Republicans have three qualified candidates for commissioner of agriculture and consumer services who have each served in the Legislature and have a firm grasp of the issues. Sen. Denise Grimsley is the strongest choice because of the breadth of her professional experience and her interest in improving consumer services and protections.
Grimsley, 58, is a fifth-generation Floridian from Zolfo Springs who has spent 12 years in the Legislature and is a hospital administrator. She grew up helping with her family's cattle, citrus and gas stations and petroleum distribution company — all industries that are touched by the state agency she seeks to lead.
As commissioner, Grimsley wants to support current and future farmers, foremost by expanding the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program that sustains agriculture and protects areas from development. She also wants the agriculture department to play a bigger role in expanding internet connectivity to rural parts of Florida, and she would work to grow the state's agri-tourism industry. On the consumer protection side, she would prioritize cracking down on scam robo-callers, gas station skimmers and other predatory actors.
As a member of the Cabinet, the agriculture commissioner sits on the Clemency Board. If Amendment 4, which would provide automatic restoration of voting rights to most felons, fails to win voter approval, Grimsley said she supports changes that would make it easier for people to win their rights back after serving their sentence.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, 36, is a real estate appraiser and has served eight years in the Legislature representing a Fort Myers area district. He supports easements to protect farms as well as for conservation of environmentally sensitive land. He also wants to address water supply concerns by moving urban users off of groundwater through development of reservoirs and desalination plants. To help some growers who have been hurt by citrus greening, he wants the state to continue exploring alternative crops that can be harvested by machine.
Former Rep. Baxter Troutman, the grandson of citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin, also served eight years in the Legislature from 2002 to 2010 and owns a staffing company, a beef cattle operation and about 300 acres of citrus groves. Troutman, 51, would bring a business-oriented approach to the commissioner's office, using analytics to gauge the department's work. He says the citrus industry needs help in order to prevent those millions of acres from being developed. He also favors the use of easements to keep land on the tax rolls and wants to do more to encourage water conservation.
Mike McCalister, 66, is a retired Army colonel from Plant City who owns a tree farm. He has previously run unsuccessful campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate. McCalister wants to create a "home field advantage'' for farmers and ranchers, and he would promote best practices in areas such as water management and the use of pesticides.
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Grimsley has the best combination of experience in agriculture, business and government to be successful. In the Republican primary for Florida commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Denise Grimsley.