My votes for Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner and Chief Financial Officer

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services “supports and promotes Florida agriculture, protects the environment, safeguards consumers, and ensures the safety and wholesomeness of food.”

The Department of Financial Services is responsible for Insurance, Treasury, State Fire Marshal, Banking and Finance.

The officials who head both departments, along with the Governor and Attorney General, make up the Florida Cabinet, which sits as a collective decision- and rule-making body for the state. The Cabinet oversees numerous boards and commissions that significantly affect the economy and daily lives of Floridians, including:

Many people don’t realize the power Cabinet members have, not only over the departments they oversee, but in all matters controlled by the Executive Branch of Florida’s government.

Reflecting the concern that a single person might exercise too much power, Floridians ratified the Florida Constitution of 1968, affirming the independence of Cabinet members by deleting the phrase, “the Governor shall be assisted by” the Cabinet. This gave each member equal footing with the Governor on matters that come before the Governor and Cabinet so that Cabinet members were no longer expected, constitutionally, to capitulate to the Governor’s wishes. (See “History of the Florida Cabinet.”)

Given each Cabinet member’s equal standing with the Governor in this decision- and rule-making body, our vote in these races is important, and my goal is to elect those who share my values. Should Charlie Crist be elected Governor, which now seems a real possibility, it will be important for him to have Cabinet member support to get things done.

Agriculture Commissioner – Thad Hamilton (D) vs Adam Putnam (R)

Thad Hamilton (D)

Thad Hamilton (D)

Thad Hamilton has over 40 years of experience in agriculture and environment, retiring after 36 years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services. He was honored by President George H. Bush for outstanding service in agriculture and the environment. He was in the U.S. Army from 1972–2000. He has an undergraduate degree in agriculture from the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff. He ran unsuccessfully for Commissioner of Agriculture in 2010 as an Independent.

My web research revealed no smoking guns. However the Tampa Tribune wrote last week:

Hamilton faces an uphill slog: Polls show Putnam leading by as much as 12 points and the incumbent has raised more than $2.7 million and spent almost $789,000, including $205,000 on mailers late last month. Hamilton, who got 2 percent of the vote when he ran for the seat as an independent in 2010, has raised nearly $21,000. But he’s also taken out $13,000 in loans to finance his campaign, records show.

Adam Putnam (R)

Adam Putnum (R), incumbent
Adam Putnam is a fifth generation cattle rancher and citrus grower from Polk County, FL. He was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1996–2000 and the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001–2011. He returned to Florida to run for state Agriculture Commissioner in 2010, and is now running for a second term. He has an undergraduate degree in food and resource economics from the University of Florida.

In its endorsement of Putnam, the Naples Daily News writes, “The main criticism he’s received in four years centers around his going along with other leading Republicans on a Texas hunting trip sponsored by the sugar industry, with its big stake in agriculture and water.”

This is a reference to news reports in July that Putnam, Governor Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and perhaps other Florida politicians took “secret” hunting trips to King Ranch (Texas) that were, per the Tampa Bay Times, “orchestrated by and at least partially paid for by U.S. Sugar.”

Florida is the biggest sugar producer in the country, and the sugar industry is one of the biggest special interests in Tallahassee. With its reliance on agriculture and water in the Everglades Agricultural Area between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, its interests are frequently at odds with those of environmental groups. Putnam’s participation in these fundraising trips is, to me, a concerning conflict of interest.

Chief Financial Officer – Jeff Atwater vs Will Rankin

Jeff Atwater (R)

Jeff Atwater (R), incumbent
Atwater had a career in banking, serving as chairman, president and CEO of the Barnett Bank of Broward County and the Treasure Coast, and later as market president of Riverside National Bank for Palm Beach and Broward counties, before running for the Florida House in 2000. He served one term in the House, 2000–2002, and then two terms in the Florida Senate, 2002–2010. Atwater was elected CFO in 2010 and is now running for a second term. He has an undergraduate degree and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Florida.

Of concern to me is that Atwater, who oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation, opposes Obamacare and presumably supported the 2013 insurance rate bill signed by Governor Scott that suspended for two years the state’s authority to set health insurance rates. According to the Palm Beach Post, Senator Bill Nelson urged the Governor to veto the bill, saying it would put consumers at risk of sky-high rate hikes.

Nelson’s criticism echoes that raised … by legislative Democrats who said the legislation appeared designed to shield state regulators from any fallout stemming from the Affordable Care Act. Among them would be Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater… Proponents of the legislation, however, said it is merely aimed at helping the state comply with evolving regulatory requirements under the federal health care overhaul.

Scott’s signing this bill is one of the things Charlie Crist has called him out about. He says that if elected, he will reinstate the insurance commissioner’s ability to renegotiate premiums for 2015 in time to affect those rates.

Will Rankin (D)

Will Rankin (D)
Rankin had a career in business development in the private sector before serving as the Director of Asset Management for the State Treasury of Ohio, overseeing the state’s $120 billion dollar public trust and retirement fund, in the 1990s. He has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration majoring in Economics from St. Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Rankin has an uphill battle, too. According to the Orlando Sentinel,” Rankin has raised just $16,370, with virtually no paid media.

How I will vote

The Democratic challengers are competent, credible candidates with significant, relevant work experience. While the odds of either winning are slim, as I said earlier, it’s important to me to vote for competent candidates whose values and views of the role of government are similar to mine.

Further, if enough of us vote for these candidates, it might send a signal to people who might consider running in the future that there are voters in the state who will support them if they’ll take the risk and make the effort.

For these reasons, I’ll vote for Thad Hamilton for Agriculture Commissioner and Will Rankin for CFO.

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