SWEET, SWEET VICTORY FOR HC&S
Thanks to Hawaii’s two U.S. Senators (both of which are Democrats), Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar can breathe a bit easier.
According to a May 22 press release just received from the office of U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, the good senator has helped stop an awful, awful amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill that would have “killed off Hawaii’s last sugar farms and risked 800 jobs in the state.”
Thanks ever so much. Since there is but one “sugar farm” left in the state of Hawaii–that would be the HC&S Central Maui operation, which employs 800 workers–we can safely say that HC&S (itself a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin) owes more than a debt of gratitude to Senator Hirono.
“This amendment was a raw deal for Hawaii and sugar producers across the country,” said Hirono in the news release. “Much is said about supporting ‘made in America’ products, and this measure does the opposite. It would have virtually zeroed out American sugar producers and forced us to depend on heavily subsidized foreign producers for this important commodity.”
Though Hirono’s press release never clearly mentions that the Farm Bill amendment would have targeted special price supports for sugar producers (which HC&S has long insisted they don’t even support), Hirono danced around the issue in her press release with cliches like “measures that level the playing field”:
“Eliminating measures that level the playing field for American sugar producers would cost an estimated 142,000 jobs nationwide and devastate Hawaii’s last remaining sugar farms,” she said. “I will continue to work closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to guard against future attempts to roll back these basic protections for our sugar producers.”
Refreshingly, the statement on the Farm Bill amendment from Senator Brian Schatz’s office is clear and unambiguous. “Today, the United States Senate saved the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, which is the state’s sole producer of raw and special sugar, and is critical to Maui’s workforce and economy,” Schatz said in a May 22 news release. “HC&S provides $56 million in wages to 800 Maui residents that have served as a cornerstone of this company and community for decades. I thank my Senate colleagues for helping save jobs in Hawaii and protecting nearly $250 million in revenue that is produced by the company.”
In any case, the Farm Bill amendment that Hirono and Schatz fought against so valiantly would have left American consumers (who consume WAY TOO MUCH sugar as it is) at the mercy of what Hirono called “cheap foreign sugar” that would have played havoc with their bank accounts and quite possibly the size of those little sweetener packets you get with your iced tea in many restaurants, but no matter. The point is that thanks to Senators Hirono and Schatz, HC&S and its 800 employees can keep right on burning sugar cane.
Of course, Hirono and Schatz are far from the only Hawaii politicians to vote Big Sugar’s way, though there are sometimes small exceptions. Like the EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011. That bill, which was put forth by Republicans and passed the House of Representatives in October 2011, was very favorable to plants like the HC&S sugar mill.
The House of Representatives vote count for that bill shows that Hawaii Representative Colleen Hanabusa, D-1st District, voted for it. In a press release posted on her website, she later explicitly justified her vote by saying that the EPA rules would have been directly harmful to the HC&S mill. Ironically, Hirono (then representing Hawaii’s 2nd District in the U.S. House) voted against the bill.
By the way, the Center of Responsive Politics reports that during the 2012 senate election, Alexander & Baldwin gave Hirono’s campaign $23,100, making it the senator’s third highest contributor (Schatz, who was appointed to his Senate seat a few months ago, is not yet in the CRP online database).
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LET’S BE HONEST ABOUT TEA PARTY MAUI
And now I’d like to throw a bucket of very cold water on the very hot story about how the bad, bad Internal Revenue Service is harassing poor little Tea Party groups around the country by throwing huge, onerous bureaucratic hurdles in front of them, when all they want to do is secure a cozy 501(c)4 tax-exempt status.
“It’s chilling,” Bill Doyle, Tea Party Maui’s president in 2012, said in the May 15 Maui News. “What’s going on in America where political views make you a target for intimidation?”
Boo hoo. The 501(c)4 tax status bestows tax-exempt status on an organization that focuses at least half of its attention on “social welfare” causes (whatever those are). And groups like Tea Party Maui covet this, saying they have nothing to do with politics. Yet they fill their mission statements with healthy doses of political buzzwords, catch phrases and code words. Consider the following paragraph, taken straight from the About section of Tea Party Maui’s webpage:
“The focus of TPM is policy not politics,” states the webpage. “When a public official supports the Constitution and the principles of liberty and limited government, they are worthy of our praise. If they do not, we will seek to hold them accountable. To this end we will disseminate information about the voting records of elected officials and other public actions about which the public has a right to know.”
This is classic. Organizations like Tea Party Maui want to “disseminate information about the voting records of elected officials” (translation: bash officials, almost all of whom are Democrats, with advertisements, blogs and letters to the editor) but insist there’s nothing political about any of it–and do so exempt of federal taxes.
Sure, the IRS went about its investigations of groups like Tea Party Maui in a harsh manner. But let’s be honest about the fact that the Tea Party movement is political. It serves no “social welfare” role. It is about bending government to its peculiarly conservative ideology (low taxes, as little government spending as possible). If such a movement is not political, then there is no such thing as a political movement in this nation.