Who’s Running for State Cabinet in the August Primaries?

August 28, 2018
Primary Elections in Florida

In August, Florida Republicans will hold primary elections for Attorney General (AG), Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Commissioner of Agriculture (COA); Democrats will hold primaries for two of those positions. The official qualifying period ends June 22, so the ultimate line-up may change.

Why should you care?

In a unique-to-Florida power-sharing relationship, the Governor and independently-elected Cabinet members oversee and hire the directors of several state agencies including those responsible for taxation, law enforcement, highway safety and bond finance.

Importantly, as the State Board of Executive Clemency, they decide the process by which voting and other rights are restored to former felons and others who have had them taken away.

See “Florida: An Outlier in Denying Voting Rights,” Brennan Center for Justice, 12/16/16

In addition to their shared responsibilities, each Cabinet member is also the Chief Executive of his/her Executive Branch department, which gives her/him individually significant power.

The current salary of a Cabinet member is $128, 972.

In this post, I’ll summarize the responsibilities of each office and the backgrounds and priorities of the likely candidates for each. Since money plays such an important role in elections, I’ll also share the latest campaign finance figures.

Attorney General

As chief legal officer of the state and head of the Department of Legal Affairs, the AG pursues criminal law and antitrust law violations; prosecutes cases of criminal racketeering, Medicaid fraud and civil rights violations; defends the state when it is sued and general laws when they are challenged; and represents the state when sentences for criminal convictions are appealed. There are over 400 lawyers on staff.

Registered Republicans will choose among four candidates and registered Democrats will choose between two Democrats in the August primaries. The winners will face off in a general election in November.

For Attorney General – The Republicans

Jay Fant (R)

Jay Fant (50) is a State Representative from Jacksonville (Duval County); sponsored bills here. He lists his occupation as “Chairman, Caroline Family Office,” which his campaign describes as a “fiduciary services” firm but was unwilling to say who the firm’s clients are. Fant’s grandfather founded the once-prosperous First Guaranty Bank and Trust, which Fant took over as chairman and CEO in 2003. The bank failed in 2012, costing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. $82 million. Fant blamed “government overreach.”

Fant’s issues are: secure our borders; eliminate sanctuary cities; protect religious liberty; restore the 2nd amendment; preserve the sanctity of life; defend free enterprise; strengthen law enforcement; protect consumer rights; and stop opioid abuse.

His website lists endorsements by the Trump Florida Campaign Co-Chairman and 38 Trump County Chairs, 13 (of 76) Republican state representatives and one (of 23) state senator.

Ashley Moody (R)

Ashley Moody (50) was a Hillsborough County Circuit judge for more than ten years before resigning to run for this office. In that capacity, she founded an Attorney Ad Litem program recruiting volunteer attorneys and developed a mentoring program for at-risk children within the juvenile delinquency system. According to her website, she has “the experience we need to keep Florida safe and protect our communities.”

Moody’s issues are: our flag; our constitution; the rule of law; Florida taxpayers; a healthy Florida (fight the opioid epidemic); law enforcement; our communities; religious freedom; our seniors; and our economy.

Her website lists endorsements by current Attorney General Pam Bondi, 12 state attorneys and 37 sheriffs from across the state.

Ross Spano (51) is a State Representative from Hillsborough County; sponsored bills here. While listed as an active candidate on the Florida Department of State website, he has qualified to run for Congress and is unlikely to appear as an AG candidate on the August ballot.

Frank White (R)

Frank White (39) is a State Representative from Pensacola representing parts of Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties; sponsored bills here. After practicing law in Texas and Florida for over 15 years, he is now CFO/General Counsel for the Sansing Dealer Group of auto dealerships with stores in three states and over 600 employees. In 2015, he was appointed by Governor Scott to the Board of the Florida Development Finance Corporation, where he served as chair, and to the Pensacola State College System Board of Trustees.

According to his website, White’s issues are: defend the constitution; stand against government overreach; protect families and consumers with free market solutions; protect the unborn, 100% pro-life; protect the second amendment; defend taxpayers; prevent the spread and harm of Obamacare; and protect our borders and end sanctuary cities.

White leads the campaign money race, but see the Tampa Bay Times re: his $2.75 million personal contributions.

A web search found endorsements by two Florida sheriffs.

For Attorney General – The Democrats

Sean Shaw (D)

Sean Shaw (39) is a State Representative from Tampa (Hillsborough County); sponsored bills here. An attorney and former state insurance consumer advocate, he is the son of Leander Shaw, the first black chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

Shaw’s priorities are: protect children and families; crack down on corruption and fraud; lead the fight against opioids; advocate for consumers and ratepayers; and defend civil rights and equal rights.

His endorsements include 33 (of 41) House Democrats, 12 (of 16) Senate Democrats, three state attorneys and former Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Of note: the Florida Professional Firefighters crossed party lines in endorsing Shaw, having endorsed Republicans Adam Putnam for Governor and Denise Grimsley for Commissioner of Agriculture.

Ryan Torrens (D)

Ryan Torrens (32) is a Tampa attorney whose Torrens Law Group, P.A. focuses on foreclosure defense and consumer protection litigation. Prior to starting his practice in 2012, Torrens reviewed toxic mortgage loans as an independent consultant on the federal government-mandated Independent Foreclosure Review Project.

Torrens’ priories are: consumer protection and standing up to big banks; fighting for seniors; protecting Florida families; and tackling the addiction crisis.

His endorsements include two local labor unions and a state Representative.

Chief Financial Officer

The CFO oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services, which is comprised of the former state departments of insurance, treasury, fire marshal, and banking and finance. It is made up of 13 divisions, several specialized offices and 2,000 employees.

While there are four candidates running for CFO, only incumbent Scott-appointee Jimmy Patronis (R) and former State Senator Jeremy Ring (D) are considered to be serious candidates.

For Chief Financial Officer – The Republican

Jimmy Patronis (R)

Jimmy Patronis (46) is a former State Representative from Panama City (Bay County). Governor Scott appointed him CFO a year ago when Jeff Atwater resigned to accept another post. Scott had previously appointed Patronis to positions on the state’s Public Service Commission and the Constitution Revision Commission. In addition to his public service career, Patronis is a partner in his family’s generations-old seafood restaurant in Panama City.

His current priorities as CFO and State Fire Marshall are: supporting our first responders; protecting your identity; and fiscal accountability.

His endorsements include Florida Family Action President John Stemberger, Senate President-Designate Bill Galvano, Attorney General Pam Bondi, five former speakers of the Florida House and the Florida Chamber of Commerce

Jeremy Ring (D)

For Chief Financial Officer – The Democrat 

Jeremy Ring (47) is a former State Senator from Broward County. One of the earliest employees at Yahoo!, he became its director of sales in early 1996 and stayed until mid-2001, becoming personally wealthy. He moved to Florida to raise his family. During his ten years in the Florida Senate, according to his website, he worked to “craft major bipartisan legislation aimed at planting the seeds of an innovation ecosystem” in Florida. He recently published “We Were Yahoo!”, an insider look at the rapid rise and spectacular fall of Yahoo!.

His priorities are: protecting Florida’s retirement system; keeping insurance rates stable; and growing the innovation economy.

His endorsements include many federal, state and local elected officials, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Commissioner of Agriculture

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture oversees the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That organization supports and promotes Florida agriculture, protects the environment, safeguards consumers, and ensures the safety and wholesomeness of food. Through its Division of Licensing, it issues concealed weapon licenses.

Registered Republicans will choose among four candidates and registered Democrats will choose among three candidates in the August primaries.

For Commissioner of Agriculture – The Republicans

Matt Caldwell (R)

Matt Caldwell (36) is a term-limited State Representative from North Fort Myers (Lee County) and a real estate appraiser; sponsored bills here.

According to his website, “Matt has always been a champion of issues that impact our environment and the agriculture community. He sponsored an expansion of the Everglades Forever Act, which will complete Everglades restoration in the area south of Lake Okeechobee, as well as Legacy Florida, which will permanently fund restoration of the greater Everglades; and fighting Numeric Nutrient Criteria.”

His priorities are to protect Floridians’ 2nd Amendment rights, natural resources, and property.

His endorsements include U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, 47 (of 76) state representatives including Collier Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel, one state senator, several sheriffs, other constitutional officers and county and city elected officials.

Denise Grimsley (R)

Denise Grimsley (58) is a State Senator who previously served four terms in the Florida House; sponsored bills here. She is also a registered nurse, citrus grower and hospital administrator. Grimsley spent most of her career as a nurse. When her father became ill, she left nursing to run her family’s Grimsley Oil Company and “experienced the frustrations of government red tape and bureaucracy firsthand,” which she says led her to run for office.

Her issue priorities, according to her new (May 2018) Let’s Grow Florida PAC, are: strengthening the Florida agriculture industry; improving and limiting government; lowering tax burdens; protecting Florida consumers; and improving the quality of life in all Florida communities for all Floridians.

Her endorsements include Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson and 27 Florida sheriffs.

Mike McCalister (R)

Mike McCalister is a retired United States Army Colonel, 2010 Republican candidate for Governor, and 2012 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

According to his website, the “former National Spokesman for Citizens for Trump” “has travelled the state protecting our Second Amendment rights and a fierce advocate for saving our monuments that the establishment elites and New World Liberals want taken down to erase the heritage from the sights of our future generations.” He is “committed to protecting Florida’s Families’ Food, Water, Freedom and Animals.”

He is not considered to be a serious candidate in this big-money race.

Baxter Troutman (R)

Baxter Troutman (51) is a former State Representative who served four terms in the Florida House (2003-2010). He is currently General Manager of his family’s Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch, LLC, and President of Chop-N-Block Custom Meat Processing, as well as CEO of Labor Solutions, a personnel services company with 5 locations in Central Florida.

According to his website, “With a lifetime of experience in farming, Baxter will ensure that future generations of Floridians understand the important role the agriculture industry plays in Florida’s economic security by growing food that feeds the world.”

Troutman’s issue priorities are: water quality and supply; the second amendment; land availability; citrus greening; and NAFTA.

Neither his website nor a web search identified any endorsements.

For Commissioner of Agriculture – The Democrats

Nikki Fried (D)

Nikki Fried (40) is an attorney and former public defender. As a lawyer-lobbyist, she “played an integral role during Florida’s 2016 legislative session in the passage of HB 307, relating to the usage of medical marijuana for those who are terminally ill.” She subsequently formed a one-woman lobbying firm, Igniting Florida, which according to News Service of Florida, “most people consider a tongue-in-cheek reference to her work in the marijuana arena.”

According to Igniting Florida, Fried is “one of the most visible faces and key activists in Florida’s burgeoning medical cannabis industry.”

Having just filed to run last week, she has yet to create a website and has reported no campaign contributions or endorsements.

Jeff Porter (D)

Jeff Porter (58) is former City Councilman and Mayor of Homestead (Miami-Dade County). He resigned to run for this position.

“This area of the country, inside our borders, is the only place where we can grow produce in the winter to feed the nation, yet we’ve become totally reliant on food that comes from foreign countries,” Porter said. “It’s almost like a national security issue.”

Speaking about damage after Hurricane Irma, Porter said he wants the state to establish a separate emergency relief fund for farmers and ranchers, separate from one typically opened for all businesses affected by natural disasters.

Having just filed to run, Porter has yet to create a website or report any endorsements.

David Walker (D)

David Walker (26) is a marine biologist and fifth-generation Floridian. A former researcher with United States Geological Survey, National Park Service, and Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, he has researched and explored the impact of climate change, invasive species in the Everglades, and has advocated for air, land, and water conversation. He is currently president of South Florida Audubon, a volunteer firefighter, and member of the Everglades Regional Conservation Committee.

According to his website, Walker was ”driven to run” by “recent disturbing policy changes that are detrimental to our environment and … will lead to pollution, discourage renewable energy, and accelerate climate change in order to benefit big businesses and the fossil fuel industry.”

He is the only Agriculture Commissioner candidate who voiced straight opposition to withdrawal from NAFTA. The others have cited produce dumping from Mexico in criticizing the pact (Sun-Sentinel, 5/29/18).

Walker’s “Vision for Florida” includes positions on: conservation; consumer services; agriculture; food and nutrition; gun rights; renewable energy; and water.


As you can see, there is much similarity among each party’s candidates for office. In many cases, the issues they mention and the positions they take align them clearly along the national partisan divide. That said, differences can perhaps be discerned from the things they do not mention.

In the ten weeks between now and Election Day, there will be opportunities to learn more about the candidates and attend candidate forums and meet-and-greets. I will post these events as I see them on the Sparker’s Soapbox Event Calendar.

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