Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Joe Henderson: Adam Putnam knows what his audience wants and serves it up well

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

The buffet restaurant owned by my friends Ralph and Nancy Lupton in Temple Terrace was as stuffed Monday morning as one of my plates when I go through the chow line there. Don’t tell my doctor about the times I piled it high with fried chicken, bacon, sausage gravy and all those other things that are supposed to be bad for a body.

Put it this way, if that’s bad then I don’t want good.

Anyway, about 150 people, including Attorney General Pam Bondi and HD 58 candidate Yvonne Fry, packed into this iconic eatery to hear Adam Putnam serve up some red meat in his campaign to be Florida’s next governor. Whether you agree with Putnam on issues like the Second Amendment or not, give the man his due.

He is as good as anyone I’ve seen in Florida at delivering a talk that makes you feel like you’re on the back porch looking out over a bass-filled lake at sunset. A glass of sweet tea is in your hand and Adam is in your ear – not overpowering it, mind you. Just talking about stuff. He seems to have a way of making everyone in a crowded room feel like he is only speaking with them.

That’s a gift.

I watched the crowd while he spoke without notes for a half hour so, and I could see heads nodding in agreement. I didn’t see anyone playing with their phones or looking at their watches as he stood before the crowd in his trademark dress shirt with no tie and rolled up cuffs.

He knows his audience.

There is plenty of time to dissect Putnam on the issues, although from the early tone of his campaign I think we can guess its essence. He is a Republican. He likes guns.

He supports the decision by Gov. Rick Scott to transfer a potential death penalty case involving the accused killer of two Kissimmee police officers away from Orange County prosecutor Aramis Ayala because of her anti-capital punishment stance.

Putnam likes to frame himself as a small-town, 5th generation Floridian, farmer and family man. He and his wife Melissa have four kids. Along with the candidate, the kids are all products of Florida public schools.

But the young man from Bartow has spent a lot of time off the farm, too. He served two terms in the Florida House of Representatives, then 10 years in Congress before running successfully twice for state Agriculture Commissioner.

While Putnam may have an “aw-shucks” Opie image, he also is a rich man. Financial disclosure forms he filed in June with the state put his net worth at $8.7 million. He doesn’t act like it though.

One thing he said Monday really caught my attention. If elected governor, he would emphasize an expansion of vocational education in public schools. He talked about high-paying jobs in trades like welders and mechanics that go unfilled because people lack the necessary skills. He would change that by a renewed focus on community and state colleges, where he said two-thirds of Florida students get their higher education. Only one-third attend state universities.

Take that route, he said, “before we pressure them into student loan debt for degrees they don’t want and can’t use.”

I like that.

He hung around a while after the talk, shaking hands, posing for pictures, and doing all the things politicians do. Lots of people waited patiently to get a coveted photo with him. No one seemed to leave unhappy.

“I hope he wins,” Ralph Lupton said. “I like him. I don’t believe he has any hidden ghosts out there in the closet. He has high morals.”

Then Ralph, pragmatic man that he is, paused for a second before adding, “I hope to hell he doesn’t disappoint me.”

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

Latest from Statewide

Go to Top