On Steve Southerland and King Ranch, the Tampa Bay Times gets it wrong

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Regular readers of this blog know that I am a committed supporter of Gwen Graham, the Democrat challenging Republican Steve Southerland in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. I champion her on this site, I tweet about her campaign’s progress, and I have donated to her.

So when the headline, “Touting pro-sugar bill, Southerland first U.S. congressman to confirm King Ranch trip” popped, I knew Graham had just been given ammunition to fire at Southerland thanks to Times reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler and their never ending quest to make a King Ranch story out of any odd bits and pieces that come to hand.

Unfortunately for Graham, who has not commented on the story, that ammunition is actually a booby trap, constructed of inexplicable factual errors and unsupportable inferences.

Pittman and Van Sickler report that on “Monday, Southerland became the first U.S. congressman to acknowledge he went to the U.S. Sugar lodge for a hunting trip.”

He admitted no such thing. They asked him if he had ever been hunting at the King Ranch, not if he had ever hunted on U.S. Sugar property on the King Ranch. And when Southerland, unaware of their agenda, gave a truthful, affirmative response, their bias and their ambition made them leap to the conclusion that he had hunted with U.S. Sugar executives on land leased by U.S. Sugar on the King Ranch, which fit their narrative nicely.

That leap would get you an ‘F’ in Journalism 101 and should result in a good old fashioned spanking for Van Sickler and Pittman in the Times woodshed, if there is one.

Sources in close communication with the Southerland camp tell me he has indeed hunted on the vast King Ranch, but that his trip had nothing to do with US..Sugar, its employees or the property it leases on the King Ranch.

And sources at U.S. Sugar confirm that Southerland never hunted on their property in Texas “unless he climbed the fence at night when our folks were asleep.”

As this part of Pittman and Van Sickler’s story falls apart, the second half of the story, which infers that Southerland’s (phantom) trips to U.S. Sugar’s lands at King Ranch are connected to legislation he is proposing relating to wetlands regulation also falls apart.

Pittman and Van Sickler report:

“Southerland’s proposed “Regulatory Overreach Protection Act” is headed to the floor of the U.S. House next month. Southerland introduced the bill in July. …

“The bill would let the states decide which wetlands deserve protection, potentially saving farmers and developers time and money dealing with the federal government.

It’s opposed by the Florida Conservation Coalition, which Monday issued a statement of support for continued federal oversight of wetlands and other bodies of water. That group was founded by former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham …

The federal water management law Southerland’s bill seeks to curtail, the Clean Water Act, passed Congress by an overwhelming margin in 1972.

… Under the act, the Army Corps of Engineers is in charge, issuing wetlands-filling permits to landowners who meet certain requirements. The Environmental Protection Agency can veto permits, but has done so only 13 times.

… Across the country, agricultural interests have blasted the proposed rules as a power grab by Washington bureaucrats. Southerland’s bill does far more than criticize the rules however; it shifts power to the states.

Pittman and Van Sickler are not subtle in linking Southerland’s nonexistent U.S. Sugar King Ranch hunting trip to his proposed “Regulatory Overreach Protection Act”.

The only problem is that sources at U.S. Sugar tell met that not only has Southerland never been hunting on its lease in Texas, no one at the company, nor any of its contractors or affiliates has EVER lobbied Southerland or any other elected officials or their staffs on this legislation.


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.