Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Grimsley Campaigns for Farmers and Families

By Sammi Sontag

State Senator Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) is running for the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture in 2018.  She stopped by the Inweekly offices last week to introduce herself and talk about her plans to work with Florida’s Department of Agriculture to create a farm-friendly Florida.

“I’m out trying to meet people,” she said.  “One thing we are trying to do that no other candidate is doing is we’re trying to qualify by petition. No one on the Republican side has qualified by petition for a state-wide office in more than 20 years, and that’s my way of trying to get out and meet the grassroots voters.”

She added, “And we’re looking for people with friends. I tell everyone, if you have 10 friends and you have a cup of coffee, if you’ll invite me over, I’ll come talk to ‘em.”

Grimsley is a registered nurse and currently a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid.  She received degrees from Polk Community College and Warner Southern College and earned an MBA from the University of Miami.

“I’m a fifth-generation Floridian, born and raised in the middle part of the state, been in the citrus business for three generations,” she told Inweekly.  “I went to school and became a nurse to start with, worked for about 17 years as a nurse and I left my job about 20 years ago to run my dad’s business.”

Interest in Government
She added, “He was an oil jobber and had 10 convenience stores. He was sick, and he was out of work for about 18 months, so I ran the company for 10 years. We sold it in 2004. In that 10-year window of time, I got interested, not particularly in politics, but I got interested in government because of the way we were regulated.”

Grimsley dealt with issues regarding her business with the state capital, and she found the legislative process was not business friendly.  So when they sold their company, she decided to run for office.

“It was an open seat, and I had no idea if I could win. I’d never been in any political office before in my life, but I won,” she said.  “The eight years I spent in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, as well, I’ve focused totally on the people in my district.”

Senator Grimsley currently represents eight counties in Florida—Polk, Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Lee, Glades, Okeechobee, and Highlands, all of which are predominately agricultural based.  She spends a lot of time with her residents talking about how the state can help.

Her biggest concern is making sure her constituents know that if issues arise, they have a leader who can help them.

“As a business owner, I didn’t know that I could go to my state representative for help,” she said.  “And I think most people who are out there working and making a living or trying to build a business, they don’t know that and even if they do know it, that’s not the first thing that comes to mind.”

Grimsley sees value in supporting agriculture, protecting families and seniors, defending the right to bear arms and being a strong, female conservative leader, which is her foundation for the campaign.

Agriculture CEO
“I believe that when you look to who your next Agriculture Commissioner is going to be, you’re really interviewing a CEO for that Department,” she said.  “That person needs a few things, and as I looked around to see who is that person would be for me, the one I would support, I saw there wasn’t one.”

She continued, “I really started looking into it a little bit more and, you know what, agriculture is really important to my area. It’s important to all of Florida. It employs about two million people and has about a $20 billion economic impact to the state, and it’s where our food comes from.”

She chose to rise to the challenge and run for commissioner.  She knew campaigning would not be easy, and the problems within Florida’s agriculture are pressing, for example, Florida’s citrus industry.

The business has recently taken a hit with citrus greening, which is a disease of citrus caused by pathogens such as mosquitos, flies and ticks, and is deadly to citrus plants.  But Grimsley recognized the current struggle.

“We appropriated around $23 million into research this year in the Legislature, and there’s a lot of good work going on out there, but it just isn’t something that happens overnight,” she said.  “We are seeing a little bit of improvement.”

She added, “Your next Commissioner needs to be someone who understands that industry and is able to oversee it.  We’re in the citrus business ourselves.  And we are actually using a product that has helped our production come back up a little bit.”

Water to Medical Pot
Grimsley also touched on the statewide water policies, the Rural Family Lands Program and medical marijuana’s potential to become a cash crop.

“This is the hardest year that I’ve ever had to try to get funding for the Department but also for the Rural Family Lands Program,” she said.  “We’re seeing some impact with term limits, where so many new members came in this year and aren’t fully informed on the history of the programs. But with this next term, understanding those program’s importance should be more clear.”

She added, “The Legislature took a more conservative approach getting into medical marijuana, but it will become an industry in the State of Florida. There’s no doubt about that.”

Grimsley said working in the Florida Legislature was difficult in 2017 session.  The battles over economic development, tourism marketing, and other issues made it much more confrontational than past years when the budget was much tighter.

“It was difficult, it was. Go back to the years when the economy was very lean; there was more of a comradery,” she said.  “We knew what we had to get done, and we had to figure out how to do it.”

She added, “Everybody’s got a district, so the priorities change a bit. I hope, going into this next session, that we see that the differences between the Governor and the Speaker and some of the other issues that were going on, that they’re resolved.”

As she continues her campaign, Grimsley wants the community to know she is for the people, the community, and the agricultural industry.

“I think consumers want three things,” Grimsley said.  “They want someone to know them by name. They want to be addressed as a human being and not as a number. And they want to be able to get ahold of someone that can hold their hand and help them navigate certain processes, whether that’s a website, a form or applying for your Concealed Weapons Permit, whatever that is, they want it to be easy.”

She continued,” I believe that I have the leadership ability to do that.  I do it in our hospitals. I’ve done it in our convenience stores. I can do it in the Department of Agriculture.”