While much is made about how a Democrat hasn’t held the Florida governor’s mansion for nearly two decades, the drought is almost as long as for the state’s three other Cabinet officers.
While Alex Sink served as Chief Financial Officer from 2007-2011, Democrats haven’t made much noise in years, particularly in the Agriculture Commissioner’s race, echoing a trend also seen around the country.
Of the twelve states with elected agriculture commissioners, none are Democrats.
David Walker hopes to change that next year. He’s the only Democrat in the race (so far) in the race to succeed Adam Putnam, who is term-limited next year.
“It’s more than a job, it’s my passion,” Walker said about the position as he introduced himself at the Hillsborough County’s LGBTA Democratic Caucus at the DoubleTree Hotel in Tampa Wednesday night.
A fifth-generation Floridian born in Plant City and now living in Fort Lauderdale, Walker is president of South Florida Audubon and sits on the Everglades Regional Conservation Committee. Walker says Everglades restoration “is a huge deal for me,” and one of the components of his platform in running for office.
Citrus greening had a disastrous impact on Florida citrus landowners; due to the disease, production is down 61 percent over the past decade. Walker says that he wants to help those growers convert their land to host solar farms.
“That’s a way for them to make money on their land without polluting and without using water,” he says.
He’s also concerned about agricultural runoff and what it’s doing to the state’s water system, not just in South Florida but also in Central Florida. And he’s dead set against fracking, referring to his concerns about South Florida developer Joseph Kanter‘s plans for a permit for a single exploratory well in wetlands about six miles west of Miramar in Broward County.
“It’s a huge deal,” he said, adding that the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission’s July 2016 vote to approve a new water quality standards that will increase the amount of cancer-causing toxins in Florida’s rivers and streams made it a dangerous proposition.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is also the state agency responsible for issuing concealed carry weapon licenses. Walker says he has a CCW permit but believes the questionnaire required to get the permit is something of a joke.
“Before taking this test, they give you the answers,” he says, promising to change that if he were elected.
Walker also talked about his personal story. He drew cheers after saying he believed in legal protections for the LGBT community against discrimination, as a “member of the LGBT community, myself.”
He also talked about his extremely challenging birth and early years.
Walker was born prematurely at 27 weeks, he spent only 13 days at home during his first two years, with his doctors questioning whether he would survive.
Saying that technology in the 1980s wasn’t like it is now, he dealt with bleeding in the brain and undeveloped lungs and wasn’t able to speak until he was five years old.
“So I had many, many hardships growing up,” he said.
Walker will undoubtedly have a challenge winning the Agricultural Commissioner’s race. Since entering the contest in August, he’s raised a very modest $5,230.
That amount pales in comparison to the enormous numbers all three Republicans have raised to date: Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven has raised more than $2.5 million, nearly all of it out of pocket. Lee County Rep. Matt Caldwell has collected more than $467,000 in his campaign account and more than $1 million in his political committee; Sebring state Sen. Denise Grimsley has raised more than $1.9 million between her campaign and committee.
Update: Our initial story reported that there was one Democratic Agriculture Commissioner, but, in fact, he was defeated by Republican Kent Leonhardt in 2016.