Three of the republican candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture stopped by to chat with residents and outline their stances.
The Republican candidates hoping to be Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture have boiled the job down to three crucial topics: water, guns and regional growth.
The Plant City Woman’s Club was filled to near-capacity Tuesday evening as residents gathered to watch three of the
four Republican candidates running to fill Adam Putnam’s office attempt to outline their stance and answer questions from the community.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, retired Army Col. Mike McCalister and Sen. Denise Grimsley discussed pressing issues like water conservation and Second Amendment rights. They also fielded unique concerns that don’t necessarily fall under their potential upcoming role, like alligator control and preserving natural springs.
Former Rep. Baxter Troutman was scheduled to attend the event but pulled out at the last minute.
“The fascinating thing about these primaries is you spend so many weeks running against people that you agree with 90% of the issues on, and then we’ll have 10 weeks to run against people that we agree with 10% of the issues on,” Caldwell said.
At that the surface, that solidarity rings true. The candidates are all conservative, all vow to protect the Second Amendment and all are terrified of seeing the job fall into the hands of a democrat. However, the minute details of each candidate’s stump speech point toward significantly different leadership styles.
Grimsley repeatedly highlighted her focus on bringing a level head and common sense to the table. Caldwell touted his strong conservative roots, policy achievements and NRA endorsement. McCalister considers his lack of political experience to be an asset due to his agriculture background and military career, and refused to curb his passion on many hot topics.
Their diverse resumes and backgrounds make this one of the hottest elections for the position in decades. They each spent several rounds of questions outlying their dedication to protect Florida’s aquifers, to keep the concealed weapons licensing process in the hands of the Commissioner of Agriculture and to fight tooth and claw for the state’s agriculture industry during their potential term.
From there, their differences began to make an appearance.
One of the first questions asked regarded each candidate’s stance on allowing Florida farmers to grow marijuana. Caldwell pointed to his involvement in 2014 with the Charlotte’s Web law, which legalized the use of a non-euphoric strain of marijuana for conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease, epilepsy and cancer. He said watching children suffer from unrelenting seizures pushed him to ensure they had access to treatment. However, he said under his leadership they would commit to an extremely tight regulation on the controversial crop.
Grimsley said she supports medical but not
recreational marijuana use and referenced her nursing career as evidence of her medical knowledge on the subject. She said she does believe it is the next crop in Florida and would like to see control of it switched from the Department of Health to the Department of Agriculture.
McCalister said he is for medical marijuana, but also referenced the rising criticism of its actual effectiveness.
Because Florida is such an agriculture-based state, some were curious what the candidates thought of President Donald Trump’s trade war and tariffs, which have begun to impact industries across the nation.
Their support of his decision was quick and unwavering.
Grimsley simply said she trusts the president. She said the U.S. has been anemic in its negotiations and has to be strong. Caldwell echoed her stance, stating the only free trade agreement we were a part of was “the Constitution of the United States.” He said tariffs are a blunt tool akin to attacks that you use to communicate with other countries. McCalister, on the other hand, had a more passionate response.
“Everybody doesn’t want to play well in the sandbox together… The best way to maintain peace is to have a strong defense and a strong military, but also to send a clear message to the world that we will protect this country and we will protect our way of life, and there’s no way we’re going to give in to you,” McCalister said. “If you look at, like with Iran when he did this saber rattling a little bit, you know some people got real nervous."
"I was in Pensacola the other day and some guy said, ‘Oh we’re gonna go to war.’… We’ve got to stand behind this president because he’s finally standing up. I got sick of having someone in the White House that’s bowing to Muslim kings and apologizing to the world. This man is standing up and saying, ‘This is America, we are not standing down.’”
His outburst was met with heavy applause.
When discussing the process of restoring rights to felons, Caldwell said if he “was king for a day” he would have a system that automatically puts people who commit only one nonviolent felony and complete both parts of their sentence on a list to restore their rights unless someone on the board can point out a reason they shouldn’t have it renewed.
Grimsley said she agreed with the automatic restoration for nonviolent first-time offenders, but said even with a violent felony the process could be easier. What worries her more, she said, are those who finish their sentence and then are unable to find work, which she said causes many to regress and commit another crime.
McCalister was adamant he worried more about the victims than the offenders. He said he doesn't’ have a problem with those who had a nonviolent felony and paid their “debt to society” having their rights restored. However, if someone committed a violent felony, he doesn’t want them to ever have a vote or even “have them on the streets.”
As election day draws near, all candidates agreed on one final issue: vote for any Republican candidate.
“This is about electing republicans,” Grimsley said. “On the democratic side there are three opponents. They are all liberal, but the one that is the front-runner is extremely liberal. She has said that she is anti-gun and that she is pro recreational marijuana. She is a marijuana lobbyist so she will be well-financed by those who back that initiative. If we lose the agriculture commissioner we are in big trouble.”