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Rick Scott's sugar press conference turns bitter

Rick Scott waded into Everglades restoration issues for the first time on Thursday but wound stumbling into the messy mire instead.

Scott showed up outside the South Florida Water Management District’s headquarters in West Palm Beach to back Tea Party members opposed to Gov. Charlie Crist’s controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. The district’s board was preparing to vote on a third, dramatically downsized version of the deal -- $197 million for 26,790 acres of groves and fields.

Scott, backed by a handful for Tea Partiers, charged that rival Bill McCollum had been “”bought and paid for” by U.S. Sugar, which he claimed had poured nearly $1 million directly or indirectly into McCollum’s campaign. Scott said McCollum had stood "idly by'' while Crist pushed a deal that would benefit a powerful company. McCollum, he claimed, had cut a “secret sugar deal, which will end up a secret sugar tax.’’

Scott never offered details of the tax, however, and was nearly drowned out by one disgruntled Tea Partier/McCollum mole stood next to him holding a hand-drawn sign, “Where’s the deposition?” and heckled Scott throughout his statement.

The deposition in question stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a doctor against a Scott company, Solantic. Scott was deposed just six days before he announced his candidacy. The deposition, which Scott refuses to release because it's a "private matter," was sealed as part of a settlement agreement.

Everett Wilkinson, a Palm Beach Gardens resident who said he was chairman of the South Florida Tea Party, said Scott had supported the land buy earlier but was now flip-flopping purely to launch a political attack on McCollum.

“That’s kind of hypocritical, isn't it, ” Wilkinson said shortly before Scott’s appearance.

 After his brief talk, Scott scampered to a waiting Chevy Impala with Wilkinson and a mob of TV cameras and reporters badgering him with questions, none of which he answered.

-- Curtis Morgan