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For agriculture commissioner

A Times Editorial
Published October 22, 2006


As a lifelong rancher, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, a Republican, has more than an academic knowledge of the state's largest industry after tourism. That's not something Democratic opponent Eric Copeland, a lawyer from Miami, can say. So Copeland has focused his campaign on the agriculture job's other responsibility: consumer protection.

In fact, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services could reverse the order of those duties, because more of its resources are spent on consumer issues. Contrary to Copeland's criticism, Bronson has grown in that part of the job over the past 5½ years and is a competent consumer advocate.

The department regulates a variety of businesses (such as auto repair shops), monitors food safety in grocery stores and investigates price gouging during emergencies. Other state agencies regulate licensed professionals, insurance and utilities, although the Agriculture Department operates the toll-free number for all consumer complaints.

Copeland, 41, has an unrealistic notion of how the department could expand its consumer role, which is spelled out in state law. Any effort to move onto another official's turf could be counterproductive. In particular, Bronson's office has been a leader on food-safety issues.

Copeland also faults Bronson, 57, for his campaign to rid the state of citrus canker. The tactics were too aggressive at times, but Copeland is wrong when he claims that canker is no real threat to citrus production. Unfortunately, frequent hurricanes over the past couple of years spread the disease beyond the state's ability to control it.

Bronson is a low-key official in charge of a department that is operating smoothly, and there is no good reason for voters to make a change. The Times recommends Charles Bronson for commissioner of agriculture.

[Last modified October 22, 2006, 07:06:21]

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