Congressman Ron DeSantis is scheduled for a quick visit to southwest Florida on Wednesday, adding himself to the long list of state and federal officials who have traveled to see the green, "guacamole-like" toxic algae for themselves.
But there is one thing that makes DeSantis's visit different: his condemnation of U.S. Sugar's role in the algae crisis during the Republican debate in Jacksonville last week. U.S. Sugar is one of the most dominant special interests in Tallahassee, one that some Democratic candidates for governor, like Chris King, have used as a punching bag during this race.
DeSantis's harsh criticism of the company, is highly unusual for a Republican frontrunner for governor, especially during a televised debate. U.S. Sugar has poured millions and millions into the campaign of his opponent, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.
Calling Putnam the "errand boy" for U.S. Sugar, DeSantis dismissed the effect of septic tanks in causing the green, toxic algae, instead placing heavy blame on the phosphorous pollution from agriculture, which includes U.S. Sugar. Research has found that both play a role, but U.S. Sugar has also been resistant to sell land south of Lake Okeechobee where Republican state Senate President Joe Negron suggested building a reservoir that would hold excess water so it wouldn't have to be released to surrounding waterways, which exacerbates the crisis.
"Commissioner Putnam ... will not do anything that offends U.S. Sugar who is his main supporter," DeSantis said. "At the end of the day, if you let one company call the shots we’re going to continue to end up having the problem. Nobody should get special treatment."
Putnam argued back that the toxic algae was caused by many factors, and that there is "no unicorn and rainbow pixie-dust solution to this."
Putnam held a grassroots campaign events in both Fort Myers and Port St. Lucie in the past two weeks, but neither were algae-specific. Putnam is also kicking off a statewide tour of about 20 cities Wednesday, which is scheduled to last until just three days before the primary.
Meredith Beatrice, Putnam's campaign spokeswoman, said that he is the "only candidate with a plan and a track record of protecting Florida’s Golden Goose: water."
DeSantis's visit to Englewood in southwest Florida is scheduled to last just an hour and 30 minutes total, starting with a one-hour "roundtable" with local business owners at 4 p.m., then a 15-minute press conference, ended by a 15-minute "waterfront tour" to wrap everything up by 5:30 p.m.