On Tuesday, term-limited State Representative Heather Fitzenhagen, desperate to find a new place to park herself in Florida’s political game of musical chairs, lost big in a bid for a State Senate seat. Despite having a well-funded campaign and proven campaign manager in Jeff Roe, who had experience managing campaigns for Ted Cruz and Rick Perry, Fitzenhagen only mustered 25% of the vote compared to State Representative Ray Rodrigues’ 75% in Southwest Florida’s Senate District 27 Republican primary.
That sort of rejection by the voting public sent a very strong message: nobody wanted to buy what Fitzenhagen was selling.
But what was it that she was actually selling? Her campaign, heavily funded and endorsed by the Everglades Trust, at times appeared more focused on attacking the sugar industry itself than contrasting her qualifications with Rodrigues. Some of her ads never mentioned Rodrigues at all, going fully negative on the state’s sugar farmers.
That strategy backfired spectacularly. In fact, Fitzenhagen was one of nine candidates backed by the Everglades Trust that went down in flames last night. The others were District 1 Congressional candidate Casey Askar, Florida Senate District 29 candidate Irv Slosberg, a slate of five Florida House candidates, and even a Palm Beach County Commissioner race. For the Everglades Trust and their candidates, their primary election night was akin to multiple dumpster fires, if those dumpsters were somehow also involved in a train wreck.
But at least in Fitzenhagen’s case, maybe it wasn’t all bad. Sure, losing any election campaign by a 3 to 1 margin is never a great use of resources. But Fitzenhagen is no dummy. Was there another strategy at work? It’s not hard to image that Fitzenhagen, knowing her defeat was a foregone conclusion, used the resources of her campaign to gratuitously bash sugar farmers. It’s conceivable that her campaign, with no hope of winning, became nothing more than a grotesque public audition to parlay her anti-agriculture rhetoric into a cushy job inside Florida’s environmental movement.
It’s happened before. The list of Florida’s high profile political and media sugar-bashers now on Paul Tudor Jones’ payroll seems to grow each year.
Former Stuart News editorial page editor Eve Samples parlayed her career as a supposedly “objective” journalist to join Friends of the Everglades. She penned many heavily slanted opinion pieces and editorials blaming farmers for nearly everything, such as toxic discharges fouling her local beaches, despite the fact that science has shown water from their farms has little to do with the problem.
Former West Palm Beach City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell earned her current position heading the Everglades Trust after using her previous office to attack farmers. Mitchell was responsible for the endorsement of Fitzenhagen and other failed candidates in Tuesday’s primary, and seems to keep her organization more focused on attacking farmers than on priorities that would actually save the Everglades.
The Department of the Interior’s Former Director of the Everglades, Shannon Estenoz, was once an outspoken critic of sugarcane farmers while serving in the Obama Administration. She now continues her anti-farmer crusade as the Everglades Foundation’s (the Everglades Trust’s policy arm), Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs.
Then there is Eric Eikenberg, the head of the Everglades Foundation, who was one of lead negotiators of the failed U.S. Sugar land buy when he served as Chief of Staff under Governor Charlie Crist. His stint in the “people’s governor’s office” no doubt earned him his position at the helm of the Everglades Foundation.
The pattern seems undeniable: first attack the state’s sugar farmers, then win a job with Florida’s environmental activist cabal. Fitzenhagen appears to know how the game works. Now that she’s out of political chairs in which to plop herself, it’ll be interesting to see if she’s rewarded by the state’s environmental glamour groups like the glitzy Everglades Foundation or club-hopping Captains for Clean Water.