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Despite Critics, Putnam's Election Chances May Not Be Affected By Background Check Issue

Agriculture Commissioner and Republican Gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam
Adam Putnam's Facebook

Florida’s Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner says he wants to set the record straight about what happened when close to 300 background checks were revoked due to an issue at his agency.  Still, despite ongoing criticisms, could Adam Putnam face political fallout over this issue?

A Tampa Bay Times investigation found the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services did not complete enhanced background checks for a year because of a computer log-in issue.

That was contained within an Inspector General’s report that looked at concealed weapon license, or CWL applications submitted between February 2016 to March 2017.  

Commissioner Adam Putnam says background checks were still done on the thousands of CWL applications during that time period.

“The 350,000 individuals had their names and fingerprints run through all three databases,” he said, at a recent press conference. “365 of them had non-criminal disqualifying information in their past that would prevent them from being eligible for a CWL [concealed weapons license]. Those 365 sat on the desk of a negligent employee. We have since corrected that and have revoked the license of 291 of the 365.”

Throughout his telling of what happened, Putnam has been on the defense. He’s repeatedly blamed that one employee—who is included in the IG report. She’s since been fired.

“The negligent and deceptive employee failed to follow up on the results of non-criminal disqualifying information on those CWLs,” added Putnam.

While several media reports indicate they’re not sure who initiated the IG investigation, Putnam insists he did.

“We took immediate action and implemented the inspector general investigation,” he continued.

Still, some critics have questioned why even though this occurred from 2016 to 2017, why it’s only coming out now.

Overall, Putnam says his agency has now put safeguards in place in the application review process.

“As a result of this IG investigation and the processes that we have implemented, this should not ever happen again,” Putnam stated. “And, I will continue to hold all of my people accountable across the entire department for all of the responsibilities we have, including licensing.”

There are differing opinions on what happened and what the next step forward should be.

To those with “public safety concerns,” Putnam has maintained having a permit does not necessarily mean someone can buy a gun, since they go through similar checks for the purchase.

The National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer agreed, recently defending Putnam to her membership.

Governor Rick Scott has called what happened “disturbing and concerning,” adding “We all expect our government to do their job.”

Some Republicans have openly criticized Putnam, including his main Primary gubernatorial opponent, Ron Desantis.

While some Democrats, including gubernatorial candidates, have called on Putnam to resign, others are calling for an expanded investigation first.

“I’m not asking him to resign,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs). “I think that’s premature. But, I do think a hearing is warranted. You know, in the House, we have a reputation as being the watchdog. Well, you know, without a hearing, apparently we want to be known as the lapdog.”

Moskowitz and others have written top House and Senate leadership calling for an independent probe.

“Because there’s enough here,” he added. “How many IG [Inspector General] reports are out there that we don’t know about that might put Floridians’ lives at risk? How many other pieces of legislation have departments filed to cover potentially corrupt behavior. So, these are the reasons why we need a hearing. That’s why I sent a letter to the Speaker.”

Moskowitz is talking about a provision in a comprehensive bill (S 740) filed during this past legislative session, on behalf of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

It would have allowed for some concealed weapons license applications to be approved when background checks were not completed within three months.

The only reason that provision did not move forward was because of the mass school shooting in Parkland.

Still, as it relates to an investigation by the House, Moskowitz says he’s not holding his breath.

“Even though I can’t reach Ms. Cleo, something tells me we will not be having a hearing,” he continued.

But, between calls for resignations and investigations into the issue, some political scientists believe this could just be insider baseball. Retired University of South Florida Political Scientist Susan MacManus says this may not affect the opinions of average Florida voter.

“What we’re seeing is a public that doesn’t know who they were going to vote for, that doesn’t seem to be tuned in as much,” she said. “It’s one of the most difficult times to try and grab people’s attention. And, something like this issue that has two sides to it and it’s fairly complex in terms of the actual details. Probably to a lot of voters, it’s not something that’s not resonating right now. That doesn’t mean it might not closer to the election, but I don’t think it’s meeting a whole lot of the casual voters’ attention.”

And, as for Agriculture Commissioner and Republican Gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam says if there is political fallout, he’s prepared to deal with consequences. For now, he says his immediate focus is to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.