Adam Putnam, the Publix candidate for Florida governor, just put out a new TV campaign ad blaming “liberal elites” for pressuring young people to go to college and take on crippling debt.
The Republican agricultural commissioner promises to do more to prioritize vocational training, saying, “College is not the only path to success and it’s OK to say it.”
Actually, lots of people in both parties have been saying it for a long time. College isn’t for everybody, and — please tell us, Adam — who said it was?
Putnam’s sudden concern about predatory student-loan practices is especially curious. As a young U.S. congressman, he was one of only 71 representatives who in 2007 voted against the College Student Relief Act, which aimed to cut the interest rates on student loans.
Putnam’s nay vote came not long after he’d accepted a $1,000 donation from the Navient Corporation Political Action Committee.
Navient is the country’s largest servicer of private and federal student loans. The company was recently sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for allegedly cheating and deceiving young borrowers who were trying to repay their college debt.
Last fall, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office also sued Navient for “peddling risky and expensive subprime loans” and actions that “harmed countless” students.
Navient has denied any wrongdoing. It was among three big student-loan companies that donated heavily to federal candidates, their PACS and political parties in 2016. And guess who received about three out of every four dollars in contributions from the student-loan industry?
Republicans did — not the “liberal elites” that Putnam is indignantly lambasting for pauperizing college kids.
As the fund-raising reports begin rolling in for this year’s gubernatorial race, voters will see for themselves if Putnam is hypocritical enough to cash another check from Navient, SLM Corp. or one of the major student lenders or their lobby groups.
This time around he doesn’t really need their money, not with megabucks corporate supporters such as Publix. The huge grocery chain has contributed $670,000 to Putnam’s campaign entities over the last three years, and it has also donated generously to several business groups that have given millions to Putnam.
As agriculture commissioner, Putnam’s office is in charge of regulating grocery outlets, and you probably won’t be stunned to learn of his big-hearted leniency toward Publix.
In 2016, WFTS-Channel 28 in Tampa reported that seven Publix markets in the area had failed health inspections. I’ll spare you the icky details, but the very next day Putnam yanked the results from his department’s website and scotched the pass-fail grading system that had been in place for some time.
Months later, a friendlier new system was put in action. Now, thanks to Putnam, if a storage room at a Publix is found freckled with rat droppings, the worst rating the store can receive is “re-inspection required.”
(Full disclosure: For years my family has bought almost all our groceries at Publix, and we haven’t encountered even one dubious lentil.)
No candidate in Florida has ever received such a gusher of funds from the ubiquitous supermarket chain. Friday, in the face of a growing boycott threat because of Putnam’s full-throated support of the NRA and his Trump-ish immigration philosophy, Publix announced that it has ended all corporate political contributions.
Here’s another line from his new campaign commercial that drips with unintended irony:
“Today, liberal elites look down on people who work with their hands.”
First of all, many of the folks that Putnam wants to deport (or keep out) of the country work with their hands, and the literal fruits of that hard work are displayed in the produce section of your local Publix, Winn-Dixie or any grocery store.
Domestic crop agriculture would die without migrant labor, legal and otherwise.
Second, many American laborers who “work with their hands” are paid minimum wage. Guess who was one of only 82 House Republicans who voted against raising the minimum wage in 2007?
Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow.
He’s selling himself hard as a fifth-generation rancher and citrus farmer, but it’s been awhile since he picked much fruit. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1995 and the following year got elected to the state House at the ripe old age of 22.
So now, at 43, Putnam officially qualifies as one of those “career politicians” that his own party warns us to distrust. And, unless a grapefruit fell on his head when he was a kid, he should know better than to run campaign ads that leave himself open to such easy dismantling.
And it’s OK to say that.