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Urban Cowboy

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  • | 9:09 a.m. September 17, 2010
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  • Florida
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It might seem strange that a lawyer and former mayor of Tallahassee, of all places, wants to be the state's agriculture commissioner.

But Scott Maddox grew up on a five-acre farm in Homestead before he moved with his family to Tallahassee when he was 16. That little farm with a grove, now long gone, bore little resemblance to the typical large-lot subdivisions commonly found on the edge of Florida's urban areas.

The Dade County farm, however, was all Maddox knew 30 years ago.

“My job was to take care of the chickens. I had to pick one for dinner, ring her neck and pluck her,” Maddox says with both a tinge of remorse and a little braggadocio.

There were cows, too. “Our first Angus cow was named Susie,” says Maddox. “We had Susie burgers for a year.”

Still, Maddox, now 42, says the farm work was always tough.

Tougher still may be the Democrat's run for what he prefers to call “the commissioner of agriculture and consumer services” rather than simply agriculture commissioner. That's a reference to his emphasis on the consumer protection duties of the post. The department employs roughly 250 sworn officers to deal with consumer fraud cases and inspections.

And perhaps the consumer emphasis is part of a strategy to minimize his lack of support from agricultural interests and cater to union workers and liberals willing to forgive a scandal during his tenure as chairman of the Florida Democratic Party.

Being union friendly comes naturally to Maddox, an attorney. His father was a police officer before becoming a police union chief, and his mother is a special education teacher.

Early achievements

Maddox could be described as a classic overachiever.

For starters, he was elected the youngest Jaycees president in the country after he graduated from Florida State University with a degree in political science and public administration.

Then, while still in law school in 1993 at FSU, Maddox was elected to the Tallahassee city commission. At 24, he was the youngest ever to sit at that dais. The next year, his fellow commissioners elected him mayor pro-tempore, and in 1995 they selected him to be mayor.

In between, Maddox found time to get married to his college sweetheart, Sha, a former Miss Georgia Cattleman from south Georgia.

In 1996, Tallahassee voters passed a referendum establishing a leadership mayor post with a four-year term. Maddox became the city's first mayor directly elected by voters in 1997.

Three years later, Maddox was elected president of the Florida League of Cities and embarked on a 12-month tour to every city in the state — all 405 of them.

In 2002, Maddox first considered a run for governor before he decided to run for attorney general. He lost in the primary to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who went on to lose to Charlie Crist in the general election.

Maddox was elected chairman of the Florida Democratic Party in 2003 after he completed his term as mayor. He was chairman until March 2005.

But while Maddox was Leon County Democratic Party chairman in 2004, the party paid $10,500 in campaign finance violations fines it failed to report as required. He also upset Leon County Democrats by quietly being paid to support a controversial development project while he was county party chairman.

Two months later Maddox announced his candidacy for governor. But he ultimately withdrew after the Internal Revenue Service froze the party's bank account because it didn't pay roughly $200,000 in Social Security and payroll taxes during Maddox's chairmanship.

Maddox, according to published reports at the time, took responsibility for that because it happened under his watch, even though a bookkeeper admitted she kept the problem from Maddox.

These days, Maddox spends time helping out his wife's family's 2,500-acre farm, primarily a peach grove and aquaculture complex in Iron City, Ga., just north of Tallahassee. He says he's picked, pruned, packed and helped sell peaches. He's also done some cow cutting and sorting on horseback before the farm concentrated on row crops.

The contrast of a large production farm in Georgia to his five-acres in Homestead isn't lost on Maddox. “It gave me a good background of the differences,” he says. “Our in-laws did aquaculture, grew catfish; so I saw a lot of different aspects of agriculture production.”

Not a farm favorite?

Maddox's opponent for agriculture commissioner, U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, has so far significantly outraised and outspent the ex-mayor. Putnam has raised $2.8 million to Maddox's $773,530 and Putnam has nearly $2.5 million in the bank to less than $720,000 for Maddox, according to state elections records.

And on Facebook, as of Sept. 10, Maddox had 2,315 “likes” to Putnam's 15,810.

The dollars and social media recognition might be a factor in the race, considering Maddox seems to be a relative unknown in the larger agriculture community. For starters, Maddox says he hasn't received any endorsements from county farm bureaus, which make endorsements at their choosing — independent of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation.

Speaking to the Business Review on Sept. 9, a day after the Leon County Farm Bureau's annual meeting, Maddox says he hasn't been invited to any farm bureau gatherings. Maddox instead visited farms and restaurants and attended the “Blues and Boots” fundraising barbecue in Jackson County that evening, according to his Facebook page.

Florida Farm Bureau Field Representative Dan Buchanan, who attended the Leon County Farm Bureau event, says Maddox is “a nice guy,” but that few people he spoke to at the meeting know anything about him. Likewise, not many knew where his wife's family's farm is located.

Buchanan says all the farmers he works with in north Florida are tuned in to the race and there is a clear favorite. Says Buchanan: “Everybody I talked to was in favor of Putnam.”

In that vein, here's another challenge for Maddox: Putnam has endorsements from at least 17 farm bureaus, including the Jackson County Farm Bureau and the Gadsden County Farm Bureau, which is right in Maddox's backyard. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation also back Putnam.

Maddox does have a strong block of supporters, certainly among Democrats, and also among unions, particularly public employee unions. Maddox lists endorsements from the 140,000-member Florida Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Florida AFL-CIO (a federation of 500 public and private sector local unions), the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Union of Police Associations, another AFL-CIO group.

Putnam also has support from 37 county sheriffs to seven in Maddox's camp.

Maddox's law enforcement support, however, doesn't extend to the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a 36,000-member group, which endorsed Putnam. The PBA, like most public employee unions, typically leans toward Democrats, which they did for the other three cabinet posts. That lack of endorsement from PBA comes as no surprise to Maddox because his father, Charlie Maddox, led the PBA from 1972 to 1994 and was then voted out.

But police support aside, the real challenge now for Maddox is to get recognized outside Tallahassee and among the farmers dependent on the department's services.

Maddox admits that even people who know him have trouble recognizing him.

“People would come [to the farm] all the time from Tallahassee, and I'd be in work boots and leather jeans, and I'd be loading boxes of peaches,” says Maddox. “And they'd come over and they'd say, 'that's you?'”


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