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Florida agriculture commissioner candidates show off style differences at forum

CLEARWATER — With the political air being sucked up by high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate, the candidates for agriculture commissioner joked at a joint appearance Tuesday that there's no need for lawyers or a TV market map to schedule a debate for the Cabinet post.

They'll show up, they said, just about anywhere.

For nearly 40 minutes, Democrat Scott Maddox and Republican Adam Putnam sounded nearly identical on farm and food safety speaking to members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. Both said they'd press for increased regulations and testing to protect food in Florida's grocery stores. Both want to help turn Florida's natural resources into sources of renewable energy.

And both say immigration reform needs to include a way for Florida's agriculture industry to rely on workers who might now be in Florida illegally.

Their differences were more about style.

Maddox, the former mayor of Tallahassee, stressed the full title of the post — commissioner of agriculture and consumer services — while Putnam, a member of the U.S. House from Bartow, just called it commissioner of agriculture.

The Cabinet post, which pays $128,972, oversees a wide portfolio including food safety, regulation of gasoline sales, issuance of concealed weapons permits, prevention of livestock and crop disease and protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive trade practices.

The testiest exchange came during an audience question about the mining of phosphate for fertilizers in Polk County. Maddox, answering first, said the state needed to continue to monitor and mitigate potential environmental impacts from the mining.

Putnam, whose family farms citrus and cattle in Central Florida, said an answer like that could ruin the state's agriculture industry.

"For someone who said in the last question, that of course you'd support agriculture, you just drove a stake in its heart," Putnam said. "America is the bread basket of the world because we have the nutrition tools that come out of the land right here … that allow us to have a society where only 1 percent of our society is involved in production agriculture."

Maddox said Putnam was distorting his position.

"I haven't been in Washington like the congressman has, but it's sort of like if you watch the movie Star Wars, you endorse Darth Vader," countered Maddox. He said he doesn't oppose phosphate mining but wants to make sure impacts on the environment are minimized.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com.

Florida agriculture commissioner candidates show off style differences at forum 09/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 10:17pm]
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