Florida commissioner of agriculture candidates: Who they are, what they stand for

The race for Florida agriculture commissioner will decide who runs a sprawling state agency. Among other responsibilities, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services ensures the food Floridians eat is safe. It advocates for Florida’s agricultural products. It even runs the state’s concealed weapons program and inspects the state’s theme park rides.

In addition to leading the 4,600-person department, the commissioner sits on the Florida Cabinet along with the state’s attorney general and chief financial officer. The cabinet, along with the governor, votes on individual clemency cases and oversees several state departments.

The current commissioner, Democrat Nikki Fried, is leaving office to run for governor. Here’s who’s running to replace her. (Check out how they answered the questions in the Tampa Bay Times voter guide here.)

The winner of the Republican primary will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the Nov. 8 general election. The agriculture commissioner is paid $139,988 per year.

Republican primary

Wilton Simpson

Simpson, 56, of Trilby, is currently the president of the Florida Senate. As a legislator, he helped Gov. Ron DeSantis pass several of his legislative priorities, including 2022′s bill that banned most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and a 2021 bill that attempted to crack down on rioting.

As agriculture commissioner, Simpson has pledged on his campaign website to protect the Second Amendment.

An egg farmer by trade, Simpson is worth $22.5 million. A committee supporting his run for agriculture commissioner is sitting on nearly $3 million in fundraising cash, and he’s been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

James W. Shaw

Shaw, 62, owns a worm farm as well as several other properties in the Okeechobee area. According to his campaign website, he’s a 12th-generation American who previously owned and managed a large transportation business.

Shaw is running on that management experience, as well as a promise to protect the consumer as commissioner. He’s netted endorsements from State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, and political operative Roger Stone.

Shaw’s campaign account has raised nearly $104,000.

Democratic primary

Naomi Esther Blemur

Blemur, 43, of North Miami, is the owner of a business consulting firm who says she will fight on behalf of small farmers for a sustainable future. Like her Democratic opponents, Blemur is pushing for the state to expand legal access to cannabis.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Blemur describes numerous personal challenges on her campaign website. She lost both parents before the age of 18, and in 2019, her husband, Anis Blemur, was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. Blemur says her faith in God has helped her through these challenges.

Her campaign account has raised nearly $51,000.

J.R. Gaillot

Gaillot, 53, grew up a globetrotter. The son of a Haitian diplomat, Gaillot lived at various times in Hamburg, Germany; Tokyo; and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, according to his campaign website. He now works at AT&T.

Among the many priority issues listed on Gaillot’s campaign website are expanding access to legal cannabis, providing more opportunities for Black farmers and protecting biodiversity in Florida. He says he wants to stop Florida from allowing the construction of “unnecessary” roads that disrupt Florida habitats.

Gaillot has reported more than $14,000 raised in his campaign account.

Ryan Morales

Morales, 45, is the owner of a marketing and business management firm.

Like the other Democrats, Morales wants to see access to legal marijuana expanded. He also wants to see Florida legalize psychedelic mushrooms. He describes himself on his website as “hyper-focused on saving our environment.”

Morales’ campaign account has reported nearly $21,000 in donations.

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