Traveling to all 67 counties in Florida is no easy feat, but State Representative Matt Caldwell is making his way through the state as he begins campaigning for the 2018 race for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
He made a quick stop in the Panhandle and interviewed with Inweekly publisher Rick Outzen on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks.”
“We’re trying to get up in this neck of the woods at least once a month,” Caldwell said. “I love to meet folks and have the opportunity to come out and visit with them.”
The Republican representative from North Fort Myers has lived in Florida his entire life.
“On my mom’s side, we’ve been in Florida for about 200 years. Her branch of the family came down into Madison County and Alachua and down into Lake County,” Caldwell said. “I’ve grown up my whole life down in the Fort Myers area. I went to school there, stayed home to go to Florida Gulf Coast University where I met my wife, Yvonne.”
The Caldwells are celebrating 12 years of marriage this July and their daughter, Ava, is turning nine later this month.
By trade, he is a real estate appraiser but always had an affinity for politics, which sparked his interest in running for office. Caldwell was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2010.
“I tell you, I really do feel blessed by the opportunities I’ve had,” he said. “It wasn’t really on the radar to ever run for office, but we had a chance to run for the House and were successful. Since then, we’ve been able to work on really important issues.”
Caldwell currently chairs the powerful Government Accountability Committee, which has subcommittees that include Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs, Natural Resources and Public Lands, Oversight, Transparency and Administration, and Transportation and Infrastructure, which is chaired by Rep. Clay Ingram (R-Pensacola).
The Government Accountability chairman oversaw House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s initiatives for stronger ethics rules and better regulation of lobbyists.
“Obviously the House has been focused on transparency and ethics,” Caldwell said. “We looked to review the books and talk about what’s good, what’s bad and what we might need to change. “
He added, “We’re going to keep up that focus this next year, I can promise you that.”
While in Tallahassee, Caldwell consistently worked on taxation and finance issues, but he has also been passionate about the environment and protecting the state’s natural resources.
He sponsored an expansion of the Everglades Forever Act to help complete Everglades restoration in the area south of Lake Okeechobee, as well as Legacy Florida, which will permanently fund restoration of the greater Everglades.
In 2013, as chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Caldwell crafted legislation that resolved the Numeric Nutrient Criteria with the federal government. This ensured clean water for future generations of Floridians without laying a heavy financial burden on citizens and employers.
This past session, Caldwell championed an overhaul of the Florida Forever program, refocusing the program on land acquisition with a priority for conservation easements and permanent funding roughly totaling $3 billion over 17 years.
“I had a chance to run the bills that I think are going to make a difference,” Caldwell said.
Why run for Agriculture Commissioner?
“The biggest topic of the day obviously is always water and how those resources get utilized between the urban and rural environments,” he said. “No matter what the issue is, I think the Commissioner really has to be the one working out those differences, and I’m eager to try to get that done.”
Caldwell pointed out that agriculture is the primary source of employment in most Florida counties.
“While it may not be from a population perspective in our urban counties, you look at the 67 spread across the state and agriculture is where it’s at,” he said. “It’s more than just a dairy cow or a citrus tree.”
He added, “Whether you’re milking a cow or you’re pumping gas, if you work the meat counter at Publix or in the seafood industry, agriculture itself is more than just supplying food. It’s landscape plants. It’s nurseries. It’s, in some cases, sources of energy and fuel. It’s a big office and touches everybody’s lives, at some point, pretty much every day.”
Medical marijuana may become the new money crop for Florida’s farmers since the voters passed a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis in 2016. Caldwell co-sponsored the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton) legalizing the non-euphoric strain of the plant for children battling seizures.
“Medical marijuana currently falls under the Health Department,” Caldwell said on “Pensacola Speaks.” “However, it could branch into the Department of Agriculture depending on future legalization.”
He believes the Florida Department of Agriculture will eventually oversee the nurseries. The lawmaker doesn’t believe medical marijuana should be smoked.
“We’ll be treating it as medicine,” said Caldwell. “Not having a smokable form, but have it be a pill.”
On Friday, June 9, the Florida Legislature, in a special session, passed a medical marijuana bill that established more licenses in the state and, as Caldwell predicted, refused to allow patients to smoke marijuana as a treatment option.
Before signing off the radio program, Caldwell pledged to visit Northwest Florida often in the months leading up to the Republican primary in August 2018. To learn more about his campaign, check out votecaldwell.org.