The former congressman has climbed the political ladder with ease, but how easily can he become Governor of Florida in 2018?
By Jacob Engels
As you might have noted, the East Orlando Post has profiled potential candidates for upcoming offices.
We will do a profile on potential gubernatorial candidates for both parties soon, with further dissections of candidate record as front runners emerge.
For now I want to lay out the pros and cons of the man that most insiders I’ve contacted believe will win the GOP primary and then be elected governor in 2018.
On an editorial note, I’d like to say that I personally like Adam Putnam very much. I’ve had the opportunity to meet him a few times, and always found him to be earnest, polite and undeniably bright.
He always supported my efforts leading the Florida Federation of TeenAge Republicans and fundraising for the Florida Federation of College Republicans.
Whenever you write an article like this, you run the risk of being viewed as trying to advocated for or trash the candidate, but that is not the case here.
My goal in writing this is to give the reader the same insight that Tallahassee insiders have in assessing a race, and to allow the reader to use this information however they may in determining who to vote for, contribute to and support in the upcoming election.
This is the first article of this type but it will not be the last.
I will also note that you can’t be both thorough and brief, so expect these articles to be longer than most.
So here it goes, and please know that every effort was made to make this informational and not biased one way or the other:
The Case FOR Adam Putnam
Supporters of Adam Putnam point to his deep Florida roots as the core of Putnam’s appeal.
A fifth-generation Floridian, Putnam grew up in Bartow in Polk County, sometimes referred to as the belt buckle of the I-4 corridor.
Putnam attended the University of Florida, where he was a member and president of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity.
The AGR’s, as they are called, were the agricultural fraternity at UF, and it wasn’t uncommon to see blue jean wearing alumni demonstrating their skills with a bull whip on the front lawn of the AGR house on football game days in the mid-90s.
An accomplished campus leader, he was a member of the prestigious Florida Blue Key, often referred to as the Skull and Bones Society of the state of Florida.
He married his college sweetheart, Melissa, and they have four wonderful children together.
After graduating, he waited no time in starting his political career.
He was elected to the state house at the tender age of 22, just months after his graduation from college.
Four years later, at the age of 26, he became the youngest member of the US Congress in the famous “Hanging Chad” election of 2000.
In congress, Putnam demonstrated a remarkable ability to move himself up the ranks. In 2006, at the ripe old age of 32, supported by the speaker (more about that later), he was tapped by his colleagues to be the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.
The next year, again buoyed by the House Speaker, his colleagues chose him to be Chairman of the House Republican Conference, where he served until 2009.
His successor in this job was none-other than Vice-President elect Mike Pence.
This website from the congress shows these positions to be the fourth and fifth most powerful positions in the caucus, and Putnam had spent almost four years in them by the time he was 35.
By then, a combination of horrible economic events and the undeniable charisma of Barack Obama as a candidate led to massive losses, and the Republicans found themselves in a frustrating minority.
Putnam found his way home, getting elected to the Agriculture commissioner with a statewide vote of 55.9% in 2010 and reelected with 58.7% of the vote in 2014.
Supporters point to these large margins of victory as evidence of the electability of Putnam. Supporters see a man who has transcended the very heights of government power.
His stump speeches on the creative class leave the tongues of Chamber of Commerce types wagging.
A family man from the I4 corridor with a resume unmatched, with a fertile fundraising base from the state’s agricultural community, who rightly view Putnam as one of their very own.
He’s clean as a whistle with a lifetime of scrutiny to prove it.
A young, fresh face… with a resume that a 60 year old would love to have.
The nomination and governorship is his for the taking, they say.
The Case AGAINST Adam Putnam
On the subject of Adam Putnam, little is in dispute on the facts of his record. His supporters view most of the same experiences as strengths that his detractors view as liabilities.
On the subject of political experience, will a lifetime of service be viewed as a benefit or an albatross?
As one Tallahassee insider put it:
“Adam Putnam is the quintessential political looking glass. The guy’s resume is amazing, but this is Donald Trump’s Republican party and that resume is the noose his opponents will use to hang him.
The American people chose an outsider businessman, which let us not forget, the people of Florida did just six years before in selecting Rick Scott as the governor.
Will the same Republicans that bolstered 30,000+ crowds for Trump be excited about a guy who has been in elected office for all but four months of the 20 years since he graduated from college?
Putnam is prohibited from holding outside employment as Ag commissioner and he was prohibited from outside employment as a member of the US congress, so maybe, just maybe, he had a job while he was in the state house, but most people agree he was just tending to the family business while working on becoming a congressman.
It is a safe bet that a sophisticated media campaign could credibly articulate that Adam Putnam has never, in his adult life, had a job outside of politics, and these days, that’s an absolute killer.
Call me crazy, but in today’s Republican party the two worst things you can be called are ‘insider’ and ‘career politician’, and even the most ardent Putnam supporter can’t argue that Putnam isn’t the very definition of both.
I don’t see how he eludes those labels, and I don’t see how he wins the GOP nomination for governor if he fails to elude those labels. The fact he doesn’t have an outside career to point to makes the task all the more difficult.
Politics is littered with the carcasses of prohibitive favorites that didn’t make it over the finish-line, and my money is on Putnam being the Bill McCollum, another tenured congressman running from the cabinet defeated by an outsider, of 2018.”
Others point to what many describe as a lukewarm record of accomplishment in the jobs he was given.
What are Putnam’s signature issues, they ask?
Did he ever pass meaningful legislation in the state house?
In his ten years in congress, even while holding leadership positions atop the Republican caucus, what did Putnam actually do?
I find the best place to research this is the elected official’s wikipedia page, because an ambitious candidate can add whatever issues they want to their page.
Two things are mentioned on his: that Putnam was the author of the Head Start Accountability Bill, requiring developmental education for low-income families.
The Wikipedia page also boasts of him calling for the ouster of Republican Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, which was surprising at the time. Read more here.
Most people I talked to acknowledged that Agriculture Commissioner is a very difficult job to earn press from. While Putnam has done what appears to be a decent job, he has had no signature issues that would spur a Republican party hungry for rebels to think of him as one of them.
Whoever is in charge of Putnam’s Wikipedia page seems to agree, as the only mention of Agriculture Commissioner is when he was first elected.
Detractors might point out that the job Putnam has held for the last 6 years hasn’t yielded a single event important enough for the team of communications professionals employed by the Ag Commissioner or his campaign team to list.
His official bio for his current job isn’t much better.
It’s long on bio and incredibly short on any sort of accomplishments.
The only official accomplishment he points to is a program that allowed 300 veterans to enjoy outdoor activity as part of “Operation Outdoor Freedom”, which certainly seems good, but seems odd to list as the only accomplishment, legislative or otherwise, for a 20 year career in politics.
Some also point to the obviously icy relationship between Putnam and Governor Scott.
When Scott’s poll numbers were sinking, Putnam privately consulted with GOP leaders and donors on a potential primary challenge in 2014. Scott’s people fumed over that, and cabinet meetings have been less-than-pleasant ever since.
There are a bunch of little articles out there about this, but here’s one where insiders debate it.
So, the good for Putnam is a life of service and a reputation as a good guy and loving family man.
The bad for Putnam is the mark of a career politician with little to show for his now 20+ years of public service.
To make matters worse, the man who’s office Putnam covets doesn’t like him.
And then, there’s the ugly.
No name will be more tethered to Adam Putnam in the next two years than convicted child rapist and disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Hastert and Putnam were close.
By all rights, it was Hastert that elevated the 20-something from obscurity in a chamber of 435 to the pinnacle of power.
I took a moment to google “Adam Putnam Dennis Hastert,” and the first news article to pop up was a November 7, 2005 article from Putnam’s hometown paper speaking glowingly about his upward trajectory and potential both in congress and as a future governor.
The quotes in this are enough to make a campaign consultant reach for the Tums.
“Putnam has become close friends with and is a close working colleague of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, according to local friends as well as observers in Washington, who spoke not for attribution.”
“Hastert and Putnam, along with a few other members, went on an Alaskan fishing trip this summer and the speaker has been a guest at Putnam’s ranch in Polk County more than once…”
“And Putnam continues to rise under a powerful mentor.”
Unfortunately for Putnam, that powerful mentor now carries the name of “serial child molester”.
The USA Today summarizes the spectacular fall of Speaker Hastert well here.
As another editorial note, I want to point out that the allegations about Dennis Hastert center around his behavior decades before, when as a wrestling coach, where he inappropriately touched and had sex with numerous high school boys he coached.
He agreed to pay them money to keep their mouths shut, and at the time Adam Putnam was in Congress, he was a young congressman who successfully developed a friendship with the Speaker of the House.
I’d bet all my worldly belongings that Putnam had no idea that Dennis Hastert had done any of this.
Putnam was a young congressman, and Hastert was the man that a majority of the 435 member chamber chose as its leader.
No sane, thinking person believes that Adam Putnam would welcome a serial child molester to his Polk County ranch, presumably near his young children, “more than once” if he had any clue about what kind of monster he was dealing with.
But this is politics, and while I’m doing my best to present equal, unbiased coverage of the good, the bad and the ugly of Adam Putnam’s candidacy for governor, you can safely bet that his primary and general election opponents will not.
They will call in to question the offices that Putnam ascended to (after the Ledger article was printed no less) because of the man who supported him getting those jobs.
They will skewer him for the company he keeps.
One can only imagine that tweets fired at GOP nominee Putnam by the acerbic witted Max Steele, communications director of the Florida Democratic Party known for ripping Republican elected officials.
This, after what the GOP consultant class could do to him in a “family values” primary.
And this was overturned with the very first link of a google search, so who knows what a well-heeled opposition research team could find.
So you tell me — will frontrunner Adam Putnam continue a lifetime of successful political campaigns by ascending to the highest office in Florida in what might be a pit stop to the White House?
OR… will disagreements with his would be predecessor, a non-existent non-political resume and a political resume rife with electoral accomplishments but short on legislative and executive branch achievements lead to his undoing?
The voters will decide in 2018.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. His work through these publications has been showcased in hundreds of publications and news outlets in the state of Florida, the United States, and around the globe. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org