Publix: Where shop­ping is po­lit­i­cal

Tampa Bay Times - - Local - SUE CARL­TON scarl­ton@tam­pabay.com

Say it ain’t so. Tell me my fa­vorite gro­cery store — the trusted green-and-white icon of many a Florida child­hood, a chain wo­ven into the fab­ric of this state, as de­pend­able as de­cent as­para­gus, tidy aisles and bag boys you’re not sup­posed to tip — is not be­ing talked about in the same breath as the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

Though maybe it was inevitable.

Af­ter all, the NRA is pretty Florida it­self, hav­ing pushed this state’s per­mis­sive pro-gun laws — for­bid­ding doc­tors to talk to pa­tients about gun safety, en­cour­ag­ing cit­i­zens to shoot first and ask later — to law­mak­ers with ea­ger pens at the ready.

Why wouldn’t the NRA get Publix, too?

Right about here is where the Lake­land-based gro­cery chain that is beloved — and no, that’s not too strong a de­scrip­tion — by na­tive-borns and trans­plants alike would want me to tell you the com­pany does not fi­nan­cially sup­port the NRA. Publix would prob­a­bly want me to say this more than once.

But as the Times’ Steve Con­torno re­ported this week, Publix, the heirs to its founder and its cur­rent and for­mer lead­ers have do­nated a hefty $670,000 to Repub­li­can

Adam Put­nam’s run for gov­er­nor.

That’s Florida Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Put­nam who has de­clared him­self a “proud NRA sell­out.”

That’s Put­nam, who told NRATV in the month af­ter 17 peo­ple were mur­dered in a mass shoot­ing at a South Florida high school that he op­posed in­creas­ing the gun buy­ing age to 21. And yes, ap­par­ently there is an NRATV.

Which means Publix strongly sup­ports a can­di­date for gov­er­nor who does not sup­port sen­si­ble changes to gun laws. And who sup­ports the pow­er­ful NRA.

Some his­tory here: Both Put­nam and Publix are from Polk County. Publix calls him “the home­town can­di­date” and has been back­ing him since he was barely old enough to buy a PBR at the lo­cal con­ve­nience store.

But now Put­nam wants to run this state. Now we’re talk­ing about guns and ac­cess to them. And this matters to some of us who spend a whole lot of money at Publix.

This might be hard to un­der­stand for peo­ple from places with gro­cery store al­le­giances less fierce. But Publix is as much a part of this place as or­ange groves that dis­ap­peared to make room for the next sprawl­ing sub­di­vi­sion, and then more Publixes. It’s where you jumped on the big scale to weigh your­self in ele­men­tary school, re­quested cream cheese frost­ing for your birth­day sheet cake and later got your tod­dler a free cookie at the bak­ery. When Hur­ri­cane Irma was bear­ing down on us last year, I found go­ing to Publix oddly com­fort­ing.

I re­al­ize Publix is a big For­tune 500 com­pany that can spread its money where it likes. But I want sto­ries about any Publix-re­lated con­tro­versy to be of no more im­port than quit­ting giv­ing out a free slice of tav­ern ham while you wait for your deli or­der. (By the way, have they qui­etly rein­tro­duced this tra­di­tion or am I just run­ning into rogue deli work­ers?)

With this lat­est news, some are vow­ing to boy­cott. But it will not likely be any­thing the long-en­trenched Publix can’t weather.

What it is mostly is a dis­ap­point­ment: that de­pend­able Publix let pol­i­tics into the aisles of a place we counted on to look out for Florid­i­ans and to not be par­ti­san, much less po­lar­iz­ing.

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