- George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Adam Putnam formally rolled out his 2018 campaign for governor Wednesday on what looked like a movie set, with a cheering crowd and a high school marching band in front of a flag-draped Classical Revival courthouse in his Central Florida hometown.
Putnam’s campaign said more than 1,600 people checked in at the sun-drenched rally to hear the two-term Republican agriculture commissioner lay out his vision.
Putnam, 42, has spent more than 20 years in elected office — the Florida House, the U.S. House and, since 2011, as agriculture commissioner. He barely alluded to that part of his resume on Wednesday, instead noting he’s a fifth-generation Floridian who grew up in his family’s citrus and cattle business, where “there’s no such thing as 9 to 5.”
“For me, it has always been Florida first…We have to put Florida first so that we’re more than a prize for a life well-lived somewhere else. We can make Florida the launch pad for the American dream,” Putnam said.
Putnam didn’t delve into many policy specifics, but said “conservative principles” had enabled Florida’s economy to improve and would drive growth in the future.
“You know other states — California, New York, Illinois — they spend more than they can afford on big government, on growing bureaucracy and imposing higher taxes on their people. I’ve always wondered, if that big, bloated government was so great, why are all their people moving to the Sunshine State?” Putnam said.
“Our state can be the launch pad for the American Dream. The state that is the fishing capital of the world can also be the state that builds the boats and trains the craftsmen. The state that trained millions of soldiers and sailors and airmen can retrain our citizens with the skills that allow them to compete in a rapidly changing world – and win. The state that put a man on the moon can develop the next generation of tools for the next giant leap for mankind. Florida can be the launch pad for the American dream,” Putnam said.
Putnam and his family also have done well by the state of Florida.
In 2005, Florida taxpayers spent $25.5 million on 2,042 acres of the Putnam family’s ranch that had been valued at $5.5 million a year earlier, The Palm Beach Post reported in 2012. The South Florida Water Management District needed only 600 acres of the ranch in Highlands County for environmental purposes, but it bought all 2,042 acres and did it in a way that arranged for the Putnams a lucrative tax break, while allowing the family to continue grazing cattle on the land rent-free until the district needed the land. After paying the family’s attorney $3.9 million in legal fees, the total deal cost taxpayers nearly $30 million.
Putnam, a congressman at the time of the deal, said he was careful to not involve himself in the negotiations, which were handled by his brother, Will.
Putnam on Wednesday checked a variety of conservative boxes in his speech, mentioning his support for school choice programs and giving local communities — rather than Washington or Tallahassee — the “power to control their own future.” He pledged to “protect our Second Amendment rights — we take those seriously. Fighting for faith, for families, for freedom — these things are non-negotiable. We have a moral obligation to defend life, a duty to protect our constitutional freedoms and a responsibility to keep our borders, our cities and our neighborhoods safe and secure.”
In a brief interview after the speech, Putnam was asked about the opioid crisis, which has been particularly acute in Palm Beach County and led Gov. Rick Scott to declare a statewide public health emergency last week.
“There isn’t anybody who hasn’t been touched by substance abuse problems in their family. The opioid crisis is the latest iteration of a long-running battle between families and addiction,” Putnam said. “I applaud the governor for declaring the state of emergency. We need to put law enforcement and medical professionals together to come up with the right solutions to stem this. There are some models out there in other states that we can learn from, some of the states that fell into this before we did.”
Putnam, whose Florida Grown political committee began April with more than $7.7 million in cash on hand, is the early favorite to win the 2018 Republican nomination. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, are other potential GOP candidates.
Corcoran would presumably try to run to the right of Putnam, who sounded unfazed by the prospect.
“I’m a Bartow-raised farmer and I am a conservative,” Putnam said. “And anyone who wants to run for governor is more than welcome to pack a lunch and come along.”
Several Democrats have already packed their lunches or are considering it. Those who have opened campaigns are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; businessman Chris King; and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, daughter of another agricultural family descendant, former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and trial lawyer John Morgan are also considering Democratic bids.