As Adam Putnam acts like Donald Trump, some wonder if he's gone too far

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is running for governor of Florida.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is running for governor of Florida.
Published Aug. 1, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — First, Adam Putnam proudly called himself an "NRA sellout."

Now the Republican candidate for governor is lighting up social media again with a tactic ripped from Donald Trump's playbook: a petition on his Twitter feed to "stop CNN."

"Aren't you tired of the liberals taking fake news to new extremes? I am," Putnam tweeted.

Even though Putnam has the Republican field all to himself, his moves are sparking criticism that he's pandering to the Trump wing and dividing Floridians a year-and-a-half from the 2018 election.

To some of Putnam's Twitter followers, it's out of character for the two-term agriculture commissioner who has cultivated a folksy, boy-next-door image in his two decades on the Florida political stage.

"Please, Adam. You're better than this," tweeted Chris Snow, a business development officer at Space Florida. "Be the moderate who can pull people together."

"Oh, dear," tweeted GOP strategist-lobbyist Mac Stipanovich. "Don't do this."

Putnam appears to be solidifying his right flank in anticipation of possible GOP primary opposition from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will announce on Aug. 16 whether to enter the race for governor.

Latvala couldn't resist jabbing Putnam: "I will never sell out to anyone, anytime," he tweeted.

On guns, an important issue in any race for governor, Putnam is talking a lot lately about a "pathway" to an open carry gun law, but his vocal support for it, now that he's running for governor, surprises people who have actually pushed for it in the trenches in Tallahassee.

Two leading open carry supporters, state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, cannot recall Putnam ever doing anything to get the bill passed.

"Zero," Gaetz told the Times/Herald. "He didn't help and he didn't hurt. He played no role in moving the bill. He never called me or approached me about the bill or offered to help."

Gaetz's Senate Bill 300 in the 2016 session would have allowed nearly 2 million people with concealed weapons licenses to openly carry firearms. At an October 2015 Senate hearing, the witnesses included the NRA, Florida Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, Fraternal Order of Police and Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith.

Putnam was silent.

Around the same time, Gaetz and his son Matt, then a House member and now a congressman, held a news conference with Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey. Putnam wasn't there.

"He issued no statement, not even a press release," Gaetz said. "He was not involved."

Putnam's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services processes concealed weapons license applications. He has been very aggressive about promoting that, including partnerships with county tax collectors who process the paperwork. Putnam's support for the Second Amendment has never been an issue, and he got A-plus ratings from the NRA when he was in Congress. The question is his support for an open carry law.

Steube filed open carry (SB 140) in the 2017 session, and the bill was seven words long. Steube has no recollection of Putnam trying to help pass the bill.

"This is the first I'm hearing of him taking a position on it," Steube told the Times/Herald. Citing Putnam's "pathway" comments, Steube said: "Prior to that, I didn't know what his position was."

Neither Steube nor Gaetz is supporting a candidate for governor.

In both 2016 and 2017, bills to legalize open carry and "campus carry" on university campuses languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Steube says he'll try again in the session that begins in January.

After a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota in January, Putnam was asked by the Herald-Tribune's Zac Anderson about Steube's proposal, and he said: "I haven't had an opportunity to review Sen. Steube's bill."

Three weeks later, on Jan. 31, Capitol reporters pressed Putnam on the issue at AP's annual session for journalists.

His response: "I think it is important for us to have that debate but I think, generally speaking, there are places where you can expand where people carry guns in a safe and effective way."

In a Times/Herald interview on Friday, Putnam said: "I've always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. . . . There's no inconsistency at all."

He said he recalled meeting with Gaetz a number of times in the 2016 session, "but they were typically on matters related to my legislative agenda and my budget. So I certainly made the best use of time on the issues that were on the top of my list."

Contact Steve Bousquet at Follow @stevebousquet