by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
Florida Sen. Denise Grimsley said Wednesday she will run for agriculture commissioner in 2018, becoming the first lawmaker or statewide political figure to announce a bid for an open Cabinet seat or the governor’s office.
Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, will seek to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who faces term limits next year and is widely expected to run for governor. A hospital administrator and registered nurse, Grimsley said in a campaign announcement that she is a fifth-generation Floridian who has long been involved in the citrus and ranching industries.
“We will continue to fight for a smart statewide water policy, we will protect our environment and blessed Florida resources, and we will pursue expansion of the over 2 million jobs Florida agriculture provides our state,” Grimsley said in the announcement. “I offer my broad life experience and an optimistic vision to achieve so much for our state.”
The 2018 elections could feature a series of closely watched statewide races, as Putnam, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater are barred from running again. Also, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla, is up for re-election — and could be challenged by Scott.
As of Wednesday morning, seven relatively little-known candidates had opened campaign accounts to run for governor, and Orlando Republican Paul Paulson had opened an account to run for agriculture commissioner. Paulson is an Orange County Republican state committeeman.
Speculation has swirled in Tallahassee about candidates in the 2018 races, particularly about potential gubernatorial candidates. But one potential agriculture commissioner candidate, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, announced last month that he would not seek the post.
Grimsley, 57, was elected to the state House and moved in 2012 to the Senate, where she represents a largely rural district that includes all or parts of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee, Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties.
Compared to many other lawmakers, Grimsley is soft-spoken and does not often try to grab attention with news conferences or length floor speeches. But she chaired the powerful Appropriations Committee while in the House and also played a key role in 2011 legislation that overhauled the state Medicaid program.
Grimsley, a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid, is chairwoman of the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee.
The field of candidates for 2018 races likely will develop in the coming months, as Republicans seek to maintain their total control of the governor’s office and the Cabinet — and Democrats try to make inroads. Democrats last won a Cabinet race in 2006, when Alex Sink was elected chief financial officer.
Putnam and Scott declined to speculate this week on their political futures while appearing at an Associated Press event at the Capitol, saying they are focused on the upcoming legislative session.
“We’ve got a lot to do and there will be plenty of time to focus on ’18 after the session,” Putnam said.