- By The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services involves a lot more than crops and cattle. The agriculture commissioner also oversees gun permits, consumer complaints, gas pumps — and sits on the powerful Florida Cabinet, whose duties include restoring felons’ rights.
Four candidates are in the Republican primary, three from longtime Florida farming families and one a retired U.S. Army colonel. All laud the Second Amendment, rap NAFTA and balance environmental concerns with the needs of agriculture.
The Post endorses state Sen. Denise Grimsley, 58, of Sebring, who brings the most varied background and who outlines the most detailed plans, spelled out in an e-book on her website. She has run her family business, a citrus and cattle enterprise with 10 convenience stores and gas stations – all affected, in one way or another, by the department she wants to head.
A former trauma nurse, Grimsley became a state representative for eight years, including two as top budget negotiator. She has an MBA from the University of Miami and is now a vice president of Florida Hospital in Wauchula. Meaning, she has executive experience and knowledge of both public and private finance.
She gives the performance of the current commissioner Adam Putnam an “A” for making the department “very consumer friendly.” As for Putnam’s conspicuous failure to conduct national background checks on concealed-carry permits for over a year, Grimsley vows to conduct a full audit of department procedures.
Her rivals are State Rep. Matt Caldwell, 36, of North Fort Myers, a real estate appraiser whose family has a background in Florida farming; former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, 51, of Winter Haven, a citrus farmer whose family also owns a cattle farm; and retired Col. Mike McCalister, of Plant City, who owns and operates a small tree farm. Troutman and McCalister did not meet with the Editorial Board.
Sign up for The Palm Beach Post FREE weekly Opinion newsletter: Text Opinion to 444999
The three candidates in the Democratic primary are based in South Florida. Roy David Walker, 33, is president of the South Florida Audubon Society and a former biological scientist and researcher. Jeffrey Porter, 58, is the mayor of his native Homestead, a city with a strong agricultural component.
Our endorsement goes to Nicole “Nikki” Fried , 40, a Fort Lauderdale advocate and former public defender who is running, she says, because she saw firsthand how state lawmakers “failed the people with medical marijuana.”
Fried brings energy, intelligence and a bevy of fresh ideas. For example, she backs legalizing recreational marijuana and cultivating industrial hemp to boost the agriculture sector and yield new billions in taxable revenue.
She vows to use the department’s legal department to crack down on fraud and do-not-call registry violations. “The consumer protection component has been completely neglected for around 20 years,” she told the Editorial Board.
A former University of Florida student body president who later headed a felony division juggling 1,500 cases, Fried says she has the management skills to realize her ambitions to address citrus greening, algae blooms, low-income-area food deserts, water conservation and climate change.
Read all of The Post’s endorsements online at www.MyPalmBeachPost.com/2018-endorsements.