Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Human Interest

Can we get our beloved Publix to take over the business of running Florida?

It's no secret that I love Florida. I love our beaches, our gorgeous sunsets and state parks. I especially love our police-beat stories, where you regularly find headlines like, "Accused 'porta potty' puncher popped in toilet tantrum."

As a Floridaphile, I do my best to patronize the businesses that got their start here:

• Red Lobster, Beyonce's favorite post­coital seafood joint, started in Lakeland in 1968. Now there are 700 across the country. One early investor was future Florida Gov. "Walkin' " Lawton Chiles, who walked the whole state during a campaign. It's not true he was picking future locations.

• Burger King was originally called "Insta-Burger King" when it was founded in Jacksonville in 1953. It moved to Miami in 1959. In the '80s, when the Cocaine Cowboys turned Miami into America's murder capital, the medical examiner borrowed a BK refrigerator truck to hold all the extra corpses.

• Gatorade, which launched the multibillion-dollar sports drink industry, was created to keep University of Florida football players from wilting in the heat. Researchers led by Dr. Robert Cade figured out players needed a concoction to replace lost electrolytes. Cade said the players were cooperative, up to a point: "They would not consent to having practice stopped so we could measure their body temperatures rectally."

There are others — Tupperware and the Home Shopping Network, for instance. But none can compare to the king of Florida-based businesses, Publix.

Founded in Winter Haven in 1930, Publix is now the largest employee-owned grocery chain in America. Founder George Jenkins swiped the name from a now-defunct company that once owned the Tampa Theatre.

The Publix slogan, as you know, is "Where Shopping Is A Pleasure" — though it has also been "Where You Can See the Manager Try to Stop A Fight Between His Wife and His Girlfriend" and "Where A Guy Brought A Shark To The Parking Lot To Try To Sell It."

This is also the chain that in 1997 paid $81.5 million to settle a class-action sex discrimination suit. But you seldom hear about that, or the $10.5 million settlement in 2000 over claims of racial bias. More recently it has been the target of complaints from Donald Trump supporters for covering the front of the rabidly pro-Trump Pravda, er, I mean National Enquirer.

On the other hand, the bakery does give the kids free cookies. And the baggers will carry your stuff to your car for free. No tipping allowed!

Publix isn't the only grocery chain founded in Florida. Winn-Dixie started in Miami in 1926. Yet the W-D brand hasn't inspired the same devotion.

Publix, according to a fan's 2013 BuzzFeed post, is a store "gifted straight from the heavenly angels." This fan particularly loved the deli subs, noting that "waiting for your sandwich … is like watching Michelangelo as he paints delicate brush strokes onto the Sistine Chapel ceiling."

I like the subs, but I wouldn't go that far. I also wouldn't go as far as the Leon County probation officer arrested last month for smuggling a Publix sub to her jailed ex-boyfriend. Without commenting on her guilt or innocence, I'd just like to point out that that's true love right there.

What I want to know is, can we put Publix in charge of running the state?

Our Legislature, which convenes March 7, had a total meltdown in 2015 and did things that were, in a word, illegal. The House adjourned without approving a budget. The Senate came up with self-serving redistricting maps. The Supreme Court called both unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, voters got so ticked at the Legislature for halting an environmental land-buying program that they passed a constitutional amendment requiring its reinstatement. The Legislature said that to carry out that amendment, it had to spend money on things other than buying land.

That's a far cry from the Publix way. If Publix ran Florida, all you'd hear would be, "Yes, sir! Yes, ma'am! Would you like me to carry that environmental land out to your car?" And the lobbyists wouldn't be allowed to tip them, either.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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