If Adam Putnam follows in the gubernatorial footsteps of Lawton Chiles, Spessard Holland and Park Trammell — three men with Polk County and Central Florida roots — our growing area could benefit.

Although the days of landing big projects for your hometown are nearly gone, having someone like Putnam — who has deep ties to the Washington, D.C., political scene and a long-rooted connection to agricultural and business interests in Polk County — in the Governor’s Mansion could help.

Polling from a variety of sources leading up to the Aug. 28, 2018, primary election shows Putnam has held a clear lead over his main opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, since the end of May. For three months before that, DeSantis had pulled slightly ahead of Putnam. Other lesser-known candidates will be on the ballot as well.

On the Democratic side, Philip Levine, the former mayor of Miami Beach, has had a steady lead since the end of February, when he moved ahead of former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. Those two face Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee; Chris King, CEO of Elevation Financial Group and several other lesser-known candidates in the primary.

The primary winners will face off in the Nov. 6, 2018, general election.

Adam Hughes Putnam, 43 (he turns 44 on July 31) is a Bartow native who has amassed a multimillion-dollar net worth largely from his agricultural interests. He and his wife, Melissa, raise their four children in Bartow.

He started his political career in the Florida House in 1996, becoming its youngest member at age 22. Four years later, at age 26, he was elected to Congress, where he became its youngest member. He was elected Florida’s commissioner of agriculture in 2010, the position he still holds.

“Adam Putnam was born and raised in Polk County. He knows our people. He understands our diverse economy. And, when he moves into Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, I know Bartow will still be his true home,” said U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, who has announced he is not seeking re-election.

Three people offered their thoughts on why a Putnam win would be beneficial to Polk County. They are:

  • R. Bruce Anderson, associate professor of political science at Florida Southern College who has endorsed Putnam.
  • Melony Bell, a county commissioner who would be working with Putnam if she wins her race for a spot in the Florida House.
  • Bill Rufty, The Ledger’s former political editor.

Their reasons can be boiled to five:

He knows the issues affecting Polk County and Central Florida.

“He … would always work to improve our infrastructure, … advocate for public safety” and fight for more funding to fight greening, the blight that is killing Florida’s citrus industry, Bell said. As a 5th-generation farmer, he “is personally experiencing the devastation of the citrus industry due to greening.”

In addition, “He knows our needs for infrastructure because our population will be over 1 million people in the very near future, so the Central Polk Parkway is essential for Polk County to grow business — and Adam is pro-business,” she said.

Anderson agrees with Bell, saying: “Putnam ‘knows us’ and we ‘know him.’ He is familiar with Polk’s problems – we would have been unlikely to be left out of a comprehensive deal on education funding (and other areas of the budget) if we had a Polk-raised governor – but more to the point, counties that are similarly situated would have also benefited. Putnam, unlike his GOP challenger, is Florida based and genuinely targets issues that are ‘Florida First.’ “

He understands Polk County is still largely an agricultural center.

Anderson said three areas support Florida’s economy: development, tourism and agriculture. “Of these, the last is the most sustainable,” Anderson said. “During the 2006-2010 recession, only agriculture managed to stay even.”

But, he said, recent governors have not done enough to protect ag interests that include everything from putting more money toward greening and new crop development to staving off competition in the beef industry, and fruit and vegetable production.

“Polk County, for all of the development that has taken place here, is firmly in the ag sector,” Anderson said. “We need a governor who not only recognizes this, but has a personal stake in its development and retention. Putnam comes from ag, has served as ag commissioner, and is the only GOP person serving in congress who has proposed a natural, comprehensive compromise on immigration status that would allow guest workers to continue to serve Florida’s ag businesses while not becoming permanent residents/citizens.”

Bell added tourism as a reason Putnam could help Polk County. “He knows the need to continue to promote our attractions and beautiful natural resources to ensure a healthy economy,” Bell said.

He’s got connections in Congress.

“As governor, Putnam likely would have a greater connection with Congress than most governors from other states and, it would seem, the administration,” Rufty said. “Many of the leaders of the Republican-controlled House served with Putnam, who rose to the third-highest position in House party leadership in just a couple of terms. Several current members of the Florida delegation served with him as well.”

Bell added that Putnam helped Polk County while in Congress. “He worked diligently with our law enforcement making sure the COPS program was funded so we could put more officers on the street for our protection.”

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has endorsed Putnam for governor.

He’s got connections in Tallahassee.

“Putnam not only has friends in the Florida House and Senate, he has policy enemies with whom he may disagree, but can work with,” Anderson said. “He commands respect in Tallahassee as a compromise-maker (both between the two parties and among his Republican colleagues). Putnam can and will be a good partner with the Legislature in drawing together a budget that may not please everyone, but is unlikely to stir the sort of animosity that the past five budgets have done between the counties and the state. His policy orientation is for ‘home rule’ rather than state dictatorship. He would work hard, I think, to reach the middle ground on home rule issues rather than simply try to rule by fiat.”

Rufty said he thinks Putnam would work with Democrats.

“It could be to his benefit and the state’s if the Republicans maintain their majority, although he also served and worked with those on the Democratic side who are their party’s leaders,” Rufty said. “While any governor could get on the phone with a congressional leader on an issue crucial to their state, personal relationships could spur a readiness to help.”

He knows Vice President Mike Pence.

“Putnam and Pence served together in the House and maintained a good relationship,” Rufty said. “But it is unclear how that would affect any relationship with the administration since Pence’s boss, President Donald Trump, has endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis for the GOP’s nomination for governor of Florida.”

Anderson said Putnam’s past political service would help him as governor, and hopefully benefit Polk County.

“The changing face of Polk County, and more importantly perhaps, the changing economy of Florida requires youth, skill, experience and passion. Putnam has these,” Anderson said. “He is a ‘career politician’ in the most positive way – his service has been lifelong; the experience factor is his strongest suit.”