Photo: AP

The race to lead the third-most populated state in the country has been surprisingly muted this year. Florida governor Rick Scott is term-limited and running for United States Senate, and there’s a slew of Republicans and Democrats looking to succeed him.

One of the major leaders on the Republican side is Adam Putnam, a former Congressman from central Florida who has spent the last seven years as the state’s commissioner of agriculture. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Putnam is getting a lot of money from Publix, the supermarket chain with nearly 1,200 stores across seven states and also pretty good hoagies. The company has reportedly bankrolled Putnam’s gubernatorial campaign to the tune of $670,000 over the last three years, or more than any candidate since at least 1995, and also, as the Times notes, worth nearly 75,000 in chicken tendy subs.

On April 30, they gave him a $100,000 donation.

The company told the Tampa Bay Times that their big investment in Putnam came because they were so moved by Putnam’s shared roots; the company is headquartered in Polk County, where Putnam is from. “As the hometown candidate, Publix has had a long-standing relationship with Commissioner Putnam,” spokesman Brian West told the paper. “We support pro-business candidates, and believe Commissioner Putnam will make a great governor.” In addition, the Times reported, the chairman of Putnam’s political action committee is Justin Hollis, whose great grandfather and grandfather were both Publix executives.

But here’s a better reason for their support, per the Times (emphasis mine):

The more recent contributions came as Putnam oversaw regulation of the company’s 785 stores. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that Putnam leads conducts health safety inspections at grocery stores. It also handles consumer complaints directed at food businesses, including supermarkets.

In 2016, WFTS-Channel 28 discovered seven Tampa Bay area Publix stores failed health inspections. In those stores, food inspectors found rodent droppings, hundreds of pounds of meat and other food stored at unsafe temperatures, bugs and employees not washing their hands, according to the report.

Putnam responded the next day by pulling the inspections from the department’s website and eliminating the pass/fail grading system. He replaced it six months later with a new rubric. Instead of a failing grade, the worst rating issued now is “re-inspection required.”

At the time, Putnam said the grading system was “unclear” because a failing grade didn’t necessarily mean the store needed to be shut down. He defended Publix, the state’s largest private company, to WFTS-Channel 28 as an “industry leader” that “ought not be mislabeled based on minor infractions.”

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“Adam Putnam is proud to have strong support from one of Florida’s most well-known and well-respected businesses that provides more than 100,000 jobs for hard-working Floridians,” Putnam spokeswoman Amanda Bevis told the Times. Love that support from the Rat Poop Job Creators.

According to the Times, Putnam has raised over $22 million so far, nearly three times as much as Congressman Ron DeSantis, his rival for the Republican nomination; the primary will be held on August 28. Florida hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in 1994.