Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam hosted a “Florida Grown Breakfast” for the state’s Republican National Convention delegates Tuesday and sought to highlight some of the products he oversees.
But political futures and hot-button issues got most of the attention.
While the immediate focus at the convention is furthering real-estate mogul Donald Trump’s presidential bid in 2016, other political ambitions are often served or advanced during the four-day gathering held once every four years.
Former Republican Congressman Allen West addressed the largest elephant in the room when he stepped to the podium for the opening prayer. West began by talking about how Putnam got him an opportunity to speak before the U.S. House GOP caucus when West was considering a run for Congress.
“I want to tell you right now, when you decide to run for governor, I’ll be right there supporting you,” West told Putnam, setting off applause from the crowd.
Putnam is the front-runner for the GOP nomination for governor in 2018, when Gov. Rick Scott is forced out of office by term limits.
If, of course, Putnam runs.
After the breakfast, Putnam dodged a question about whether he would run, saying instead that he’s “having a ball as commissioner of agriculture.” But Putnam left little doubt he was considering a bid for governor.
“Florida’s a special place, and it’s special to me,” he said. “I’m a fifth-generation Floridian. I’m honored to have the ability to serve the state that I love and where I’m raising my family. We’ll have some decisions to make after this election.”
Putnam is hardly the only GOP official weighing his future. Scott is reportedly thinking about a campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in 2018. And potential down-ballot candidates are also starting to consider what to do.
Outgoing House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said Tuesday he would make a decision “over the next several months” about what his future in public office might be — with one likely option being a run to replace Putnam. Crisafulli comes from a family with deep roots in the state’s citrus industry.
For now, Crisafulli said he’s looking to finish his administrative duties as speaker before leaving office in November.
“I’ll have that opportunity to go home and speak more with my family about it,” he said of a future run. “There’s no secret that the commissioner of agriculture position is something that I’ve taken some interest in just because of my family background and history.”
But talk of political futures wasn’t the only thing that joined orange juice on the menu. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who lives in Florida and ran for the GOP presidential nomination this year, gave a speech aimed straight at the party loyalists gathered at the breakfast.
Carson slammed attacks on Trump that suggest the businessman’s outspoken style has gone too far. Carson labeled those complaints as part of a case of “political correctness” run amok. And he suggested those who believe in Islamic Sharia law have no place in America.
“If they want Sharia, then they need to stay in a country where Sharia is the law,” he said. “They do not need to bring Sharia into this country. Now, some people say that that’s being bigoted and that’s being Islamophobic — no. That’s being logical. That’s having common sense.”
Carson also criticized a push for greater rights for transgender people, comparing it to someone who read a book or watched a movie about Afghanistan and then decided to say they were from the area.
“For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is,” he said. “And now, all of a sudden we don’t know.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who is seen as a potential presidential contender in 2020, spoke to the breakfast on several topics, including national security issues that dominated the convention Monday night.
Cotton blasted the Obama administration’s nuclear pact with Iran, which the White House says will limit the theocracy’s drive for a nuclear weapon but critics argue is too weak.
“If you want to know the future of Iran and their nuclear program, just look to North Korea,” Cotton said. “Because the last time a Clinton was in the White House, cut the same kind of deal with North Korea, and it took them only 12 years until they detonated a nuclear weapon.”