The commissioner of agriculture and consumer services can be the forgotten member of the Cabinet, but the office's importance should not be underestimated. The job has wide-ranging influence over areas from farming to managing public lands to food safety. U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam's varied experience in agriculture, the Legislature and Congress make him the superior candidate in this race.
Putnam, 36, has been on the fast track throughout his political career. The Bartow Republican was elected to the Legislature at 22 years old and spent four years in the state House before being elected to Congress in 2000 at age 26. His earnestness, work ethic and people skills enabled him to quickly rise through the ranks to become the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House. While Putnam likely could have competed to be House speaker one day, he says he tired of the partisanship and gridlock in Washington and was eager to return to Florida.
A fifth-generation Floridian whose family has vast citrus and cattle interests, Putnam has a strong grasp of agriculture issues. He is as enthusiastic about micro issues such as establishing more farmers markets as he is about broader agriculture policy. Putnam has innovative ideas for creating new sources of revenue for agriculture interests, from setting aside land to store water to finding ways to capitalize on demand for renewable sources of energy.
In Congress, Putnam worked on a 2008 farm bill and helped write a useful bipartisan food safety bill that gives new powers to the Food and Drug Administration. The legislation passed the House but has stalled in the Senate because of a single senator's objection. Putnam's voting record has not scored well among environmental groups. He also was too willing to open more federal waters to drilling, although he says he opposes drilling in state waters.
But as agriculture commissioner, Putnam promises to be more environmentally friendly. He wants to better manage some 1 million acres of public forest lands, and he has an intriguing suggestion to make Floridians more aware of recreational opportunities on state-owned land. He supports restoration of the Everglades, and he understands the necessity of better managing the water demands of both rural and urban interests.
Democrat Scott Maddox, 42, is a former Tallahassee mayor and former chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. He was a progressive mayor, and he demonstrated leadership skills as president of the Florida League of Cities. A lawyer, Maddox focuses more on consumer services and would emphasize fighting mortgage fraud and fraud against the elderly. To his credit, he has been a steadfast opponent of expanded oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Overall, though, Maddox lacks Putnam's breadth of experience and his knowledge of agriculture issues. Putnam has quickly made his presence felt in the Legislature and in Congress, and he is well prepared to be a positive force on the Cabinet.
For commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, the Times recommends Adam Putnam.