Updated Aug. 9, 2022, at 7:05 PM; Aug. 10, 2022, at 8:30 AM
Republicans Wilton Simpson and Jim Shaw and Democrats Naomi Esther Blemur, J.R. Gaillot, and Ryan Morales are running to be Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture. The position is one of three members of the Florida Cabinet.
If you are a registered Republican in Florida, you may vote in the closed Republican primary. If you are a registered Democrat, you may vote in the closed Democratic primary.
The winners of the primaries will represent their parties in the general election in November.
In this post, I will address the Florida Cabinet and what the Commissioner of Agriculture does. Then I will share what I have learned about the candidates. (See My Approach: How I Research Candidates.)
The Florida Cabinet
A Governor and three independently elected Cabinet officers head up the Executive branch of Florida Government. Currently, the Governor is Ron DeSantis; the Cabinet officers are Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
Together, the four sit as the State Board of Executive Clemency and establish the Rules of Executive Clemency by mutual consent. They also serve as co-heads of several state departments, boards, and commissions, including the Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. For the structure and history of the Florida Cabinet, click here. Also, see State of Florida Organization Chart.
Gov. DeSantis, Attorney General Moody, and Chief Financial Officer Patronis are all running for a second term. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is running for Governor, creating an open seat in the Commissioner of Agriculture race.
What Does the Commissioner of Agriculture Do?
The Commissioner of Agriculture heads the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
FDACS supports and promotes Florida agriculture, protects the environment, safeguards consumers, and ensures the safety and wholesomeness of food through four major programs:
- Agricultural Economic Development Program,
- Consumer Protection Program,
- Forest and Resource Protection Program, and
- Food Safety and Quality Program.
The Department also houses the Division of Licensing, which administers Florida’s concealed weapon licensing program and oversees Florida’s private investigative, private security, and recovery services industries. Also contained within the Department are the Offices of Agricultural Water Policy, Agricultural Law Enforcement, and Energy.
The Department has a budget of about $2 billion and employs almost 4,000 positions. For more on FDACS, see its website here and program summary here.
The Republican Candidates
James W. Shaw
James Shaw earned a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University in 1983. He had a 20-year career in the transportation industry as the owner/operator of a trucking transportation company. He also owned and operated three Auntie Anne’s pretzel franchises, was a real estate investor/owner of 50+ real estate units, and owned a 30-acre composting farm specializing in organic soil for organic growers.
Shaw and his wife Patricia live in Vero Beach, FL, and have eight children and 22 grandchildren. He is a multimillionaire with an estimated net worth of $4.5 million, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“I am passionate about protecting Florida from Far Left Agendas that are capable of destroying our state if implemented,” Shaw said on a Candidate Survey. “Citizens should be protected from strangle hold’ regulations that governments if not held in check are capable of doing. For day to day survival our food, water, and guns must be protected.”
Shaw’s key campaign messages, according to the Survey, are:
- Good food — “Farmers are Florida’s most valuable asset.As a civilization, country , or state without the protection of our food source and the ability to provide our food source we cannot exist.”
- Good water — “Florida’s water situation is front and center. … Water issues must be addressed to make sure every citizen of Florida is protected from anything less than perfect water.”
- Good guns — “I am 100% pro gun..The “Bill of Rights” has 10 amendments..right behind freedom of the right to free assembly, religion and speech the Founders knew to protect the first Amendment citizens would need the right to bear arms..I agree.”
- Website — votejim.us
- YouTube — James W. Shaw
Shaw has been endorsed by the Secretary of the Indian River County 2nd Amendment Defense Coalition, the National President of the pro-Trump group “Born to Ride 45,” the WinterHaven912Project, and more.
Wilton Simpson, 56, received an associate degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College in 1997, and years later, served as a member of its board.
Adopted at age six, he grew up on the family’s egg farm in Trilby, FL, which, under his management, became an extremely profitable and successful operation. According to a 2019 profile by the Miami Herald, Simpson was once called “the Donald Trump of regional egg farmers.”
He was elected to the Florida Senate in 2012 and reelected subsequently. He served as Senate Majority (Republican) Leader from 2016 to 2018 and as Senate President from 2019 to 2022.
Simpson and his wife have two children and two grandchildren.
Simpson’s key issues include:
- Agriculture — Protect farmers from frivolous lawsuits, advocate for Florida’s citrus growers, grow agritourism;
- Free Florida — Oppose vaccine mandates; support “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” election integrity, defending the Second Amendment;
- Public Safety — “Back the Blue,” combat public disorder, ban sanctuary cities in Florida, support veterans and the military;
- Families — “100% Pro-Life;” supports fully funding Florida’s Medicaid and KidCare programs, child welfare reform;
- Website — wiltonsimpson.com
- Facebook — Wilton Simpson
- Twitter — @WiltonSimpson
- Florida Senate Bio — Senator Wilton Simpson
- Wilton Simpson on his way to becoming Ag. Commissioner, but first he must beat a tomato can, Florida Politics, 6/17/22
- Homebuilders back Wilton Simpson for Agriculture Commissioner, Florida Politics, 7/6/22
- ‘Good enough isn’t enough for Wilton’: Richard Corcoran backs Wilton Simpson for Agriculture Commissioner, Florida Politics, 7/7/22
- Florida Realtors back Wilton Simpson for Ag Commissioner, makes legislative Primary endorsements, Florida Politics, 7/14/22
Simpson has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis, the NRA, Unified Sportsmen of Florida, 59 Florida sheriffs (including Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and more.
He was endorsed as the Republican Party candidate in this race by the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
The Democratic Candidates
Naomi Esther Blemur
Naomi Esther Blemur, 43, was born in Miami and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She studied accounting and economics at Queens College (NY) and has a Masters of Public Administration from Barry University. (voyageMIA, 3/4/20)
Blemur is an author, coach, and businesswoman who has worked in Fortune 500 companies in retail, fashion design, and commercial banking. In 2008, she resigned from corporate America and established a non-profit focused on women’s issues and at-risk girls aging out of the foster care system. She returned to South Florida in 2015.
Blemur currently serves as a Democrat Executive Committee Member for Miami-Dade District 15. She is also a Commissioner on the North Miami Planning Commission, Vice Chair on the North Miami Commission on Women, and Business Committee Member on the North Miami C.R.A. Advisory Committee.
In 2019, Blermur’s husband Anis was convicted of stealing more than $1.6 million in deals, mostly related to real estate. He is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence. Blemur, who if elected would be part of the state’s clemency board, told the Tampa Bay Times that the experience gives her perspective on how to integrate felons back into society, including ensuring that they can get their voting rights back.
Blemur’s priorities include advocating for small farmers, clean water, renewable and sustainable energy, gun reform, building a hemp economy, nutritional breakfast and lunch in all public schools, and ensuring equitable access to all the resources of the FDACS.
In the News
On Aug. 7, Florida Politics reported that “Leading Florida Democrats are walking back their endorsement of Naomi Blemurafter past Facebook posts showed the Agriculture Commissioner candidate calling abortion a sin and promoting or defending anti-gay comments.”
- Democrats rescind Naomi Blemur endorsements after ‘anti-choice,’ ‘homophobic’ posts emerge, Florida Politics, 8/7/22
- Website — naomiblemur.com
- Facebook — Naomi Esther Blemur for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture
- Twitter — @NaomiforFL
- LinkedIn — Naomi Esther Blemur
- Instagram — NaomiforFL
Blemur was endorsed as the Democratic Party candidate in this race by the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board, state senators Annette Taddeo and Shevrin D. Jones, and more.
The son of a Haitian diplomat, J.R. Gaillot lived in Germany, Japan, and Haiti growing up. He has a B.A. from the University of Hartford and is a candidate for an M.A. in international relations and affairs at Harvard Extension School. He is a legislative director and adviser who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012.
Gaillot’s campaign website has an extensive platform that includes going after businesses for price gouging and other predatory practices, increasing the number of licenses available for marijuana dispensaries, and easing some requirements for getting a home loan.
- Website — jrgaillot.com
- Facebook — J.R. Gaillot
- Twitter — @jrgaillot
- Instagram — jr_gaillot
- Video — Meet JR Gaillot (2:10)
Gaillot has been endorsed by Blue America, a political action committee that supports progressive candidates, and Get Up Stand Up for Haiti.
Ryan Morales attended William Paterson University of New Jersey and earned an Associates degree in audio engineering and the music business from the Institute of Audio Research.
He owns DelPuma Consulting Group, a marketing and business management firm. He is also a cannabis activist with a small hemp farm in Clermont, and a former chief marketing officer for a wire fraud prevention firm.
Morales’s key issues include full legalization of marijuana and medicinal psychedelics, clean waters, small farm incentives, more gun safety, and scammer protection.
- Website — ryanforflorida.com
- Facebook — Ryan For Florida Agriculture Commissioner
- Twitter — @MoralesForFL
- LinkedIn — Ryan Morales
- Video — ryanforflorida.com
Morales has been endorsed by Orlando state senator Victor Torres, Miami-Dade state senator Jason Pizzo, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, FL LGBT Dems, and more. The Miami-Herald said on Aug. 7 that “Ryan Morales is the best choice because of his knowledge and policy proposals and because he’s the only candidate with experience in agriculture.” (Miami Herald, 8/7/22)
In the News
- Florida agriculture commissioner: The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommendations, Tampa Bay Times, 7/21/22
- Worm farmer battles egg farmer in GOP agriculture commissioner race, Orlando Sentinel, 7/26/22
- Ag Commish blowup breaks temporary campaign alliance between Democrats, Florida Politics, 8/10/22
Here are the contributions and expenditures reported by each candidate according to their most recent campaign treasurer’s reports:
In addition to the $2 million in Simpson’s official candidate account, there is an additional $13.1 million in the bank for four separate political committees under his control: Friends of Wilton Simpson —$2.4 million, Jobs for Florida — $0.5 million, Future Florida — $5.1 million, and Florida Green PAC — $5.1 million. (Florida Politics, 4/12/22)
In addition, a “mysterious committee” that won’t disclose its donors has spent more than $2 million on TV ads supporting his candidacy. (Orlando Sentinel, 7/26/22)
“A list of Simpson’s donors reads like that of any typical top Florida Republican,” the Tampa Bay Times wrote as he was about to take control as Senate President. “U.S. Sugar, Florida Power & Light and Disney are among his top five givers. Publix has given Simpson $85,000, making him the second-highest recipient of the grocery chain’s money, after Adam Putnam, a former candidate for governor.” (Tampa Bay Times, 10/13/19)
Only you can decide which candidate you think would make a better Commissioner of Agriculture. If you have questions about any of the candidates, don’t hesitate to contact them directly through their website.
If you have questions or need additional information about the election itself, visit the Collier County Supervisor of Elections website or call 239-252-8683.