Herald recommends: We can’t find a good option in the race for Florida agriculture commissioner

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The race for Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services is rather lackluster.

With one candidate unprepared and another who won’t explain his record, the Herald’s editorial board won’t issue a recommendation until the Nov. 8 election.

Democrats have made little effort to find and fund a candidate for this and other Florida cabinet positions. Naomi Blemur won a three-way Democratic primary in August. The Editorial Board did not recommend it and then because beyond her arguments, she lacked knowledge on issues like tackling agricultural pollution and helping Florida’s struggling citrus industry.

Blemur, of North Miami, operates a small accounting firm and is the granddaughter of a farmhand from Immokalee. She is the first Haitian American to be a major party candidate for a Cabinet seat. Yet she lacks the farming experience, infrastructure and money to operate in a state as large and diverse as Florida. She raised $70,000 and loaned her campaign $12,500.

Blemur, 43, says she is running a grassroots campaign. She focused on important issues such as ensuring that public school children who receive free meals receive adequate nutrition. She wants to give small farmers better access to credit and make sure the state’s hemp licensing process is “fair” for black and brown Floridians, but she hasn’t demonstrated that she was ready to run for such a big office.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is a sprawling agency that oversees agriculture, concealed weapons licensing, food safety, school lunch programs, consumer complaints, public lands and inspection amusement park rides.

Incumbent Nikki Fried did not seek re-election to run for governor. She lost to fellow Democrat Charlie Crist in the August primary. Whoever replaces her must have a good understanding of how government works and what is at stake.

On paper, Republican Wilton Simpson, 56, of Pasco County is that person. The President of the Florida Senate is a renowned legislator with a long political career. He is by far the favorite to win. If elected, he told the Florida Press Service it would focus on ensuring that “all law-abiding citizens can obtain a concealed carry permit as quickly as possible”. Its website says it will ‘continue to support our farmers and ensure this essential industry is protected’.

Simpson declined an invitation to an interview with the editorial board of the Herald. Without the ability to ask him for details on his platform, as well as some of the agricultural and environmental legislation he has championed, we cannot recommend him.

Simpson gave the mighty sugar industry two big giveaways during his tenure as head of the Senate. Last year, he inaugurated a law “right to use” which exempts farmers from legal action related to the industry practice of burning sugar cane before harvest. Neighboring communities, poor and mostly black, were forced to live with thick smoke known as “black snow” and its health effects.

Another bill this year would have put agricultural interests ahead of Everglades restoration by removing flexibility from state water managers. The bill was another concession to the sugar industry, which has fought efforts to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to clean up and send water to the Everglades. Although the legislation was simplified from its original version, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed it.

Simpson owns an egg farm and other businesses. He is worth $22.5 million, according to his financial disclosure documents. He had more than $14 million available through his campaign account and four political committees he oversees, the News Service of Florida reported this month.

Some might say get behind the presumed winner of this race, but Simpson’s record raises questions, especially if he doesn’t take the time to explain it. Without a viable alternative, the editorial board of the Miami Herald NO RECOMMENDATION in the race for the post of Commissioner for Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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