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Senator to fill out Cabinet position

Gov. Jeb Bush appoints Charles Bronson as agriculture commissioner. The senator will run for the job next year.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2001


Gov. Jeb Bush appoints Charles Bronson as agriculture commissioner. The senator will run for the job next year.

TALLAHASSEE -- State Sen. Charles Bronson, a Republican cattle rancher and self-styled "cowboy from Kissimmee," has been selected by Gov. Jeb Bush to fill out a term as Florida's commissioner of agriculture.

Bronson replaces interim commissioner Terry Rhodes, who stepped in after Bob Crawford left the Cabinet post Jan. 30 to become executive director of the Florida Citrus Commission. Rhodes was Crawford's assistant commissioner.

Bush announced the appointment Thursday afternoon. Bronson, already a declared candidate for the position, will serve the rest of the current term, which expires in January 2003.

"He knows these issues in his sleep," Bush said. "He has worked on behalf of agriculture interests and sound public policy in a way that gives me great comfort."

Bush threw in his endorsement of Bronson's campaign for agriculture commissioner in 2002. That's when the Cabinet shrinks from six members to three, thus giving the position more influence than before. A special election must be held to replace Bronson in the Senate.

"This should not be a temporary job," Bush said.

Bronson, 51, has been a state senator since 1994 and has served as chairman of the natural resources and agriculture committees.

The Satellite Beach resident, worth more than $1.8-million, has a degree in animal science from the University of Georgia. He said Thursday his family has worked Florida's land since 1635.

He takes over the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on Monday morning.

"I plan to do the best job I can," said Bronson, who gained notoriety years ago for wearing a paper bird on his head to protest special protection for the white ibis.

Bronson said he plans a trip to South Florida soon to oversee the state's continuing citrus canker eradication program. Residents from that region and across the state have been enraged by state work crews that took down their citrus trees, even though many of those trees were healthy.

The state, which says the eradication program is needed to protect the state's commercial citrus industry, in some cases has decreased the distance a healthy tree must be from an infected tree before the healthy specimen is destroyed.

But Bronson said trees that courts ruled should be left standing now are becoming infected with the canker.

"Many of the trees now have citrus canker and if we had taken them down, we probably would not have had more canker spreading," Bronson said. And that threatens the citrus industry, he added.

"It (citrus) is one of the biggest and greatest industries we've had since the Spanish landed in Florida," Bronson added.

The state's orange crop this year is predicted to be 224-million 90-pound boxes, and the grapefruit forecast is estimated at 49-million 85-pound boxes, according to forecasts released by the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service.

Florida's citrus-growing season ends in June.

Bronson also wants to protect Florida's borders from the kind of animal diseases, such as foot and mouth and mad cow, that are plaguing Europe.

"If it comes into Florida, it'll be all over the country faster than you can turn around," Bronson said.

Bronson's appointment drew praise from agricultural groups in the state.

"Farm Bureau has enjoyed a good relationship with Sen. Bronson in the past, and we look forward to working with him as the commissioner," said Carl B. Loop Jr., the Florida Farm Bureau president. The federation is an independent, non-profit agricultural organization.

Although popular among agricultural interests, Bronson has not always ranked high among environmental groups.

The Sierra Club ranked him 39th of the 40 senators last year in that group'a annual scorecard of environmental policy. Only Sen. John Laurent, R-Bartow, another applicant for the agriculture commissioner job, scored lower than Bronson.

"He's always been at the bottom of the scorecard," said Sierra Club lobbyist Susie Caplowe. "But he's always been very cordial. I'll say that."

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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