Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Florida, not unlike an enduring but exacting marriage, is long and complex.
Consider her journey from idealistic law student at Yale sticking up for Florida migrant workers to presidential frontrunner chatting up the corporate elite who paid $50,000 a plate to dine with her on Miami Beach’s Star Island.
In July 1970, 22-year-old Hillary Rodham, an intern for a children’s advocacy group in Washington, was sent to monitor Walter Mondale’s Senate committee hearings about terrible working conditions on corporate-owned farms in Florida.
Some Yale classmates with internships at big law firms saw the hearings as proof that agribusinesses needed better PR. But Clinton, who had babysat migrant children in Illinois, had a different take.
“I suggested that the best way to do that would be to improve the treatment of their farm workers,” Clinton wrote in an autobiography. She threw herself into studying how laws affect children.
Fast forward 20 years. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton launches a bid for president with his lawyer-wife at his side and they target Florida as key to winning the Democratic nomination. They seek the money and support of sugar baron Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul, whose family-owned company faced numerous lawsuits alleging mistreatment of Jamaican guest workers cutting cane in South Florida’s muck. No matter. Fanjul becomes co-chairman of the 1992 Clinton campaign.
Four years later, an embarrassing political footnote: President Clinton was in the Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky when he had a 22-minute phone call with Fanjul, whose industry enjoyed special protections under Clinton’s NAFTA deal.
Today, most of the cane cutters are gone from the Fanjul fields in South Florida, replaced by machinery. But the Fanjul family remains tight with the Clintons, donating at least $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. Records show Alfy Fanjul met numerous times privately with Secretary of State Clinton. In August, shortly after the Democratic National Convention, Fanjul, his wife, Raysa, and former Ambassador Paul Cejas and his wife host a $100,000-per-couple dinner at Cejas’ Miami Beach mansion for the Democratic nominee who decries the unfair clout of the rich.
Call the Clinton-Fanjul ties irony, or even hypocrisy. Ultimately, the story of Hillary Clinton and her relationships in Florida is one of longevity.
“It’s not anything new with the Clintons’ calculus,” said Gregory Schell, a Palm Beach County lawyer who has spent decades fighting for farm workers — and suing the Fanjuls. “Everything about them is bottom line and the ends justify the means. They want to win.”
Schell plans to vote for her.
Photo credit: Mark Foley, AP