The upcoming vacancy in the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services position has drawn a field of seven candidates.
The incumbent, Republican Adam Putnam, is finishing his second four-year term and is prevented from running for a third. The post is an elected Florida Cabinet seat. Putnam is running for the GOP nomination for governor against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.
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The Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversees a myriad assortment of government agencies and regulations. One of its chief duties, as its title suggests, is managing Florida’s large agricultural industry, which is one of the state’s most powerful economic engines.
The next commissioner will preside over a critical juncture in this industry, from dealing with challenges in the state’s iconic citrus industry to changes from the potential re-writing or canceling of the North American Free Trade Association.
The department, however, also supervises a number of important consumer and public services.
One of those is ensuring state gas pumps are free of skimmers used to rip-off credit card information. Another area is regulating gun permits, a task that came under scrutiny this year when it was revealed the department, under Putnam’s watch, mishandled reviews for concealed weapons permits.
The seven candidates include four Republicans and three Democrats. The Republicans are: Matt Caldwell, Denise Grimsley, Mike McCalister and Baxter Troutman. The Democrats are Nicole “Nikki” Fried, Jeffrey Duane Porter and Roy David Walker.
Caldwell, 37, is a real estate appraiser from Fort Myers. He has been a state representative since 2011.
Caldwell supports keeping firearms oversight in the department, because he said it’s important that duty fall under an agency led by an elected representative of the people. He says as agriculture commissioner he would become involved in NAFTA renegotiation.
“I am running to address the issues that I believe will define this office in the coming decade: jobs, water, and our 2nd Amendment rights,” Caldwell wrote.
Grimsley, 58, is a hospital administrator from Zolfo Springs. She served in the Florida House of Represenatives from 2005 to 2013 and has been a Florida state senator since 2013.
Grimsley believes there are ways to find efficiencies in the department’s operations. She also believes a NAFTA renegotiation should provide the same remedies to Florida’s seasonal and perishable fruit as any other U.S. export commodity.
“Running a farm, I know that many threats that come from frosts, freezes, pests, diseases, hurricanes and cyclical markets,” Grimsley wrote. “I’m prepared to serve on Day One with solutions I have outlined to address rural Florida, workforce development and job creation, not to mention issues impacting our farmers, food supply and water resources.”
McCalister, 66, is a Palm tree farmer from Plant City. He has a doctoral degree in management. McCalister’s priorities for the commissioner post would include eradicating citrus greening and Texas palm disease, restoring Lake Okeechobee and shutting down illegal animal slaughterhouses.
Troutman, 51, is a businessman from Winter Haven. He served as a state lawmaker from 2003 to 2013.
Troutman’s theme is “Keep Florida Growing,” and he said that slogan speaks to water quality and accessibility, attacking citrus greening and rewriting NAFTA and “building Florida’s agriculture industry with rural economic development, and streamlining the concealed carry permit process.”
Among the Democrats running in that party’s primary, Fried, 40, is a lawyer and consultant in Fort Lauderdale. She has never run for political office.
Her priorities include policies to “support a sustainable water supply” and addressing coastal algae blooms. She also supports expanding medical marijuana. Fried said she also is willing to “start the conversation of looking at whether or not concealed weapons permits should be handled by Florida Department of Law Enforcement” instead of the department.
Porter, 58, is presently serving as vice mayor of Homestead.
“My number one priority is protecting our farmers and ranchers from getting entangled in a tariff war that will hurt our local businesses and laborers due to President Trump’s risky strategies involving NAFTA and other countries,” he wrote.
Porter also wants to direct the department to take stronger measures to protect elderly residents from telemarketing schemes and identity theft.
Walker, 33, of Wilton Manors, is a former instructor in a naturalist program who serves on city committees.
He lists the following priorities: environmental and water protection, consumer protection and growing the state’s economy. He supports improved oversight of concealed gun permit reviews and wants stricter control over cheap imports of agricultural goods and emphasizes consumer protection.
“The Consumer Services department has been neglected since moved under the Department of Agriculture,” Walker wrote. “In order to have better oversight, we need a Commissioner that will concentrate on consumer protection.”
Meet the Candidates
City: Fort Myers
Education: Bachelor’s degree in History, Florida Gulf Coast University
Profession: Real estate appraiser
city: Zolfo Springs
Education: Masters in Business Administration, University of Miami.
Professional: Hospital administrator
City: Winter Haven
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business and Marketing, Florida Southern College
Professional: President and CEO, Labor Solutions Inc.
City: Plant City
Education: Doctoral degree in Management; institution not provided
Profession: Palm tree farmer
Nicole “Nikki” Fried
City: Fort Lauderdale
Education: Law degree, University of Florida
Profession: Attorney and consultant
Jeffrey Duane Porter
Education: Not provided
Profession: Vice Mayor of Homestead
Roy David Walker
City: Wilton Manors
Education: Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management, American Public University
Profession: Former associate instructor, Florida Master Naturalist Program, is a former instructor in a naturalist program who serves on city committees.