by Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
Setting up a primary battle against fellow lawmaker Denise Grimsley, state Rep. Matt Caldwell announced Monday he will run for agriculture commissioner next year.
The announcement was not a surprise: Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent months for a political committee that could play an important role in his campaign.
But it formally sets the stage for a primary race against Grimsley, R-Sebring, with both candidates touting their long roots in the state and ties to the agriculture industry.
“As a seventh-generation Florida native and the descendant of Florida farmers and small business owners, this great state has given my family so much,” Caldwell said in the announcement. “I am seeking this opportunity to give back and to serve the people of the great state of Florida.”
Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam cannot run again for the Cabinet post next year because of term limits and is widely expected to try to succeed outgoing Gov. Rick Scott.
Voters also will elect a new attorney general to replace term-limited incumbent Pam Bondi, while it remains unclear whether a siting state chief financial officer will be on the ballot. CFO Jeff Atwater is leaving office after the ongoing legislative session, and it remains unclear who will be appointed by Scott to fill out Atwater’s term — and whether that person will run for election in 2018.
Caldwell, a real-estate appraiser, was elected to the House in 2010 and has been a key player in recent years on issues such as land-conservation funding. He currently serves as chairman of the House Government Accountability Committee.
Since the beginning of the year, his political committee, known as “Friends of Matt Caldwell,” has raised slightly more than $700,000 and had about $660,000 in cash on hand as of March 31, according to records posted on the state Division of Elections website.
Grimsley, who served in the House from 2004 to 2012 before getting elected to the Senate, announced Feb. 1 that she would run for agriculture commissioner. In her announcement, Grimsley noted that she is a fifth-generation Floridian whose family has been in the citrus and cattle industries.
Orlando Republican Paul Paulson and West Palm Beach Democrat Daniel Sohn also have opened campaign accounts to run for agriculture commissioner.
Caldwell and Grimsley are the only lawmakers who have filed paperwork to run for the Cabinet seats or governor. But that is expected to change after the legislative session as potential candidates eye the statewide races.
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