EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/Small towns, Chicago at odds over sweet deal
Chicago makes candy. The self-proclaimed “Candy Capital of America,” the Windy City boasts the folks who make Milky Ways, Red Hots, Tootsie Rolls, Milk Duds, Cracker Jacks, Turtles, Jelly Bellies and Jawbreakers. Not to mention Wrigley’s chewing gum.
Sebewaing, Mich., makes the stuff with which Chicago makes the candy. Sebewaing, a town of 35,000, is located in the heart of the sugar beet-producing Saginaw Valley. It — and hundreds of towns like it — depends heavily on federal agricultural policy that subsidizes the domestic sugar industry and helps protect it against foreign producers.
Dan and George Miller have Sebewaingers (it might be Sebewaingians or Sebewaingites, but I’m going with Sebewaingers) in their sights. The unrelated Millers, the former a Florida Republican Congressman, the latter a California Democrat, are putting all their political muscle behind ending the sugar subsidies. Their efforts are being hailed by taxpayer groups, environmentalists and Chicago.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley wants the subsidies to go away. “It simply makes no sense to put entire industries in jeopardy just to protect a comparatively small number of sugar growers and producers,” Daley said in a March news conference.
Playing Lilliputians to Daley’s Gulliver, the mayors of 65 sugar-producing towns are asking Daley to back off. Daley, they argue, has a lot of nerve talking about “entire industries.” The candy makers in Chicago represent one little niche in the city’s overall economic health.
In Sebewaing and other farm towns, there is nothing but sugar. “Most of us are mayors of one-industry towns,” they wrote in a letter to Daley. “If we lose that industry, we lose jobs, schools and businesses — we lose communities.”
But before you go getting all weepy over the possibility of Sebewaing disappearing (it would be a huge loss, granted, if for no other reason than its name), consider: the town has powerful friends with lots of money, much of which just happens to end up in congressional pockets.
Sugar grower PACs toss around dollar bills like they were candy corn on Halloween. (Sugar growers counter that big candy makers like Nestlé do the same thing.) Still, Dan Miller calls Big Sugar “the poster child for campaign finance reform.”
Efforts to end the subsidy fell five votes short during the 1996 reauthorization of the nation’s farm programs. This time, the Millers are predicting success. The good people of Sebewaing, it seems, are no match for Daley and the formidable group of congressional reformers who could decide their fate.
But then, Gulliver shouldn’t have had a problem with the Lilliputians.