Publix, with its partisan pay-to-play moves, has more than a seditious heiress to atone for | Opinion

Fabiola Santiago-Wed, February 3, 2021, 6:00 AM

It’s getting tougher, if not downright impossible, to walk into a Publix store in Florida without feeling repulsed by the company’s partisan politics.

The powers that be have turned grocery shopping at the popular chain into a necessary chore that feels oh so slimy (if you have a conscience, that is).

It’s not just about the titillating revelation that the Publix-generated wealth of a seditious heiress funded the Trump rally that turned into a deadly attempt at a coup d’état that put our democracy to the test.

There’s a lot more the company needs to atone for, but it’s only offering excuses at best.

Outraged Publix customers say they’re parting ways with the store. And yes, maybe it’s time to consider using the B word.

Amid calls for a boycott, corporate Publix is trying to distance the supermarket chain from the heiress who funded the Capitol riot to the tune of $300,000, the Wall Street Journal reported.

She’s not our employee, not involved in our operations, corporate says to explain away the unforgivable act of one of the heirs to the Publix fortune indirectly financing the disruption of the Electoral College certification.

But as damnable as is Julie Jenkins Fancelli’s donation to finance Donald Trump’s “fight like hell” mobs, it’s only the latest installment in the company’s history of questionable politically motivated actions.

Pay-to-play DeSantis

Worse, perhaps, than Jenkins Fancelli’s meddling in a fair and democratic election is Publix’s $100,000 donation to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis — for a piece of the COVID-19 vaccine action.

After corporate handed over the money in four $25,000 payments, the governor awarded the supermarket chain an exclusive contract to distribute 200,000 COVID-19 vaccines in Palm Beach County.

Not even hospitals in the county have the vaccine. You can only get it at the 67 Publix pharmacy counters in stores. (The governor’s office has since said they’re adding the local health department, but the health department website still directs people to Publix.)

This is, plain and simple, dirty pay-to-play politics — corruption made possible by having a manipulative governor who kept COVID-19 infection data secret and is now doing the same with vaccine distribution as people struggle to get appointments.

The Publix donation should be investigated and sanctioned, and would be, if only law and order in Florida extended to elected officials. But we live in a state where the governor, elected by a very thin margin, thinks of himself as an emperor of sorts, not accountable to the public.

There’s no transparency in a state once known for its open government.

The governor doesn’t even allow his surgeon general to answer questions at press conferences that are motivated, not by public interest, but by DeSantis’ public-relations needs. He isn’t working for us, but on behalf of his reelection campaign.

And this is exactly the type of politician Publix aids and abets by financing their careers.

Remember when the company funded in 2018 DeSantis’ primary challenger, Adam Putnam, a self-described “proud NRA sellout” and supporter of Trump’s anti-immigrant vitriol in a state where 21 percent of the population is immigrant?

Only when Parkland shooting survivors threatened to stage a “die-in” in Publix aisles did the grocer withdraw its support for Putnam.

Not that Floridians gained anything with DeSantis.

The company hasn’t learned a thing about the perils of mixing food and politics — and here it is again, now as pushers of a toxic mix of COVID, vaccines and politics.

It’s outrageous that the governor gives an exclusive vaccine contract to a company that dragged its feet at the pandemic’s onset before finally requiring masks at its stores to keep employees and customers safe.

A company that still won’t enforce mask-wearing in parts of Florida like Jacksonville — something I have seen first-hand — shouldn’t be trusted.

Where, Floridians, would you rather get your newly developed COVID vaccine, at your doctor’s office or a supermarket? At a hospital where trained professionals can respond to a possible reaction or at a busy grocery store?

With the cozy DeSantis-Publix alliance, we all lose something, but minority communities experience the worst disparities in the distribution of vaccines.

Publix’s see-no-evil excuses

Publix likes to boast of being employee-owned as a civic virtue, but that only accounts for 25 percent of ownership. It is actually under the control of its biggest shareholders, heirs of the founding Jenkins family.

Now that one of the Jenkinses is involved in an affront to democracy, the grocer wants us to forget they own the place.

“Mrs. Fancelli is not an employee of Publix Super Markets, and is neither involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way,” said a statement sent to the Miami Herald by spokeswoman Maria Braus.

Jenkins Fancelli has no need to be an employee. She’s the wealthy heir to the company.


Then, as if they were just filling in the blanks in a PR form, the company adds: “The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was a national tragedy. The deplorable actions that occurred that day do not represent the values, work or opinions of Publix Super Markets.”

Well, good thing.

With its financial endorsement of Trumpian politics and COVID-light policies, corporate Publix again acts as if the dominant supermarket chain only had one set of customers: conservative ones of the Trump-supporting ilk.

The rest of us ought to make them feel some pain in the pocket.

It should be easier to withdraw our business in South Florida now that Whole Foods, Sprouts Farmers Market, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market, Aldi and all sorts of ethnic markets and grocery stores are available.

Boycott can send message

Boycotts seldom work, but they do send a message.

Goya, for instance, has muzzled its Trump-loving CEO after his comments on Fox News in defense of Trump after the insurrection.

In many communities in Florida, there’s little choice but to shop at Publix.

But perhaps it’s time for shoppers to reconsider to whom we’re giving our hard-earned dollars. Hiring people with disabilities is a positive hallmark practice at Publix, but they’re no longer the only employers doing so.

Partisan pay-to-play Publix has a seditious heiress to atone for — and so much more.

Taking back the donation to DeSantis’ PAC would be a fine start to redemption.

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