Bill Rufty, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 12

Bill Rufty

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”
blue wave

In HD 39, the ‘blue wave’ barely causes a ripple

A ‘blue wave’ Democrats in Polk and Osceola counties had hoped for Tuesday barely made a ripple as Republican newcomer Josie Tomkow won over Democrat Ricky Shirah with a 60 percent victory in the special election for Florida House District 39.

The results contrasted with the surprise February election victory in Sarasota County in which Democrat Margaret Good, a Sarasota Democrat, defeated Republican James Buchanan and Libertarian Alison Foxall.

Tuesday’s election was to fill a vacancy incurred in November when then-Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican, resigned to accept a job with the USDA. Combee recently resigned the post to run for Congress.

Republicans said Wednesday the Tomkow victory is a bellwether for the state come November. Democrats said the wave is still building. A noted professor and columnist said it’s too early.

“This is a good snapshot of the fall elections,” said J.C. Martin, chairman of the Polk County Republican Party. “This is a district along I-4 and the I-4 Corridor has always been a barometer for Florida and the nation.”

Local Democrats, with very little help from the state party, had staged a last-minute effort for Shira, in a district that is more Republican but had more voters with no party than those in either party.

“This is a good sign that people, especially the unaffiliated, are going for Republican policies,” Martin said. “Neither party in the district had more than 40 Percent registration, and yet 60 percent of the vote went to someone who never ran for office and was never heard of before against a well-known candidate.”

Karen Welzel of Winter Haven, a former chair of the Polk County Democratic Party, blamed Shira’s loss, not on Republican ideologies, but on the massive war chest Tomkow ‘s campaign had amassed. Tomkow had received $168,185 to Shira’s $15,381.

“Unfortunately, money is important. She had big-time Republican fundraisers, the NRA and her connections to Neil Combee, Welzel said of Tomkow’s victory. “Statewide we have won more special elections this year by far,” Welzel said. “On the same day we lost this one, Javier Fernandez (a Democrat) was elected in South Florida. In a Republican district. Believe me; the blue wave is coming.”

“We did reach out to the state party to ask for help, but we knew there was not a lot of money and that they had to spend,” she said. “But we spent three months of grassroots campaign, and we added many precinct workers.”

Ironically, Welzel had run in a different house district in 2012 against a Republican incumbent who had ten times the amount of campaign money that she had without state Democratic Party funding and came within 2 percent of winning the race,

“The ‘Blue Wave is a bit of a ghost,” said Bruce Anderson a political-science professor at Florida Southern College and columnist in Lakeland. But so is the assumption that the District 39 special election is a repudiation of it, he had added.

“Winning in one district is not a bellwether. Thirty-nine is a stable largely Republican District. We know who the district was drawn for,” Anderson said referring to Combee. “And he kept his head down and locked in his seat.”

People will tend to vote for the person in that seat, he said. And Tuesday’s election is no indicator of how the I-4 Corridor will go in November

Democrats have had their victories mostly in open seats. Overall, Anderson said it is too early to predict a trend for the November elections.

“Republicans, I suspect, will continue to win where there is a long history of Republican incumbents. But if it is an open seat Democrats may win out.”

In HD 39, however, almost the same race will begin again in November, likely with the same candidates. Shira has said he will be a candidate for District 39 in the general election, which will decide who will serve a full two-year term.

Polk grassroots Democrats pick up the slack in HD 39

Ricky Shirah

While the hapless state Democratic Party has done almost nothing for the underdog campaign of Ricky Shira of Lakeland in preparation for Tuesday’s special election to fill a vacancy in Florida House District 39, local grassroots organizations did.

At the last minute, Shira received $280 in in-kind services from the state. But the county party, along with Democrats from Osceola and even Hillsborough County, volunteered for their “Weekend of Action” canvassing in Lakeland, Davenport, Auburndale and Osceola precincts and also manning a booth Saturday at  Bandaid 4 Puerto Rico, at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland.

The district includes parts of Polk and Osceola counties. It was left vacant by Polk City Republican Neil Combee in late November to accept an appointment to a USDA post in Gainesville, has a larger Republican registration.

Republican candidate Josie Tomkow of Lakeland had a total campaign collection of  $168,185 by the April 26 reporting date to $15,381 for Shira, which included a $6,000 loan to himself.

Katherine Sutherland, Membership and Precinct Organizing chair for the Polk Democratic Party said in a campaign release “Hopefully, it (the District 39 race) is the beginning of a Florida Blue Wave.”

Still, the last Democrat from Polk County elected to the Florida House was in 1998.

The strange election of House District 39

Voters in Florida House District 39 will go to the polls May 1 to fill a vacancy which has existed since Nov. 24 when then-Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican, resigned to accept a presidential appointment to a U.S. Agriculture Department agency in Gainesville.

But the winner will not sit in the House, because the Florida Legislature’s Session ended a month ago — unless a Special Session is called. And the new representative will have to stand for re-election in November.

The predicament makes for one of the strangest elections in recent history. While Combee left in November, the primary was not held until March, and the general election is May 1.

During the 2018 Session of the Florida Legislature, the residents of District 39 had no elected representation in the House.

Josie Tomkow

Early on, Combee supported Josie Tomkow, the 22-year-old daughter of a close agribusiness friend. She won the Republican primary over Jennifer Spath, 34, who had been endorsed by several Republican Party Polk County commissioners.

Tomkow, who graduated from the University of Florida in December, entered the race Nov. 7, 2017. Combee’s appointment was made public Nov. 6.

Spath, a public affairs spokesperson for an organization that sets policy for foster care entered the race Dec. 5.

Democrats and Spath supporters within the Republican Party accused Combee of violating the Hatch Act, which says federal employees cannot be involved in political campaigns.

Tomkow will face Ricky Shirah, 64, a Lakeland Democrat, in the special general election. The owner of a towing company, Shirah has run unsuccessfully eight times. He said he runs whenever he cannot find a Democratic candidate for a race because Shirah believes all races should give voters a choice.

And Shirah said he, too, has filed a complaint the Federal Election Commission alleging Combee violated the Hatch Act.

Ricky Shirah

But Combee, who is now a candidate in the Republican primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, said he has received a letter from the FEC stating no violation existed.

District 39 has been largely a farming and ranching area, in northern and central Polk County and the northern portion of Osceola County, which would appear to be more suitable to Tomkow, whose family has been in agriculture for generations. The district, however, now includes some suburban areas since changes made by the Legislature like Celebration, Champions Gate and the southern residential area of Four Corners, named because the region is where Orange, Lake, Polk and Osceola counties meet.

The district has been Republican since 1996. Voter registration records show that of the 113,916 voters in the district, 36 percent are registered Republican, 32 percent are Democrats, and 32 percent are registered as either no party affiliation or in a third party.

Tomkow has been able to raise contributions usually identified with an incumbent. In the last report filed, she has raised $134,980 including large agriculture organizations and many business groups including the Florida Hospital Association, the Florida Electric Cooperative, Florida Homebuilders, Florida Cable, and many Polk County contributors including Combee.

The Republican Party of Florida gave $12,000.

For all its declarations of trying to win back the Florida Legislature, the state Democratic Party did not give Shirah any money. He showed $9,975 in his last campaign report including a $6,000 loan to himself.

CD 15 Democratic hopeful puts focus on fixing public education

Public-school teachers should not have to pay federal income taxes, a Democratic candidate for Florida’s 15th Congressional District declared Thursday.

“It will be the Rewarding American Educators Act, and I will file it when I get to Congress,” said Gregory Pilkington of Indian Lakes Estate. “It will attract new teachers and keep those who then will be able to afford staying.”

Pilkington, 55, is one of six Democrats hoping to run to fill the CD 15 seat now held by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican who is not seeking re-election.

The erosion of the education system and infrastructure have hit the nation particularly hard, but it is even worse in the 15th District which includes portions of Polk, Hillsborough and southern Lake counties, he said. He promised to bring relief to the district and blamed Republican predecessors for neglect causing the conditions.

“We have problems that must be solved in our public education system. Tenoroc High School (in Lakeland) has a 50 percent graduation rate. And If you are an African-American male who drops out of school, you have a 90 percent chance of winding up in jail.”

Pilkington fills his policy discussions with more statistics than perhaps even the Census Bureau then quickly emails the names of the studies, dates and sample sizes.

It seems, because of his background, numbers and their proofs are natural things for him. A former executive at the World Customs Organization, in Belgium, and previous positions with DHL Worldwide Express and FedEx Express, he backs up claims with statistics. The ones that worry him, he said, are education and dilapidated infrastructure numbers.

“I support charter schools. They have they have a place, but no tax monies should ever go to for-profit charter schools. And we should not penalize public schools like (Tenoroc High) by sending the money it needs to charter schools,” he said.

Pilkington said that exempting the 3 million public school teachers, some of the poorest paid professors in the nation, from federal income tax would cost $19 billion, which could be immediately recouped by reducing the big tax cut to the wealthy by only 1 percent.

“We should revisit the tax cut to give it to the working people and not just to the wealthy,” he said. “The theory of trickle-down economy — the wealthy investing their additional money from tax cuts into the economy — has never proven to be true. That money largely goes offshore and to reserves. But the middle-class use that extra money for cars, kids’ education and expenditures helping local economies.”

Pilkington said that unlike some other Democratic candidates, he wouldn’t campaign against the departing Ross, but farther into the interview with Florida Politics, he couldn’t help it.

“If you look to the east, (U.S. Rep.) Darren Soto has obtained monies for improving business and health care for his district. To the west of us (Democratic Congresswoman) Kathy Castor has brought back grants and money to help the economy of her district,’’ he said.

“But if you look in the middle, our own congressman (Ross) has done nothing for us. And even the post office he renamed is no longer in the district,” Pilkington said.

He said the struggle for economic help in the CD 15 is partly due to lack of investment in infrastructure and the economy in the last decade and impacts to the quality of life.

“There are nine facilities of higher education in this district, but graduates can’t find a job here,” he said, adding that the flight of young graduates leaves the district older with less high skill trained people to attract business.

Currently, although living in Polk County for several years to be near his parents, Pilkington lives outside of the CD 15 but noted that he and his wife are actively looking for a home in Lakeland since it would be in the center of the district.

Democrats will still campaign against a departing Dennis Ross

Andrew Learned

Most candidates in (or soon to be in) the Democratic primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, left open by the retirement of Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross, will likely agree on many issues, especially over safety nets.

But there will be a crucial difference, said Andrew Learned, a Valrico Democrat seeking the office.

“Veterans and the military lack a voice,” said Learned, an eight-year veteran of the Navy and currently a lieutenant senior grade in the U.S. Navy Reserve unit headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

He said he has had three tours in the Middle East and saw the troubles fellow service members had not only there, but on their return.

“The number of veterans in Congress is one of the lowest since World War II,” Learned said. “There are those who need help from the Veterans Affairs and not getting it and families of deployed military are in need of care.”

Learned, 31, was born in Sarasota and graduated from high school in Fort Myers. He has lived in Hillsborough County for the past several years attending the University of Tampa and is the owner of the Valrico GradePower Learning Center, a franchise which he acquired in 2014.

In 2016, he said, he was activated and deployed for a year as lead surface planer for Task Force 51/Marine brigade in Bahrain.

Learned filed to run for the post last summer. Until last week he had been running against Ross, and it would seem hard to stop even now that the incumbent decided not to seek re-election. It is likely to be the political mantra for the six Democrats still in the race.

Despite Ross’ leaving, Learned said he blames some of the conditions in the district and the nation on Ross’ “ultraconservative” actions, causing any Republican who may win the seat of carrying on the same activities.

“If you were to take back the break given to the trust fund babies (inheritance taxes) you could give an $8,600 to every schoolteacher in the nation. I have railed against Congressman Ross for not being able to move most (original) legislation except maybe renaming the Mulberry Post office. And supporting (the president’s) use of children health care to force a tax cut for millionaires is wrong,” Learned said.

“Facts are facts, and if we pretend they are otherwise, then we are in for worse trouble.”

The remarks are an indication of how this campaign might play out this summer with Democrats aiming for Ross and local issues rather than just President Donald Trump.

“I congratulate the Republicans in office for a cut after taking eight years in control of the House and Senate to finally do something about tax reform,” Learned said, “but to give a kickback to the wealthiest one percent of the population is wrong.”

So far, Learned is competing against James Gregory Pilkington of Indian Lakes Estates, Phil Hornback of Ruskin, Cameron Magnuson of Brandon, Raymond Pena Jr. of Lakeland and Jeffrey Rabinowitz of Clermont.

A sixth Democrat, Greg Williams of Lakeland, pulled out of his yearlong race for the seat last week and endorsed Learned.

Other Democrats could enter the primary for CD 15, but they would face attacks of opportunism from these candidates who were already in the race before Ross left.

Neil Combee makes it official; announces run for Dennis Ross’ seat

Former State Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican, announced Tuesday that he will seek Florida’s 15th Congressional District seat left open by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

Ross, a Republican from Lakeland, announced last week he will not seek re-election to the post he has held since January 2011.

Combee, 58, made his announcement at noon following his resignation as state executive officer for the Gainesville-based Farm Service Agency, a USDA agency serving Florida and the Virgin Islands and notifying his staff.

He resigned as representative for House District 39 in November when he was appointed to the federal post by President Donald Trump.

“I am a loyal supporter of President Trump and the great strides he has made for this country. While I had to think carefully about resigning my post, I can better help him and his programs by being in Congress,” Combee said.

The Combee family name is well-known in Polk County, which makes up 40 percent of the congressional district, with such names as the historic Combee Settlement neighborhood and Combee Road.

Combee is a farmer, rancher and real estate executive and served 16 years as a Polk County Commissioner. Upon leaving in 2004, his fellow commissioners named the new county administration building for him.

He served on the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District from 2005 until 2012 when he was elected to the Florida House.

Combee said CD 15 is a perfect fit since a large portion is rural and suburban and has a great deal of agriculture.

The district includes Polk County which makes up 40 percent while Hillsborough contains about 50 percent with Lake County making up roughly 10 percent of the district.

Pundits had for a long time before Ross’ announcement had said after him, the district likely would be controlled by Hillsborough voters.

“With Polk and Lake counties this is a 50-50 split, but I also have great history with the eastern part of Hillsborough with friends and associates for a long time,” he said.

Six Democrats have already opened campaigns for the seat before Ross’ announcement of his retirement. Democratic officials say that the district is winnable this year for a Democrat because of the controversies surrounding the very president to whom Combee has pledged his strong support.

But the district in some form has been represented by a Republican since then Rep. Andy Ireland of Winter Haven switched to the Republican Party in 1984.

Polk County Republican Party Chair JC Martin said he has no doubt a Polk County Republican will win the primary and the general election.

“Polk County’s favorite son (Commissioner of Agriculture) Adam Putnam will be on the ballot, and that is worth extra turnout from the Polk County side,” Martin said of Putnam’s run for governor.

Among those prominent Republicans also interested in Ross’ seat includes state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover, who is expected to announce he is switching from campaigning for Florida Attorney General to mount a run for CD 15.

Tuesday afternoon, WMNF radio reported Spano is pulling out of the AG race, and intents to enter the race for Congress. He has not yet officially filed.

Spano was behind the resolution in the last Legislative Session that declared pornography a “public health risk.” The measure recognized the health risk caused by explicit material, and recognized a need for “education, prevention, research and policy change to protect citizens of this state.”

Speculation is that state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon is studying a run.

Also officially in the race: Loretta Leah Lax Miller of Clermont and Curtis Ralph Rogers of Dover.

Another official in the Polk County Republican Party, family counselor Ed Shoemaker of Lakeland, announced last week that he will run for the seat.

Danny Kushmer, Executive Director of International Responsible Farming Council, headquartered in Hillsborough County, also announced Tuesday that he will run for the seat as a Republican. The council is a not-for-profit corporation to tell the American farmer’s story through certification and participation in best management practices to ensure use of the latest food safety protocols.

Former state Rep. Seth McKeel and state Sen. Kelli Stargel, both Lakeland Republicans, are highly rumored as potential candidates but have said they will not run for the post.

Dennis Ross to retire in 2018

Congressman Dennis Ross will not seek re-election in 2018.

The Lakeland Republican will not seek another term in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, which covers parts of Central Florida, ending a 16-year career in elective offices.

“But I got up Sunday morning and I’m reading my emails and the news and seeing what I need to do looked outside and said ‘My God, it’s beautiful today,’” Ross told POLITICO. “’I gotta go out there and see that.’ And I thought to myself, it’s time. It’s time. It’s time to move on.”

Ross, 58, was elected to Congress in 2010 after eight years in the Florida Legislature.

He told Florida Politics Wednesday: “It’s time. Cindy [Ross’ wife] and I have talked about this for some time. I planned on ten years, but after eight with both my sons getting married within the year and having accomplished what I had hoped, it’s time,”

Ross, a senior deputy whip in the House, said he plans to work hard to see other goals of the GOP House leadership accomplished before he leaves.

“Polk County has a significant role in this district, and I intend to campaign for my successor,” he added.

He said his decision was a personal one. It comes on the same day Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan announced his decision to retire at the end of the term this year.

Both men cited family as one of the key reasons.

Close supporter Dena DeCamp, president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women was quick to point out that Ross’ retirement had nothing to do with President Donald Trump.

“Dennis kind of hinted to me last year he was thinking about it,” she said. Again, he is not leaving because of Trump.

(In fact, Ross told this reporter in 2016 he had no intention of making it “a lifetime career.”)

DeCamp said she is not worried about Republicans losing the seat.

‘“There are a lot of Democrats running, but that won’t make a difference,” she said. “This is a solid Republican district, and there have always been a lot of Democrats who voted for Dennis.”

But is it still a Polk County seat?

Over the years Ross has been in the seat, the district has changed from the commanding position Polk County voters held in the early years of his congressional terms. His incumbency and voter satisfaction continued to ensure his re-election.

But Polk voters now only make up 40 percent of the district, with the bulk now in eastern Hillsborough and a small amount stretching to Clermont.

“I don’t believe in the Blue Wave,” DeCamp said. “ That was just made up by the media. Dennis has done a great job for us representing the people of this district. He has supported conservative issues, the Second Amendment, and tax cuts.”

Ross said he plans to return to practicing law when his term expires in January. And he said he plans to pursue his passion for promoting civics education in high schools and colleges. He said he is concerned about the lack of teaching on the topic.

“It is so important that kids understand the process and that we are all a part of it,” Ross said.

Ross told POLITICO Florida he doesn’t have a favorite candidate to follow him. Possible successors include state Sen. Kelli Stargel, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd (who, through a spokesperson, said he “will never run for a different public office, and that includes Congress.”) state Rep. Ben Albritton, former state Rep. Neil Combee and state Sen. Tom Lee.

Republican leaders reached Tuesday also mentioned former state Rep. Seth McKeel of Lakeland as a potential candidate from Polk County for the GOP primary in CD 15.

McKeel, 42, was a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2006 to 2014,  and had served on the Lakeland City Commission for six years prior to the Legislature.

He earned the respect of Republican leaders in Polk and Hillsborough counties when he stepped in to heal the rift between University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft and the Hillsborough delegation between Senate Appropriations Chairman JD Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican, and the members of the Polk legislative delegation.

The negotiation gave birth to Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland and the elimination of the USF Lakeland campus.

In making the announcement, Ross joined Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Tom Rooney and Ron DeSantis in deciding against seeking re-election to congressional seats this fall. Like Ross, Ros-Lehtinen and Rooney have not disclosed any other political plans, while DeSantis is running for governor.

Ross was elected to the Florida House in 2000 and served four terms in Tallahassee. Ross’ congressional website recounts how he was stripped of a state House committee chairmanship in 2007 for voting against a bill that made the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. “the largest property insurer in Florida. For voting against his party and with his free-market principles, Dennis was stripped of his chairmanship and many said his career was over.”

Ross won his first congressional election by 7 percentage points over Democrat Lori Edwards, but he never faced a close race in getting re-elected three times.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Baxter Troutman campaign snarks opponents in Agriculture Commissioner race

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman reported raising $2.9 million by the end of February in his run for Florida Agriculture Commissioner.

The Winter Haven Republican still has $2.7 million in the bank.

In money collected, Troutman is ahead of his Republican primary opponents, and his campaign manager feels he is ahead in qualifications, dubbing both in a comment that they aren’t as qualified to serve the agriculture needs of the state.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley of Wauchula had $851,666 at the end of January and Florida Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers had $556,826. Under rules of the Florida Legislature, they were barred from collecting campaign funds when the legislature is in session.

Grimsley is a hospital administrator and manages the family citrus groves and Caldwell is a real estate appraiser, citing family roots in farming.

But Troutman campaign manager Carlo Fassi doesn’t think much of his candidate’s primary challengers’ qualifications.

“You can post pictures of yourself on a horse or in a citrus grove, but Baxter is the only one who grew up with dirt under his fingernails from the time he was a kid,” Fassi said. “He understands farmers and ranchers because he has been there and knows more about these hard-working people of Florida.”

Troutman, grandson of the late Citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin also owns an employment agency.

If campaign funds are considered a measure of electability, it might appear that no Democrat would have much of a chance in the general election. Both Thomas Clayton White Jr. of Tallahassee and Jeffrey Duane Porter of Cooper City reported collecting no money at all by the end of January. The third Democrat in the race, R. David Walker of Fort Lauderdale reported a war chest of $7,261.

Florida game warden recounts exciting tales of bad guys, boat chases

Mention of a wildlife officer in Florida, and many think of someone who checks your fishing license.

But the protection and dangers of the job are far beyond that, former game warden Bob H. Lee told a packed auditorium Thursday at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

Lee is the author of “Bad Guys, Bullets and Boat Chases — True Stories of Florida Game Wardens.” It is a book of the stories of wildlife officers and their duties ranging from high-speed boat chases to gunfights and poaching.

“There are over 1 million city, state and federal law enforcement officers in the United States. There are only 6,000 wildlife officers, often working alone in remote areas without backup,” Lee said.

His appearance was part of the lecture series of the Lawton Chiles Center for Florida History.

It was the public’s general lack of understanding of these special law enforcement officers that prompted Lee to write his first book, “Backcountry Lawman.”

His first memorable episode in his career, Lee told his audience, was as an eighth month rookie on patrol alone at midnight on the Ocklawaha River when his boat sank. Grabbing a fuel can he began floating in the direction of a landing in the river.

“Now this was in 1978 after 25 years of a ban on alligator hunting. The river was full of gators,” he said.

During a two-mile or more float toward the landing, a bull gator jumped into the water so close it rattled the gas can. He arrived at the landing where four men were drinking around a campfire. Lee ended up driving his “rescuers” the next morning because they were too intoxicated to drive.

“That story had many layers to it. I like to write stories in layers,” he said.

But threats to wildlife officers are from more than animals.

He recalled two officers in a helicopter chasing two suspected deer poachers who were in a Piper Cub. The plane charged at the helicopter trying to crash it. The officer piloting the helicopter, a former pilot in Vietnam, maneuvered under the plane stealing its wind, Lee said, causing it to drop to the ground where arrests were made.

Poaching of baby alligators and passing them through licensed alligator farms is a major issue. Lee noted that several years ago a bust was made on poachers who captured 17,000 baby alligators to be sold for $8 apiece.

“It is now $28 a piece,” he said.

Baby alligators hatched in licensed farms can be sold legally, so poachers have found some perhaps less than honest gator farmers who mix in the poached baby gators. But high technology is now used by the Florida Wildlife Commission: DNA testing.

Technology also shows the worsening problem of the Burmese Pythons in the Everglades, Lee said in answer to a questioner from the audience. Pythons released either accidentally or on purpose are a growing problem to the ecosystem of South Florida, so much so that they will never be eradicated.

By tracing a pathogen carried by cotton rats found in captured Pythons, researchers are finding more and more being eaten by the snakes indicating that they may have greatly diminished the population of other native animals in the Everglades.

“That is the one animal where there is no license requirement,” he said of pythons.

The state even sponsors an annual python hunt, although anyone can hunt pythons any day of the year.

“Anyone who wants an Indiana Jones moment can hunt them,” he said.

But it is all for control. There are now too many for eradication.

Florida’s has a proper amount of game wardens. With somewhere a little over 800 members, it is the state with the most conservation law enforcement officers. Even larger than Texas and California wardens, Lee said.

The problem, he said, is the lack of experience due to retirements under the DROP Program. When signing up for the program, employees must leave after five more years of service

“There are fewer experienced officers because of DROP,” he said.

Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll endorses Baxter Troutman for Agriculture Commissioner

Former Florida Rep. Baxter Troutman, a Winter Haven Republican, was endorsed by former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll Monday in his run for Agriculture Commissioner.

Troutman, the grandson of the late Ben Hill Griffin, noted citrus baron and a former Democratic candidate for governor, announced Friday he was officially opening his campaign for the post. It is currently held by fellow Polk County native and Bartow Republican Adam Putnam who is term-limited for the office and is running for governor.

Carroll joined Troutman last week, introducing him to voters in Duval, Nassau and Clay counties.

“Now, more than ever, we need an Agriculture Commissioner who will look out for Florida’s farmers, ranchers and consumers. I’ve known Baxter Troutman for 15 years,” she said in an emailed statement from the campaign. “His lifetime in the agriculture industry and his record of job creation make him undoubtedly the most qualified man for the job. He’s running to help the community he grew up in.”

Troutman campaign manager Carlo Fassi said the Carroll endorsement, “shows the campaign is up and running and ready to take on the workload ahead.”

Troutman will face state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring and Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers in the August Republican Primary. The sole Democrat declaring for the post is conservationist and researcher R. David Walker of Fort Lauderdale.

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