The agriculture commissioner runs the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and is one of Florida’s four elected Cabinet positions, along with governor, attorney general and chief financial officer. The role comes with a wide range of responsibilities, including the promotion and protection of the state’s critical agricultural interests. The commissioner also oversees energy policy, protects auto owners from unscrupulous mechanics, inspects the food markets and the rides at county and state fairs, makes certain service station pumps are calibrated to deliver a full gallon of gas, and is generally charged with looking out for consumers. The winner of the general election in November will take over for Democrat Nikki Fried, who is running for governor.
Republicans: Wilton Simpson
Wilton Simpson is the front-runner in this race and the obvious pick for Republicans. Simpson, 56, has spent 10 years in the state Senate and the last couple as Senate president, one of the most powerful political jobs in Florida. He’s a successful businessman and egg farmer from Pasco County with a net worth of $22.5 million, according to his financial disclosure. He’s politically savvy and understands Tallahassee politics. He also has about $15 million in several campaign funds, a massive war chest compared to any of his competitors, Republican or Democrat. Many prominent Republicans have endorsed Simpson’s campaign, including Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Simpson faces businessman James Shaw, who graduated from Colgate University in 1983 and spent many years in leadership roles in the transportation industry, according to his website. He also owned three Auntie Anne’s pretzel franchises and still owns a 30-acre composting farm. He, too, is a multimillionaire, with an estimated net worth of $4.5 million.
The Times recommends Wilton Simpson in the Republican primary for agriculture commissioner.
Democrats: Naomi Blemur
It would likely take something seismic for one of the three Democratic candidates to beat Simpson in the Nov. 8 general election, but Naomi Blemur has the best shot.
Blemur, 43, has worked in banking and runs her own consulting and management firm. She also is an elected committeewoman on the Democratic Executive Committee for Miami-Dade District 13 and has been a commissioner on the North Miami Planning Commission, vice chair on the North Miami Commission on Women, and a member on a North Miami Community Reinvestment Act advisory committee. None of the three candidates has many high-profile endorsements, though state senator and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Annette Taddeo recently backed Blemur’s campaign.
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Blemur is the granddaughter of farmers and the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She wants to help small farmers gain access to more capital to help maintain and expand their farms, and is a strong advocate for backyard vegetable gardens. She describes herself as a mediator who “works from the middle and chooses her battles wisely.”
Soon after getting married, her husband, Anis, was indicted and later pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft charges for stealing more than $1.6 million in deals mostly related to real estate. He is serving a seven-year prison sentence. Blemur, who if elected would be part of the state’s clemency board, says the experience gives her perspective on how to integrate felons back into society, including ensuring that they can get their voting rights back.
Ryan Morales owns DelPuma, a marketing and business management firm. He’s also a cannabis activist with a small hemp farm in Clermont, and a former chief marketing officer for a wire fraud prevention firm. Morales, who once ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the state Legislature, was the first of the candidates to get into this race, but like the others hasn’t raised much money nor has his campaign found much traction statewide.
J.R. Gaillot is a legislative director and adviser who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012. His father was a Haitian diplomat, so Gaillot lived in Germany, Japan and Haiti growing up. He speaks English, French, Haitian Creole and some Spanish. His campaign website has an extensive platform that includes going after business for price gouging and other predatory practices, increasing the number of licenses available for marijuana dispensaries and easing some of the requirements for getting a home loan. He is endorsed by Blue America, a political action committee that supports progressive candidates.
The Tampa Bay Times recommends Naomi Blemur in the Democratic primary for agriculture commissioner.
The recommendation process
Before making a recommendation, the Times Editorial Board asks candidates to fill out questionnaires and sit for an interview. The process can also include running criminal and civil background checks, interviewing candidates’ colleagues and employers, reviewing voting records and financial disclosures, and examining candidates’ past and current positions on relevant issues.
Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. Judicial candidates may send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Aug. 4 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.