Former U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney is eyeing a return to politics in 2022. The Tequesta Republican confirmed to Florida Politics Tuesday he’s exploring a bid for Florida Agriculture Commissioner.
“I definitely still have political ambitions,” he said. “I’m 50. I’m not retired.”
Rooney won election to the House in 2008 and served for a decade before announcing in 2018 he would not seek reelection. U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, won the seat later that year and holds it now.
During his time in Congress, Rooney, representing Florida’s agricultural heartland, dealt with a tremendous number of ag-related issues. He served on the House Agriculture Committee and an appropriations subcommittee that handled Agriculture Department matters, so he’s well versed on issues impacting Florida’s farmers.
“Most of the things our office worked on dealt with agriculture,” he said.
He also developed plenty of relationships with producers of all kinds of Florida commodities, from oranges to cattle to blueberries, he said.
But Rooney stressed he’s still gauging interest in a run and considering what a statewide campaign may mean as far as his own family. He retired from Congress in part so he could spend more time at home while his sons finished high school. His youngest starts his senior year in the fall, and a campaign could inevitably mean missing football games and other milestones. That’s not something Rooney takes lightly.
Rooney briefly pursued a judicial appointment after leaving Congress but pulled away from that course for concern it would impact his family time. He has since maintained a relationship with a law practice, taught classes at Palm Beach Atlantic University and coached his high school’s junior varsity football team.
Rooney wants to make sure there’s an appetite for his candidacy. He hasn’t talked with other contenders, including Senate President Wilton Simpson. And he’s not even sure yet if incumbent Democrat Nikki Fried will seek reelection. Fried, Florida’s only Democrat holding statewide office, is widely expected to run for Governor.
Rooney has heard positive feedback about his own potential candidacy in early conversations among agriculture players. But he has yet to get a feel for how agriculture in Florida feels about Fried, he said. By now, he suggested, industry leaders ought to have strong feelings one way or the other, but primarily he’s heard little in terms of passion for or against the incumbent.
Regardless, Rooney said he’s conscious running statewide means winning over voters throughout the state, not just in agriculture-heavy areas. If he does run, he knows a task lies ahead.
“There’s nothing worse than a former politician who thinks he can win just because he has been there before,” he said.