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Baxter Troutman entering competitive Agriculture Commissioner race

in 2017/Top Headlines by

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven said he will run for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

The grandson of the late citrus baron and one-time gubernatorial candidate, Ben Hill Griffin Jr., Troutman will enter the competitive race to succeed Adam Putnam, a Bartow Republican who is term-limited and is running for governor.

“I will file either Friday or Monday at the latest,” Troutman said. “This isn’t a decision I came to lightly and it isn’t a step to advance to a higher position up the career ladder.”

His run will ensure a heavy GOP primary with state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers and Paul Paulson, an Orlando real estate executive and unsuccessful candidate for mayor of the Central Florida city.

University of Miami law student Michael Christine is the sole Democrat in the race after Daniel Sohn of West Palm Beach announced on his Facebook page that he was withdrawing due to health reasons.

Troutman, 50, served in the Florida House 2002 to 2010. His disagreements with his cousin, former state Sen. J.D. Alexander, both in the Legislature and in the family’s agri-businesses made for great soap opera-like commentary, but both men have said they have since settled their differences.

Troutman, who proposed to his wife Rebecca on the floor of the House while it was in session, had campaigned for his wife last year in her unsuccessful run for Polk County School Board. The couple have a daughter.

He said he had considered running for Agriculture Commissioner at the end of his terms in the Florida House.

“I was going to do it, but (then-Congressman) Adam Putnam called and talked me from the cliff,” he said.

A citrus grower and owner of a temporary employment service, Labor Solutions, Troutman said he is running because he “understands the plight of the farmer.”

And he took what will likely become a campaign stance toward his Republican opponents in the race, stating he is the one with the most experience in agriculture.

“I can read a book about World War II and give a speech about World War II, but I can never know what someone who fought in World War II knows. The same applies for agriculture commissioner, you have to have dirt on your shoes,” he said.

With Grimsley, however, Troutman has an adversary who has also been in agriculture; whose family owns citrus groves as well. Both could compete for votes from the same constituency.

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

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