Photo:House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam will likely square off in the race to succeed Gov. Rick Scott.
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Two of the most fascinating people to watch this session aren't even legislators.
For Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the Legislature could make a perfect foil — particularly since it is largely run by his likely GOP rival, House Speaker Richard Corcoran. One example: Putnam this year is calling on lawmakers to put $75 million into the state’s Rural and Family Lands program, which secures conservation easements on agriculture property. It’s an enormous ask; lawmakers budgeted only $10 million for the program last year, and it’s never received more than $50 million in one year. But by aiming so high, Putnam also hopes to draw a clear contrast between himself and Corcoran, who has faced criticism from environmentalists for refusing to adequately fund Amendment One. “I think Amendment One needs to be implemented,” Putnam says.
Putnam, who has made support for state colleges a central pillar of his campaign, could also draw headlines as an antagonist to Senate President Joe Negron, should Negron resume his push to limit colleges’ freedom to award four-year degrees. Negron has accused state colleges of undermining state universities. “There are times when the offering of a bachelor’s degree at a state college makes perfect sense,” Putnam says. “State universities have great booster clubs, great alumni associations and great athletic programs. It’s a lot less glamorous and sexy to go fight for an automotive program or a precision welding program or a nursing program in the state colleges.”
Then there’s new Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a former Panhandle legislator, restaurant owner and, most importantly, confidante of Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Patronis to an open Cabinet seat earlier this year after Jeff Atwater stepped down to take a job at Florida Atlantic University. Patronis, who has already announced he will run for re-election in 2018, has no statewide profile; he needs to build one in a hurry. So he’ll be hoping to gain favor with important constituencies this session. For instance, Patronis says one of his top priorities this year will be expanding workers’ compensation benefits for firefighters who develop certain types of cancer and to first responders who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, such as police officers who responded to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Patronis says he’ll also push legislation to make it easier to get more insurance claims adjusters into the field and to use funds from sales of unclaimed property to compensate victims of crime.