Times-Union: Putnam the choice for ag commissioner

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam has a lofty ambition for his office.

The Republican wants it to be a “transformational” agency that benefits everyone across the state.

“We want to be (a department) that may have its nexus in agriculture, but is one that is relevant to all Floridians,” Putnam told the Times-Union editorial board during a recent candidate interview.

And the department has certainly made huge strides toward that goal since Putnam became its commissioner in 2011.

Since then, the agency has:

■ Successfully taken over responsibility — from the federal government — of Florida’s school nutrition program, a massive $1 billion effort that now provides school children with fresh food straight from state farms and producers.

■ Launched an impressive initiative to identify communities across Florida, including Jacksonville, that have “food deserts” — areas and neighborhoods that have a disproportionately low number of grocery stores and other sources of fresh food within an easily accessible radius.

■ Worked aggressively with grocers, industry executives, public officials and others to confront the growing plague of citrus greening, a bacterial disease that has ravaged Florida’s citrus acreage (Putnam estimated it’s now 500,000 acres — down from 800,000 just 10 years ago). Florida is now in “a race against the clock” to find a way to prevent citrus greening, Putnam told the editorial board.

■ Streamlined and strengthened the state’s regulations on charities, which require organizations to be far more accountable in handling charitable funds and give Floridians much more information on how their donated dollars are being used.

■ Oversaw a sweeping investigation into how energy-related grants had been used in Florida in recent years.

Among other findings, the probe revealed that some $2.5 million had been misspent — and it led to some much-needed reforms.

PRESSING FOR WATER NEEDS

On these issues and others — including the state’s present and future water needs — Putnam has been a productive activist as Florida’s agriculture commissioner.

Putnam, a Polk County Republican who previously spent four terms in Congress, deserves praise for his office’s proactive approach to addressing hunger across our state.

“Half of the battle is getting better food on the plates (of food-insecure Floridians),” Putnam told the editorial board. “Hunger isn’t a scarcity issue. It’s a distribution issue.”

Putnam is opposed by Thad Hamilton, a Broward County Democrat and longtime U.S. Department of Agriculture official. Hamilton, who lost to Putnam in the 2010 race for agriculture commissioner, did not accept an invitation to be interviewed by the editorial board.

Putnam should be the clear choice of voters on Nov. 4.

Times-Union

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