By JENNIFER LIBERTO, Times Staff Writer
Published October 25, 2006
In the race for commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the candidates seem as though they're running for different offices.
Staying the course, especially on agriculture, is the core of the platform for incumbent Republican Charles Bronson, a rancher and former chemical salesman who has been in state politics for years.
"A lot of issues will be the same," said Bronson, 57, who was appointed agriculture commissioner in 2001 and was re-elected in 2002. He ran and lost two previous races for agriculture commissioner before he was elected to the state Senate in 1994.
"We're still worried about pests and disease from overseas that can cause major damage to our second-largest industry in the state," he said.
Challenger Eric Copeland, making his first bid for public office, has focused much of his campaign on consumer protection.
"I'm disturbed to find that nobody realizes we have a consumer services commissioner," said Copeland, 41, a property tax lawyer from Coral Gables who wants to set up satellite consumer service offices across the state. He said he wants to be an advocate for consumers on insurance, phone rates and property taxes before the Public Service Commission and the Legislature.
Copeland originally filed to run for chief financial officer, but he pulled out of the race to avoid a primary battle when Alex Sink filed to run.
He has called the citrus canker eradication program under Bronson costly and ineffective. Bronson counters that the program worked well until hurricanes swept the canker throughout the state.
"We had hurricanes, and it made it impossible to wipe it out the way we were going to. We never quite got there," Bronson said. "If I could control hurricanes, I wouldn't be running for agricultural commissioner or governor or president - I'd be running for king of the world."
Both support working with the federal government to pursue new technologies to transform materials such as agricultural or sugar waste, grasses and even municipal waste into ethanol-based fuel.
Bronson has a significant war chest, which includes $1.2-million from cattle, citrus and sugar industries. Also, his name has been featured on some television ads for Charlie Crist, who is running for governor.
Copeland has struggled with fundraising and has collected only about $48,000, most of which is from fellow lawyers, teachers and labor. He also has loaned himself $167,000.
The commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversees a large agency that is supposed to safeguard consumers and support Florida's agricultural economy. It inspects and tests food, oversees state forests, helps farmers with marketing and promotion, and regulates industries such as telemarketing and pawn shops. The commissioner also is a member of the Florida Cabinet and votes on state issues. The position pays $131,604 a year.
Charles H. Bronson, 57, of Tallahassee holds agriculture degrees from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga., and the University of Georgia in Athens. A Kissimmee native, he ran for agriculture commissioner in 1986 and 1990 and lost. He won a state Senate seat in 1994 and 1998. He was appointed agricultural commissioner in 2001 and was re-elected in 2002. He is married and has two daughters. Assets: Ranch, cattle, real estate and stock. Liabilities: Mortgage on investment properties and credit union loan. Source of income: Agriculture commissioner job, ranch, bank dividends.
Eric S. Copeland, 41, of Coral Gables received his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Miami. He was born in the Chicago suburb of Melrose, Ill., but has lived in Florida for 22 years. This is his first run for public office. He works as an attorney for his company, Dade Property Tax Adviser, where he does property tax appeals. He is married and has two daughters. Assets: House, real estate, stocks and bonds. Liabilities: Mortgage and credit card loans. Source of income: None listed.
[Last modified October 24, 2006, 23:03:11]
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