort Myers.
I've never heard anybody else call Bullsugar.org Inc. a hate group, but by God, that's exactly what it is.
This organization's dark money, skewed "facts" and targeted attacks on anyone or any group that doesn't fall in line with its fear-based propaganda certainly qualifies it as a hate group.
Most of all, I only have to look back at this anti-sugar fright site's Facebook postings.
It seems to me the most egregious (of many) were the attacks on Indiantown's Kevin Powers in 2016, when Powers was vice chairman of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board.
Bullsugar apparently felt the need to hatch a conspiracy theory about Powers because the SFWMD board opposed its push to "buy the land, move the water south." Powers lives in Martin County, ground zero for algal blooms.
In August 2016 organization president Kenny Hinkle Jr. and staffers Michael Conner and Jo Neeson launched a concerted effort to paint Powers as a man in a dirty business, profiting from his Rick Scott-appointed SFWMD position.
Hinkle wrote, "Guess who owns Indiantown Gas Co at the end of the (Sabal Trail) pipeline. None other than Kevin Powers of SFWMD. Guess Gov. Rick Scott took care of his buddy that killed the purchase of US Sugarland last year."
A total lie. Indiantown Gas (IGC) is a propane gas company only. The business is focused on residential and commercial propane delivery, not natural gas. IGC had no interest in the natural gas pipeline going to FPL or any other pipeline for that matter. Only the Legislature could "kill" such a land purchase. And it's Kevin's brother Brian who is the majority owner of the company and runs the day-to-day operations at IGC with his wife -- not Kevin.
Even Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum added to the lie: "... hell, Kevin Powers, vice chair, operates the COAL fired plant in Indiantown, he doesn't care about clean water. HIS golden parachute for denying us the land we so desperately need was the proposed LNG refrigeration plant that Sabal Trail Pipeline is headed to."
Asked later where he got his information, Baum told me, "You know, I'm really sorry about that, I got bad information and realized it when I went back to check. I meant to address it and apologize to Kevin for what I said."
But there never was an apology.
Bullsugar Director of Angler Outreach Mike Connor, a licensed fishing guide, "posted a video ... of Kevin along with his false, vulgar commentary," Marsha Powers, a Martin County School Board member and Kevin's wife, wrote to Bullsugar co-founder Kenan Siegel. "This is what my children and your children get to see and hear. Is this really the way to get results?
"Kevin and I were at Dancing in the Streets when we had to walk by the Bullsugar.org tent. Kevin was immediately called out by the people working in the booth. At one point, Hinkle had strangers that walked up to the booth shout things at Kevin. It was such a display of immaturity and bullying behavior that seems unimaginable as I write it. ... Kevin and I cannot go out in the community that we love as much or more than anyone without being heckled by known liars and bullies," she wrote.
Over and over again the facts were pointed out to Hinkle and the others, but neither he nor Siegel would take the post down. (Incidentally, Bullsugar did have the good sense last year to dump Kenny Hinkle as its president.)
Then there was Bullsugar Bob Markey III: Here's what the Wellington Realtor posted on Bullsugar.org's Facebook page: "I don't care if jobs are lost in the Glades because of a cut in sugar production. Those jobs are causing the destruction of our environment and should not have ever existed. Clewiston is a legitimate town, but have you seen Belle Glade or Pahokee? They are godforsaken places of crime, municipal corruption and poverty whose residents would be better off, and would cost the state and feds less by being relocated to legitimate communities elsewhere."
Bullsugar Bob's insensitivity was stunning -- but typical of Bullsugar Facebook posters. Bob Markey is the son of the Wellington newspaper's founder, grew up amid the polo ponies of tony Wellington. Wouldn't you think a guy whose hometown was carved out of the pristine Everglades, bermed to help keep it dry, dredged with canals that go nowhere so people like him can make a bundle selling "waterfront," then blasted every summer day for God-knows-how-many years to annihilate the mosquitoes ... wouldn't you think he might have just a touch of humility and compassion for his hard-working neighbors across the River of Grass?
It's hard to say Bullsugar people even mean well. Over the four years the organization has been up and running from a UPS office address on East Ocean Boulevard in Stuart, its calling card has been demonization, not conversation. It has always been reflected on its Facebook page, a mish-mash of targeted obscenities, childish insults and accusations largely based on lies.
You might be interested in the rest of Matt Caldwell's response:
"The Central & Southern Flood Control Project exists to serve all of the millions of Floridians who live in the drained Everglades and restoring those Everglades requires restoration throughout the entire Project," he wrote. "Your continual suggestion that all of the flood water that historically sat west of I-95 in Wellington, Davie, and Miami Lakes can somehow be shoved into a farmland area less than half that size is so patently ludicrous, it only serves to prove your organization's adherence to the “Big Lie” strategy so typical of hate groups. I will continue to collaborate with those groups who are truly interested in a restored and ecologically functional Everglades. Thank you."
A politician in the heat of a political campaign refusing to equivocate on a very controversial, very political organization -- finding the moxy to call a spade a spade. That's rare.
You bet Caldwell got it right. Bullsugar is indeed a hate group.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith