Adam Putnam Archives - Page 6 of 53 - Florida Politics

Bouncing back from Irma: Florida citrus

One of the state’s messages on the impact of Hurricane Irma was that its path could not have been “more lethal” for Florida agriculture — especially citrus.

The damage is still unfolding, as shown by changing USDA citrus forecasts. It’s hard to grasp the full extent of what’s happened to Florida oranges.

Ahead of Thanksgiving, a Florida grower spoke with Florida Politics to shed light on the crisis facing the state’s citrus.

Kyle Story is a fourth-generation Florida grower and the vice president of The Story Companies, which owns or manages about 7,000 acres of citrus, peaches and blueberries across the lower half of the state. 

In the scope of Florida’s expansive citrus field, Story considers his company to be mid-sized. He volunteers with Florida Citrus Mutual, which he described as the legislative “advocacy arm” for Florida citrus growers.

He walked through the before and after of Hurricane Irma, explaining what he did ahead of time and what farmers are doing in its wake.

“We did everything that we could ahead of the storm,” Story said. He said because the company spans the state, he knew he’d be affected regardless of where the eye landed.

Story said his operations also placed front-end loaders around different parts of surrounding communities to help clear debris following the storm, but there wasn’t much else he could do in preparation apart from securing equipment and farms, and ensuring that drainage ditches and retention pond levels were low to absorb the anticipated rainfall. 

Story said his crops in LaBelle and Immokalee, which both are near the Southwestern part of the state, took the most noticeable damage.

“We estimate a loss in that area of over 80 percent of the fruit crop,” Story said. He said that the growers who had all of their crops in that area had likely “all but lost an entire crop of fruit.”

Because blueberries and peaches had not bloomed by the time Irma made landfall, Story said the bulk of his loss came to his citrus crop, which he began harvesting early October.

He said that some Florida growers, however, likely aren’t harvesting at all. He explained that when a vast majority of a crop isn’t harvestable, it becomes economically unviable to collect what’s left.

“You have to outweigh cost of harvest to the benefit of that return,” Story explained. He said that when there’s only between 10 and 20 percent of a crop available for harvest, it becomes hard to justify investing in labor for such a small yield.

“You may just let it all rot on the ground because it’s more cost-effective.” Story said. “As a farmer, that has to be one of the toughest decisions you make.”

Story added that, depending on how many hours went into cultivating the crop, deciding not to harvest is not only financially devastating, but “emotionally trying.”

There’s another particularly tragic element to Irma’s damage: The storm wiped out an orange crop that, for Story and others, had been the healthiest in years. Citrus greening had plagued Florida citrus for several years leading up to the 2017 harvest, Story said.

“To grow one of largest crops statewide in the past five years and have a storm of this magnitude wash it away — it’s hard,” Story said. “Farming is an emotional job, whether you want it to be or not.”

Story said he has crop and tree insurance in place to help with financial recovery following storms like Irma. But that it’s very costly and he hasn’t made a claim on the insurance since 2004, when several hurricanes ravaged the state.

He said there are varying levels of coverage. His policy requires him to lose 50 percent of a crop before he can make a claim.

“It is a very costly and inadequate insurance policy,” Story said. But he said that Ted Yoho, Darren Soto, Al Lawson, Jr. and Neal Dunn — all of whom are Floridians on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee — are working to better citrus insurance.

Story also nodded to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott, along with U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. He said they’re all doing what they can to help Florida’s farmers.

But Florida citrus relief was not addressed in both the U.S. House’s disaster package and the White House’s request last week. Still, Story is confident that the upcoming Senate request will include citrus relief, or rebuilding, dollars.

“It has been disappointing to not be included in any type of relief,” Story said. “But, we feel confident that — with the leadership of our elected officials from Florida and other states — that we will be ultimately successful in securing the needed rebuilding efforts.”

For Story and other farmers, however, it’s an inherent sense of resilience that will ultimately restore Florida citrus.

“Everybody is safe, everybody is healthy,” Story said. “We feel confident that we’ll be able to grow another crop — and we will.”

Thanksgiving place setting

What Florida’s political elite should be thankful for

From the soup kitchens of Tallahassee to the conch houses of Key West, from the toniest mansions in Coral Gables to the double wides in Dixie County, people from all walks of life will sit down to celebrate the most American of holidays: Thanksgiving.

“Americans traditionally recognize the ‘first’ Thanksgiving as having taken place at Plymouth colony in the autumn of 1621,” according to MountVernon.org, the website of George Washington’s Virginia estate. “The 1621 thanksgiving celebration, however, did not become an annual event.”

More than a century later, “Washington issued a proclamation on Oct. 3, 1789, designating Thursday, Nov. 26 as a national day of thanks,” it says. “In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans.”

But “the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation … did not establish a permanent federal holiday,” the site adds. “It was not until the Civil War of the 1860s that President (Abraham) Lincoln initiated a regular observance of Thanksgiving in the United States.”

Thus we come to the tradition of eating and giving thanks, including by the state’s elected officials (and yes, by candidates and players in The Process).

Once God, country, family, and good fortune are given their due, here’s what some of the state’s most prominent leaders should be grateful for:

Marco Rubio – For the proverbial “second chance.” He’s finally becoming the influential U.S. Senator he was supposed to be.

Bill Nelson – For the wave of opinion coming that may enable the Democrat to hold off the inevitable challenge to his seat from self-funding, always-on-message Gov. Rick Scott.

Rick Scott For Nelson, who, despite 17 years in the U.S. Senate, is not well known enough to about half of Florida’s voters, according to a recent poll. No wonder Bill keeps inundating us with press releases of all the concerned letters he writes.

Adam Putnam – For the anonymous “POLITICO 6” who have torpedoed Jack Latvala’s gubernatorial campaign, giving the Bartow Republican an even wider lane to the Governor’s Mansion in 2018.

Jimmy Patronis For Matt Gaetz muscling him out of a state Senate race a few years back. Now he’s the appointed state Chief Financial Officer, with the full faith and credit of the Rick Scott political machine behind him to get elected to a full term in 2018.

Joe Negron For having just one session left as Senate President. It was a long, bruising road to the presidency, with an extended and nasty battle with Latvala. And since he won the gavel, relations with the House have bottomed out, while several Senators have faced debilitating scandals. Has it really been worth it?

Pam Bondi – For state Sen. Tom Lee’s proposed constitutional amendment banning greyhound racing. The term-limited Attorney General regularly brings shelter dogs to Cabinet meetings to get them adopted. Will she make this issue her own as one springboard to her post-2018 ambitions?

Richard Corcoran – For the seemingly hapless Senate, which allows him to ally with Scott when needed to advance his priorities. A post-Session declaration of his own candidacy for Governor is a virtual lock. 

Jack Latvala  For all the donors who gave to his campaign for Governor before the reports of claims of sexual harassment against him came out. No matter how the case against him plays out, he’ll have millions of dollars to make others miserable once he leaves the Legislature.

Buddy Dyer For no term limits as Orlando mayor. How about just chucking the election pretense? Mayor-for-Life, anyone?

Bob Buckhorn For … , well, the Tampa mayor says he’s too busy hunting a serial killer right now to be thankful. We bet he will be thankful once that evildoer is caught.

Brian Ballard For the gift that keeps on giving: His relationship with President Donald Trump. We’d wager he’s … hold on a second, he’s signing another client, we’ll get back to you.

Vivian Myrtetus – For one million hours of volunteer service in the state after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The CEO of Volunteer Florida has good reason to be proud, and we should be proud of our fellow Floridians who helped neighbors in need.

Gwen Graham isn’t running on labels

Gwen Graham — who has been dubbed a moderate, a champion for public education, a “serial hugger” and is the only woman candidate in the 2018 Governor’s race — doesn’t want to be tied down by labels.

“You know what I’m championing — and I think this is what we desperately need — (is) to get away from the labels,” Graham said. “To get away from being pigeonholed as one thing or another.”

The proclamation came during her 12th ‘workday’ of her campaign, totaling 45 since her political debut. Workdays are a tradition that began with her father, former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham.

Graham spoke with media after stepping away from food prepping at Project Annie, a hot meal service nestled in the heart of Tallahassee’s Frenchtown, ahead of the nonprofit’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, which expects to host over 1200 hungry patrons on Thursday.

The former congresswoman, who worked seven years in the Leon County School District, said she can be labeled a champion for public education or a pro-environment politician — that’s fine.

But she also said it’s become too commonplace to be identified by labels people put on you.

“It used to be that you were identified by what your passions were,” Graham said.

Graham also discussed the recent resignations of Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel, following reports of him being “creepy” and “demeaning” toward women, and Sally Boynton Brown, the group’s president, for allegedly enabling Bittel’s behavior.

When asked whether the actions of members of her party could affect her gubernatorial bid, Graham conceded, “It’s not good.”

But she’s still confident she’ll become the state’s Governor. She said she’ll leverage that position to help rebuild the Democratic Party.

On Gov. Rick Scott’s recently proposed budget, Graham said it’s something she looks forward to reassessing as Governor. 

“I promise you there are places in that budget that are not good for the people of Florida,” she said. Upon its reveal last week, Graham decried the budget as Scott’s attempt to “run from his record of education cuts.”

She also touched on the uniqueness of her resume and how it could help her lead the state. She’s the only Democratic candidate to have held a seat in the U.S. Congress, something rivaled only by Republican opponent and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Having built those relationships with those in D.C. and in the House will be beneficial to Florida,” Graham said. “It’s those friendships and relationships that you can go back to and talk to your colleagues about what needs to be done in Florida.”

If elected Governor, Graham said, she’d coordinate with the federal government to revamp Florida’s infrastructure.

“(Transportation and infrastructure funding) is something that the federal government has an opportunity to provide resources for,” Graham said.

Referencing Florida’s roadways, Graham said, “It’s clear that infrastructure improvement is desperately needed.”

Fixing infrastructure will not only make traveling safer, but also will add an economic benefit, she continued.

Nodding to Amazon’s recent quest for a second headquarters, Graham said local infrastructure is assessed by major companies like the online retail giant when they look to build or relocate.

That shifted the conversation toward Scott’s methods of incentivizing businesses to come to Florida, which has recently centered on touting the state’s pro-business tax environment.

According to Graham, that is a “myopic” approach.

“You need to look at the totality of what needs to be done in the state,” Graham said. She pointed to improving education as a tool for economic growth.

Graham also talked Tallahassee, specifically the ongoing FBI investigation and other instances of corruption.

“It makes me very sad for our city,” Graham said. She’ll spend her Thanksgiving dinner in Florida’s capital and represented the area in the U.S. House. The “cloud hanging over the city” is not healthy, she concluded.

Meanwhile, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — also a Democratic gubernatorial candidate — wants his opponents to debate at least six times ahead of the primary. 

Graham says she looks forward to having those debates following the New Year.

Ashley Moody, meet Ross Spano: Notes from Reagan Day BBQ

When the Hillsborough County Republican Party began promoting its Reagan Day BBQ weeks ago, attendees were promised appearances by Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran and Jack Latvala.

Instead, they got Baxter Troutman and Bob White.

Many statewide and Hillsborough County-based Republicans were running in 2018 who put in some time at the cattle-call-style event on Sunday afternoon, held in the cavernous 81 Bay Brewing Company brewery on South Gandy in Tampa.

Although the event was scheduled from 1-3 p.m., the candidates weren’t allowed to speak until halftime of the Miami Dolphins-Tampa Bay Bucs game broadcast on most of the televisions at the brewery, and were only given a few minutes to introduce themselves.

Troutman is the Winter Haven-based former state representative running for the GOP nomination for Agriculture Commissioner, along with Denise Grimsley and North Fort Myers state Rep. Matt Caldwell, who also attended the event.

White, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, also is running for governor, with an emphasis on campaign finance and ethics reform.

“We have a swamp in Tallahassee that we have got to drain,” he said. “It is every bit as dark … as the swamp in Washington, D.C., and I’m the only candidate for governor that is committed to that issue.”

The event was noteworthy as being the first time that Ashley Moody and Ross Spano have shared the same space since Spano announced last week that he would run for attorney general, joining Moody, Jacksonville state Rep. Jay Fant and Pensacola state Rep. Frank White. Current GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi is term-limited next year.

Moody and Spano are both Hillsborough County Republicans who will be vying for the same voters over the course of the next 10 months.

Spano was up first, beginning by reciting an anecdote when he was in the 8th grade and confronted a big kid who was bullying a smaller child.

“I promptly got my tail kicked! But guess what? I never saw that bully bullying another child,” Spano shouted (the acoustics were challenging to say the least).

“I’m going to fight to make sure the innocent people are protected. That’s my passion. It’s in my gut. It’s what I do,” he continued citing his legislative work on combating human trafficking.

Noting his current position as chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Spano said that he was the “only one in the race” to have criminal justice legislative experience.

“You can look at my record and know where I stand,” Spano continued, adding that he will fight for the public like no other attorney general in state history.

Moody talked up her experience in the courtroom.

“Not only will I bring our conservative principles and priorities to the office in Tallahassee, but I can start this job on day one,” she said. “I’ve been a judge. I’ve been a federal prosecutor. I’ve been a lawyer. You want to talk about true experience? I’ve been in the courts on both sides of the bench.”

Moody said the pursuit of the office was a job interview, and the voters are her boss. “Hold me accountable, because I’m accountable to you.”

Tampa House Republicans Jackie Toledo and Jamie Grant also addressed the crowd.

Toledo told the audience she was “super excited” about her legislation (HB 41) on pregnancy centers that promote childbirth, while Grant warned the crowd that “we’ve got a very difficult cycle in front of us” regarding the 2018 election season.

Where are the Groveland Four pardons? Their story continues in silence

There is no pardon for the Groveland Four.

At least not yet, and possibly not in the foreseeable future, despite much celebration last spring that they deserved and should receive posthumous pardons.

The Groveland Four are the young, black men who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in rural Lake County in 1949. It was an infamous case that unraveled into a pile of racial hatred, apparent lies and reportedly manufactured evidence, all coming to light largely through the efforts of legendary NAACP attorney and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. But the truth began to emerge too late to save any of them from the fates suffered by so many black men in the Jim Crow era. Two were killed in custody, and the other two were wrongly [the record now shows] convicted and imprisoned.

Their story, largely unknown or forgotten even in Florida, was spread internationally by Gilbert King’s best-selling book, Devil in the Grove, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and awakened Florida’s conscience about the matter.

Last spring, in a passionate flurry that rivaled any call anywhere for belated justice, the Florida Legislature approved a resolution apologizing to the families of Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, Sam Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas and urging full pardons for Irvin and Greenlee, the only two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

The resolution declared the quartet, “were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history.”

“This is Florida’s version of the Scotsboro Boys. This is our To Kill a Mockingbird,” state Sen. Gary Farmer declared after the resolution’s adoption. “We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it. But we can acknowledge our wrongs. And we can bring peace, and healing, and closure to the families who have suffered so long.”

Yet seven months after the Florida Legislature passed CS/HCR 631 by votes of 117-0 in the Florida House of Representatives and 36-0 in the Florida Senate, the request it contained for pardons has vanished into bureaucracy.

And no one wants to talk about it.

Several communications by Florida Politics to the office of Gov. Rick Scott last week resulted in no response, except a referral to the Florida Commission on Offender Review, which declined to comment on Greenlee or Irvin. Neither Farmer nor state Rep. Bobby DuBose, the Broward County Democrats who sponsored the resolutions in the Senate and House respectively, responded to requests to talk about the pardons either.

“I’m not aware of anything going on,” said former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, the Orlando Democrat who first brought the Groveland Four to the Legislature’s attention in 2016, in a resolution that failed that Session, shortly before she left the Senate herself.

Also not aware of anything going on is Josh Venkataraman, the young activist who carried the matter back to the Florida Legislature this year, and who, as it turned out, wound up being the one who actually filed the request for pardons.

“They [Farmer, DuBose and others including House Speaker Richard Corcoran] did an incredible job of making this happen, and really bringing the passion to it. I just don’t know that they knew how to get this next step,” said Venkataraman, who now lives and works in New York City. “I think the passion is still there. I just don’t know if they have the answers. And, frankly, nobody does. As of this moment, the only thing I’ve been told is it’s a waiting process.”

Technically, it turned out, the Legislature demanding pardons was not the same thing as someone formally requesting pardons. That may have gone unrealized until weeks later. When he discovered there were no pardon requests on file from anyone, Venkataraman took it upon himself to write and file one in June.

At the suggestion of the office of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who as a member of the Florida Cabinet will have a final vote on the pardons, Venkataraman also wrote what is called a “Request for Review” application and submitted it to Scott’s office. That’s the legal document that could get the case expedited, if Scott pursues the request. Venkataraman also submitted that in June.

And that, apparently, was the last anyone on the outside has heard of the pardons requested for Greenlee and Irvin.

Kelly Corder, director of communications for the Florida Commission on Offender Review, said law mandates that any specific pardon request remain confidential. She could not discuss it.

“Investigations are processed in the order in which they are received by the Office of Executive Clemency, and maintained in chronological order based upon the original application date,” Corder explained.

Think of the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the crate is wheeled into a stadium-sized warehouse and shoved into its appointed spot.

“As of November 1, 2017, there were 22,376 pending clemency cases,” Corder added.

The Florida Legislature didn’t just call for their full pardons last spring. In CS/HCR 631, lawmakers unanimously urged the “Governor and Cabinet to expedite review of the cases” toward those pardons.

Corder noted that “The [Florida] Commission [of Offender Review] cannot consider an application out of order without direction from a member of the Clemency Board,” which is the cabinet: Scott, Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Venkataraman filed his request for review with Scott, and said he has not heard back. Scott’s office did not respond to Florida Politics inquiry on whether he had accepted the request, or was considering it, or had any statement at all on the Groveland Four.

Irvin and Greenlee were released from prison in the 1960s. Irvin returned to Lake County in 1969 to attend a relative’s funeral, but never showed up. Eventually he was found dead in his car. Greenlee died in 2012.

Neil Combee mentions familiar name defending Josie Tomkow

Outgoing state House member Neil Combee invoked a familiar statewide officeholder in an op-ed he submitted to the The Ledger, defending fellow Republican Josie Tomkow’s candidacy for the District 39 seat Combee is set to vacate next week.

Combee is exiting the House Nov. 24 to start a new job as Florida’s State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Tomkow was the first candidate to file for the impending special election, and quickly earned Combee’s endorsement, though most reports of her candidacy latched on to her being 22 years old.

Combee doesn’t think that’s right.

“Although I am aware she is young by time’s standard, I don’t think age should ever preclude someone from entering public service,” he wrote. “You can never be too old, or too young to want to give back to your community and help your neighbors.”

Combee then weaved a tale that many in the Polk County-based district might find a little familiar:

“Twenty-six years ago, Polk County voters sent what was then one of the youngest people ever elected to the Florida Legislature. He was 22. His accomplishments are well known.

“He rose up in leadership, defending conservative issues and values, leaving an enormous and lasting impact on everything from property rights to insurance regulation.

“When his service was done he came home and, at the age of just 26, Polk County sent him to the United States Congress. There too he was the youngest person during his tenure to serve and he quickly rose up to become a leader.”

That, of course, refers to Agriculture Commissioner and GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, now 43.

Combee’s point was clear: “We here in Polk County have always sent leaders to the Legislature – leaders like Adam Putnam. We look beyond age and I hope we will do that yet again.”

Combee even noted his own youth when Polk County voters elected him to the county commission at 28, and echoed the sentiments from his resignation letter that there “is no greater privilege than having your neighbors send you to be their voice.”

The Auburndale Republican then reiterated his support for Tomkow.

“Now, as an older, wiser man, I can tell you I am endorsing Josie Tomkow because she is the best person for the job, period. She has the energy and passion to serve. She has the knowledge and experience to get things done for our community and her neighbors. She is the right person at the right time.”

Gov. Rick Scott has not yet announced special election dates to replace Combee, and Tomkow is currently the only candidate filed to run in the district.

HD 39 covers parts of Osceola and Polk counties, including Polk City, Auburndale, and the outskirts of Kissimmee at its eastern border and northern Lakeland along the district’s southwestern edge.

Combee’s full letter is below.

Matt Caldwell announces ‘fifth wave’ of endorsements in Ag Commissioner race

Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell announced another four endorsements Friday from county level elected officials in Lee, Nassau and Walton.

Caldwell got nods from Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, Lee County Tax Collector Larry Hart, Nassau County Property Appraiser Michael Hickox and County Clerk John Crawford, also of Nassau.

“The importance of protecting our heritage and the economic engine that is Florida Agriculture cannot be overstated. The person that we entrust as Commissioner of Agriculture carries the solemn duty to send his law enforcement and firefighters into harm’s way in service of this state. As Sheriff, I understand that we need a Commissioner who can rise to these challenges. Matt Caldwell is that man,” Adkinson said.

Hart said the HD 79 lawmaker’s “experience working on agricultural policy along with his conservative principles and his legislative skills best qualify him to be Florida’s next Agriculture Commissioner,” while Crawford added that Caldwell is a “humble and serious public servant.”

“He cares deeply about Florida and its future. I’m proud to endorse my friend for Commissioner of Agriculture,” he said.

The press release from Caldwell’s campaign described the new endorsements as the “fifth wave,” following past bulk endorsements from elected officials. The previous set announced by the Caldwell camp included House Speaker Designate Jose Oliva, and Reps. Bryan Avila, Michael Bileca, Manny Diaz, George Moraitis, Jeanette Nunez and Carlos Trujillo

Caldwell said Friday he was “honored to receive the endorsements of these Constitutional Officers who serve a critical role in our State.”

“If given the honor to be elected as Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture, I will work hand in hand with these local leaders to support businesses and families across our State. The incredible individuals listed below are also either current or immediate past presidents of their respective constitutional officer associations in all 67 counties. They are each trusted by their peers as leaders in these positions and I am honored they have placed their trust in me,” he said.

The Lehigh Acres Republican is in a three-way primary race with state Sen. Denise Grimsley and former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, who served from 2003 to 2010, to take over for current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is termed out of the Cabinet seat and running for Governor in 2018.

Democrat David Walker also is running for the seat.

Between his campaign and committee, Caldwell had raised a combined total of $1.37 million as of Oct. 31 and had about $934,000 on hand.

Through the same date, Grimsley had raised a total of $1.91 million and had about $884,000 on hand, while Troutman had raised $2.61 million and had $2.56 million on hand. His total is buoyed by $2.5 million of his own money.

Irma agriculture losses continue to mount

Florida’s $2.5 billion request for federal disaster relief for its agriculture industry after Hurricane Irma might not be enough.

Members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness said Thursday month-old damage estimates made by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are too low.

“I actually think your numbers are conservative,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat who called for a bipartisan letter to Congress supporting the emergency disaster relief that has been requested by Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “I think you’re probably looking at over $1 billion in damages to the citrus industry.”

In an estimate of damages on Oct. 4, the state department projected citrus losses at $761 million from the September storm, followed by the nursery industry at almost $624 million.

The cattle industry damage assessment was $237.5 million, while the dairy industry was estimated to have $11.8 million in losses.

The sugar industry appeared to have $383 million in damage, with an estimated 534,324 acres affected. Vegetable and fruit growers — excluding citrus — were projected to have $180 million in damage, with an estimated 163,679 acres impacted by the storm.

Grace Lovett, the department’s legislative affairs director, told the committee Thursday the $2.5 billion estimate included infrastructure, equipment and other items beyond crop damages. However, she noted that the department has noticed a number of trends, such as a slowdown in the movement of produce trucks.

“What they are seeing so far is staggering,” Lovett said. “September produce shipments from Florida were 76 percent lower than their average over the previous four years.”

Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who is a citrus grower, said the numbers will grow because storm-damaged fruit continues drop from the trees.

“It’s like a disease in a way,” Albritton said, adding, Irma “beat it up so bad that the connection between the fruit and the stem is weakened.”

He added that growers who saw damages of more than 70 percent may find harvesting costs outweigh the return on sales.

Albritton said growers who have lost 80 to 90 percent of their crops essentially have a total loss.

“You can’t afford to harvest 10 or 15 percent,” he said.

Albritton suggested the committee, which is expected to roll out post-storm legislative proposals in December, consider state and local tax reductions for the industry.

Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, suggested the state consider opening some of its publicly owned land for commercial cattle ranching to help the industry.

“I know of properties that could be grazed,” Handley said. “The land would be better off, and it would expand our footprint.”

A week ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced its Florida citrus-harvest forecast for the current growing season, projecting there will be 27 percent fewer oranges and 40 percent fewer grapefruit than during the past season.

Mike Sparks, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual, said the industry, which has been struggling the past decade with citrus greening disease, had been hoping for a slight rebound in terms of production.

Before the storm, the industry was hoping for about 10 percent growth from the past season, which would still be nearly 40 percent off where the industry needs to be to ensure sustainability, Sparks said.

But the “optimism certainly came to an immediate end” with Irma, Sparks said. Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and raced up the state, caused heavy damage in major citrus-growing areas.

A series of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 caused the industry to lose 44 percent of the crop.

“This damage is even worse,” Sparks said. “We had fruit not only blown off the trees, but trees in standing water for days.”

Scott has asked state lawmakers to include $21 million in the next budget to help citrus growers. Scott wants the money to include $10 million for citrus research, $4 million for marketing and $7 million for post-storm relief.

Adam Putnam widened fundraising lead in October, while Phil Levine made a splash

Gubernatorial candidates raised big bucks last month, none more so than Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam who added $1.2 million between his campaign and committee accounts.

Putnam raised $571,932 of that sum through his campaign account and another $616,235 through his political committee, Florida Grown.

The former congressman and state lawmaker spent a combined $466,801 from the two accounts to leave him with nearly $14.7 million in the bank with a to-date fundraising total of $20.4 million.

Putnam’s campaign account received dozens of checks for $3,000, the maximum contribution for statewide races, with several donors doubling down with checks through their company’s subsidiaries or from their family members.

The October donor roll includes a political committee tied to Florida Transportation Builders Association, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and insurance company GEICO, among many others.

Florida Grown, which passed $17 million raised last month, picked up a $150,000 check from the Associated Industries of Florida on the last day of the month as well as $50,000 contributions from California Republican David Jenkins, Dallas-based Tenet Health, real estate group Rayonier Inc., and GMRI, an Orlando-based subsidiary of Darden Restaurants.

Among the expenditures were $115,755 in payments to Harris Media for digital advertising and web development, 17 payments combining to over $75,000 for Lakeland-based Silloh Consulting, and $43,430 to Tallahassee-based Forward Strategies for fundraising consulting.

As reported last week, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine brought in nearly $1 million for his political committee, All About Florida. With all candidate reports in, that total puts him in second place behind Putnam for October.

Levine filed as a candidate on Nov. 1, so he has yet to file a finance report for his campaign. His committee account is flush, though, due to him plunking down $2.6 million of his own money.

The committee had about $5.4 million socked away at the end of the month, earning Levine the No. 2 spot in cash on hand.

Embroiled Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala’s October numbers came in at $513,101 raised between his campaign and political committee, Florida Leadership Committee, putting him in a distant third place among the declared major-party candidates.

The new money was offset by $152,147 in spending, leaving Latvala with a little over $5 million in the bank, good enough to put him in third place for cash on hand as well.

Campaign donors included a committee tied to the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, hotel company Marriott, and North Palm Beach attorney James Williams Jr. and his wife, Maureen Williams.

On the committee side, Latvala picked up $25,000 checks from American Traffic Solutions, a political committee tied to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Sugar and public employee trade association AFSCME Florida.

Expenditures included a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida, which paid that back with more than $60,000 worth of “in-kind” contributions last month, $30,000 to Champion Digital Media for advertising, and $20,000 to St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Baker’s political committee. Baker lost that election to incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman earlier this month.

Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, who touted her fundraising efforts earlier this month, came in behind Latvala with $346,573 raised between her campaign and committee, Our Florida. Heading into November, the North Florida Democrat had raised more than $4 million between her campaign and committee and had $2.66 million of that money on hand.

Winter Park businessman Chris King, running as a Democrat, tacked on $151,834 through his campaign and committee, Rise and Lead Florida, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came in last place among the major candidates. His campaign announced last week that it had raised $80,107 in October, though his committee, Forward Florida, saw negative fundraising last month.

King’s fundraising total to-date clocks in at about $2.7 million, with about $1.7 million on hand. Gillum has raised nearly $1.6 million to date, and had $557,571 on hand at month’s end.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has not officially declared for governor, brought in $267,200 in October through his political committee, Watchdog PAC, making it the committee’s slowest month yet.

AIF’s Voice of Florida Business political committee gave the Land O’ Lakes Republican $50,000 last month, while Auto Glass America, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and a couple other donors chipped in with $25,000 apiece.

His $4 million on hand total would currently put him in the No. 4 position if he were to enter the race.

Fundraising in Ag Commissioner race rebounds post-Irma

After a fundraising slowdown in September as the state – and the agriculture industry – struggled with Hurricane Irma, fundraising revived in October for Republicans seeking to succeed the term-limited Adam Putnam, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Republican from North Fort Myers, brought in $66,000 last month for his political committee Friends of Matt Caldwell, with another $45,235 raised for his campaign account.

Caldwell had raised a combined total of $1.37 million as of Oct. 31.

Republican state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring raised $39,855 in September for her campaign account, with another $46,500 raised for her political committee known as Saving Florida’s Heartland.

Grimsley’s two accounts had nearly $885,000 on hand when October came to a close.

The overall money leader in the contest remains self-funded former Rep. Baxter Troutman, a Republican from Winter Haven.

While Troutman pulled in $23,500 for his campaign account last month, and for the second month posted no money to his political committee known as iGrow, his accounts had about $2.56 million on hand as of Oct. 31. Troutman put $2.5 million of his own money into the contest in June.

Meanwhile, Orlando businessman Paul Paulson dropped out of the agriculture-commissioner race while giving an endorsement to Caldwell.

On the Democratic side of the ledger, David Walker of Fort Lauderdale posted $595 in October, after posting $750 in September.

His campaign had raised $5,135 as of Oct. 31, in addition to $9,500 of his own money. He had spent $11,100.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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