Draper drops out of race for agriculture commissioner
Audubon lobbyist quitting campaign to focus on environmental advocacy
By Jim Ash
Florida Capital Bureau Chief
Veteran Audubon of Florida lobbyist Eric Draper called it quits on Monday in his nearly three-month campaign for agriculture commissioner.
Fighting the industry’s full-court press for offshore drilling in the spring legislative session, and keeping an eye on Everglades restoration, won’t leave enough time to run a serious statewide campaign for the Cabinet post, Draper said.
"I am especially grateful to the many people who gave money, time and advice and rallied to help me in this effort," Draper said in a statement to his supporters.
Draper was upbeat after raising more than $35,000 in his first month of campaigning, but chances of success started to grow dimmer, he said.
"It was a great experience, I absolutely loved doing it, I enjoyed the candidate forums and I liked raising money," Draper said. "But I just couldn’t do two things at one time. It was a lot of hard work, and the system doesn’t make it easy on newcomers. There was a lot of skepticism."
Draper faced a primary battle with former Democratic Party of Florida Chairman Scott Maddox, former Fort Pierce legislator Rick Minton Jr. and former Suwannee County Commissioner Randy Hatch.
Maddox had nothing but praise for Draper and said it would not change the way he will continue to run his campaign.
"I think that Eric Draper had done very important work protecting our natural resources these many years and he will continue to do great things for the people of the state of Florida," Maddox said. "Running for statewide office is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We’re going to keep campaigning the way we always have."
If Draper survived the primary, he faced an uphill battle against better-known Republican opponents, including retiring Congressman Adam Putnam, a citrus grower from Bartow and state Sen. Carey Baker of Mt. Dora.
"I was surprised," Putnam said. "He is a very thoughtful guy, and I enjoyed the conversations I had with him."
It didn’t come as a shock to Baker, who considers himself a friend of Draper’s.
"I was going to ask him how he was going to work his day job next session," Baker said. "I mean, for example, how was he going to lobby me?"