Did I ever mention my Wilton Simpson story?
By golly now’s as good a time as ever.
It was December 2021, and M&B Dairy hosted a fundraiser for Simpson who, at the time, was Senate president but running for Agriculture Commissioner.
Many big-name Citrus County politicians were there, and why not? Simpson was enormously popular in Citrus County, having built a well-earned reputation as a Senator who Gets Things Done. The millions he helped secure for sewer projects alone vaults his name to the top of the list among those in Citrus County who count on state money.
I don’t normally attend political fundraisers, but I wanted to be at this one. Just Wright Citrus, which had existed solely on Facebook since August, would be launching the website in a month. I knew Simpson’s fundraiser would attract the very people who needed to know I was still around.
So. I’m nervous as can be, sitting at a table under a big tent, listening as Wilton gave his speech. I didn’t count, but probably a few hundred people were there at least.
Wilton finished speaking, everyone applauded, and then it was time for Leon McClellan’s famous BBQ. I got up to get a plate and had returned when I noticed Wilton making the rounds, plate in hand.
Finally, he sat down. Right across from me. No one was nearby.
We had a lovely chat. I handed him a business card, and we talked a little about that.
“You know,” I said, “everyone under this tent has your cell number. Are you returning our calls when you’re in the Cabinet?”
He laughed and assured me he would.
Then I got serious for a moment.
“I listened to your speech, and disagreed with about 99% of it,” I said, looking him right in the eye. “But I’d absolutely trust you to run our state. You’re a man of integrity.”
That night went very, very well for me. I heard from several people who had noticed us in conversation. It gave me that kickstart into the blog, and then some.
Wilton will never know how much that five minutes with me under the tent — at his own fundraiser! — meant to me.
I was reminded of it Wednesday morning in his packed conference room at the Office of Commissioner of Agriculture in the Capitol.
We were there as part of Citrus County Legislative Days. Once again, I’m not surprised that so many wanted to hear from this man.
I counted about 40 Citrus Countians in the room, including Commissioners Ruthie Davis Schlabach and Chairman Holly Davis, County Administrator Steve Howard, Crystal River Council members Cindi Frink and Ken Frink, Inverness Councilwoman Crystal Lizanich, School Board member Joe Faherty, and J.J. Grow, candidate for House District 23.
Unlike other scheduled meetings with elected officials or agency directors, the Citrus folks didn’t want anything from Simpson. They rather just wanted to say thanks and to encourage his endeavors.
It was a fun 30 minutes. When Simpson first became our senator, he had a weekend home in Homosassa. That connection played a large part in his interest in supporting sewer projects, and money for river restorations in Crystal River and Homosassa.
Although he sold the home, it’s clear Simpson still holds Citrus County close.
“Citrus County was really good to me all the time,” he said.
Anyone who spends time with Simpson can see he’s the real deal. Political for sure, but none of that mean streak that we see from so many politicians these days.
Here in the capital, where political success seems directly proportional to public cynicism, Wilton Simpson tries to steer the path somewhat straight.
Look at his reward. Solid success in the Senate, elected to statewide office, and hopefully, we’ll see his name on a ballot for governor in 2026.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services isn’t the flashiest gig in town, but here’s a packed conference room of people who drove three hours to see this one. Not to bend his ear, but to show their appreciation.
Sometimes it’s not about personal politics. Sometimes they truly are public servants.
In Citrus County’s eyes, Wilton Simpson fits the bill.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.