By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Senate President Wilton Simpson, a wealthy Republican from Trilby whose business holdings include a giant egg farm, filed paperwork Friday to run for state agriculture commissioner next year.
Simpson, who in May drew an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, is the most-prominent candidate to enter the race for the Cabinet seat that will be open because Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, is running for governor.
Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman for Simpson’s campaign, said in a statement that the Senate leader remains focused on the 2022 legislative session, which will start in January.
“There will be plenty of time for campaigning after the important work ahead, because for too long, too many politicians have told us to vote for them and settle for less,” Isaac said in an email.
Simpson, who has served in the Senate since 2012, will end his term as president with the November 2022 elections. Though he opened his formal campaign account Friday for the agriculture commissioner’s race, he heads two political committees that had about $3.5 million on hand as of July 31.
Two other Republicans, Richard Earl Olle Jr. of Valrico and James Shaw of Vero Beach, and one Democrat, Ryan Morales of Clermont, have opened campaign accounts for the race but have raised little money..
Shaw put $20,000 into the contest when he filed in March and hasn’t reported any other individual contributions. Olle hasn’t reported receiving any money. Morales has put $2,030 of his own money into the campaign and drawn $92 from four contributors.
Simpson has long been rumored to be interested in running for agriculture commissioner, and Trump in May issued a statement from his Save America PAC giving Simpson his “complete and total endorsement!”
“Wilton has been a great supporter and worked hard to get many good conservatives elected in Florida,” Trump said. “He helped us grow our Republican majority in the Florida State Senate, and gave us a historic win in Florida in the 2020 Presidential Election.”
Simpson is one of the wealthiest members of the Legislature. He had a net worth of $31.5 million as of Dec. 31. Simpson’s holdings include Simpson Farms in Trilby and stakes in an asbestos removal company, an environmental safety company and the limited liability company Belly Wadding, which is tied to IHOP restaurants in Florida.
As Senate president, Simpson has been a key player on a wide range of issues. One of his priorities during the 2021 session, for example, was passing a bill that expanded Florida’s so-called “Right To Farm” law, which helps shield farmers from lawsuits.
But Simpson has drawn criticism from some Republicans, including Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Trump ally who has attacked Simpson over the implementation of a program to use the federal E-Verify system to check if workers are in the country legally.
“Florida deserves a commissioner of agriculture who doesn’t support illegal immigration. Regardless of political party,” Gaetz said online in January after Simpson’s name was raised as a potential candidate for the Cabinet post.