Pensacola, Florida
Saturday May 26th 2018

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Putnam Stumps in Pensacola

By Jeremy Morrison

If you’ve ever heard of Adam Putnam, it may be because, as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, his name is on every gas pump in the state. Or maybe you’ve heard that Putnam is running for governor. If not, he’d be happy to shake your hand, flash a boyish grin beneath a shock of red hair and tell you all about it.

That’s what Putnam did during his visit to Pensacola, where he addressed the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club at New World Landing. The Republican gubernatorial candidate started out over by the entrance, working the door as people walked into the hall. After pausing to pose for some photos, he methodically made his way around the room, stopping along his route to shake hands, slap backs and crack jokes.

When it came time for Putnam to address Tiger Bay Club members over lunch, he opened by lobbing a softball-grenade at the media in attendance-”Our reporters are back there guarding the bread pudding”-then shot straight into overdrive with a riff sure to conjure up kickass campaign trail imagery.

“I was Python hunting with some wounded veterans,” Putnam smiled, before plowing into a story about a day out with Operation Outdoor Freedom.

Operation Outdoor Freedom is a Department of Agriculture program launched under Putnam’s watch through which wounded veterans are afforded the opportunity to enjoy outdoor pursuits such as python hunts “or gator hunts and quail hunts and turkey shoots.” Putnam chuckled as he recalled how the hunters had to “practice on a 14-footer” before heading out to look for more sizable pythons.

“I hate snakes,” the candidate laughed.

Guns, Money and Vocational Training
Putnam’s python hunting tale was a nice opening. It warmed up the crowd and also managed to touch on two of the candidate’s main campaign issues: veterans and guns, with the third plank of his platform being “the economy.” These are the topics the candidate hammered during his visit to Pensacola, as well as issues such as infrastructure, immigration and education.

Putnam spoke particularly passionately about education. He stressed the importance of increasing vocational and trade-oriented educational opportunities while questioning the value of a more traditional college education.

“The system today is forcing students into student loan debt for a degree they may not want and may not even be able to use in this economy,” Putnam said, later adding a conservative jab at higher education: “[Students are] coming home more broke and more liberal than when they started.”

The candidate said students should be introduced to vocational fields, where jobs are more plentiful and salaries sometimes higher. He stressed the need for people to enter technical fields.

“This is not 1950s shop,” he said. “This is coding, this is robotics.”

Putnam also said community colleges and state colleges should be able to offer a broader selection of degrees to correspond with the needs of the job market, such as a bachelors degree in the nursing field, where positions await qualified graduates.

“That’s crazy,” Putnam said of community college’s inability to offer such degrees. “It’s the number one job vacancy in the state.”

In addition to ticking off his list of campaign topics – gun rights, veterans issues, infrastructure, economic issues and education – the candidate also fielded questions during his engagement with the local Tiger Bay Club.

When asked about Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, Putnam said that the government should be involved with marketing efforts for the state and luring businesses to Florida: “If we’re not telling our story after people spent all summer seeing Jim Cantore leaning into the wind, who’s going to tell the story that Key West is open for business?”

When asked how he differed from current Gov. Rick Scott, the candidate shrugged off the question – “I dunno” – and gave the governor a grade of A+. He credited the governor with bringing the state back from “the darkest days of the great recession. The next governor has inherited a very strong foundation.”

When a club member asked about marijuana legalization, Putnam said that “marijuana is a terrible idea” and that it “strips out the ambition of young people. The legalization of recreational marijuana is the last thing that Florida needs. I don’t want Florida to be any more like California.”

And Putnam said that he felt the state’s waters should be off-limits to oil and gas exploration. He said that he was in favor of leaving the current arrangement in place, where most of Florida’s waters remain off limits, as opposed to a potential revision that opens up those areas, “Because the simple fact of the matter is Florida beaches are better than any other on the Gulf and need to be protected.”

Map to the Governor’s Mansion
It seems Putnam, a Florida native, has been on his winding path to this gubernatorial bid for quite a while. The 43-year-old hails from a citrus-growing, cattle-raising family and his resume reads like a roadmap to the next rung in the ever-ascending ladder of state politics. This year he’s reaching for that top rung in Tallahassee.

Putnam got into politics early on. After graduating from the University of Florida, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1996. Only 22-years-old at the time, he was the youngest state legislator ever elected in Florida. He served as chair of the Agriculture Committee and was reelected a couple of years later.

In 2001, Putnam headed to Washington D.C. as a U.S. representative. The 26-year-old Central Florida representative was the youngest legislator in Congress at the time; he was sworn in as soon as he was constitutionally eligible.

Because he was elected to office so young, Putnam has a considerable record for a person his age. Shortly after entering Congress, he cast a vote in favor or the invasion of Iraq. Just before exiting the house, he voted for the so-called “bail-outs” of Wall Street banks and institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In 2009, Putnam left Washington D.C.-”I managed to escape with my soul and my sanity intact”-and declared his candidacy for Florida’s commissioner of agriculture. He won the seat in 2010. Among his proudest and oft-touted accomplishments in this office is increasing the number of individuals in the state with concealed-carry gun permits by expediting the permitting process.

Last spring, Putnam filed to run for governor of Florida. He faces a field of primary contenders as well as a selection of general election potentials, or what Panhandle Tiger Bay Club President Ted Howard had earlier called a “very contested race.” This field of opponents includes fellow Republican Ron DeSantis, a hard-right leaning Iraq-war veteran who has been endorsed by President Donald Trump, as well as big-deal Republican donors Rebekah Mercer and Sheldon Adelson.

During his time as agriculture commissioner, Putnam has traveled the state extensively. As he’s fond of saying, and as he said at least twice during his swing through Pensacola, he has “seen every pig trail and highway and byway and great barbecue restaurants in Florida.”

Now on the campaign trail, he’s traversing the state again. And from now until Election Day, the candidate will be getting even better acquainted with Florida’s landscape, it’s highways, byways and barbecue joints, trying to convince voters that he’s the best person to lead the state into the future.