DeSantis endorses Wilton Simpson for Florida agriculture commissioner, ending speculation

Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed Senate President Wilton Simpson in the Republican primary for agriculture commissioner on Monday, ending what many in Tallahassee had considered a quiet stalemate between two of the most powerful politicians in the state.

Simpson and DeSantis publicly clashed during the regular legislative session over Senate Bill 2508, which would have would have required water managers to advocate for more water for the agriculture industry to qualify for state money in restoration projects. It was later amended to remove portions that environmental advocates had most opposed.

DeSantis has touted clean water and Everglades restoration as a top priority for his administration. He also went against the political norm when he ran for governor in 2018 and bashed Big Sugar for its role in water pollution in the state, promising not to take any campaign contributions from companies like US Sugar.

While a Republican governor’s backing of the Republican Senate president would not typically be surprising, tension over whom DeSantis would support recently edged into the public eye. When reporters asked DeSantis about his pending endorsement at recent news conferences, he complimented Simpson but declined to fully back him, even when the two were standing next to each other.

DeSantis also recently vetoed congressional redistricting maps passed under Simpson and Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls in favor of his own that more aggressively favors Republicans. Last week, the Legislature passed a version drawn by DeSantis’ office.

Related: DeSantis congressional map splits St. Petersburg, reduces Tampa Bay competition

Simpson’s chief opponent in the Republican primary is Chuck Nadd, an Army veteran from the Orlando area, who has called himself a “Ron DeSantis Republican” and labeled Simpson as being “in the pocket of Big Sugar” during an interview with CBS Miami.

Nadd didn’t respond to a voicemail seeking comment Monday.

Simpson also did not immediately respond to a text asking about the endorsement and Nadd’s comments. But he tweeted a response to DeSantis, praising his leadership “through these unprecedented times.”

“Together, we helped keep Florida free and prosperous, and I am honored to have his support,” Simpson wrote.

In the same tweet backing Simpson, DeSantis reiterated his support of Ashley Moody to remain attorney general and endorsed Jimmy Patronis to stay in office as chief financial officer.

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