Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat in statewide office in the nation’s largest swing state, joined 16 other rising Democratic leaders Tuesday night to give what the Democratic National Convention called “a new kind of keynote.”
The 12-minute presentation, scripted by the Democratic National Committee, featured a melange of 17 diverse voices, including Fried’s. The keynote speech has often catapulted rising stars, like Barack Obama in 2004, into the national limelight but this year’s mash-up divided the limelight into a clipped and pre-packaged video montage that gave no one a focused advantage.
Speaking from her Tallahassee home, Fried spoke about how she is the first Democrat to hold the state’s agriculture commissioner job in three decades, to make the point that Democrats have flipped seats in red states. Then, she lobbed a pointed critique at the president.
“Make no mistake. It didn’t have to be this bad,’' Fried said. “In the early days of the virus, Donald Trump didn’t listen to the experts.”
Later in the video, she also underscored the party’s commitment “to produce more renewable energy and shrink our carbon footprint” with Florida “on the front lines of our climate crisis.”
The party convention, scheduled to be held in Milwaukee but held virtually because of the coronavirus, is a first for Fried. She rose to power from marijuana lobbyist to become the state’s first female agriculture commissioner and, in normal times, would have likely scored a slot on the convention stage because of her prominence as the de facto head of the Florida Democratic Party.
Instead, her brief cameo appearance is one of few spots Florida voices will be featured at the four-day, prime-time-only convention. U.S. Rep. Val Demings, the Orlando Democrat who was on Joe Biden’s short list for vice president, is also scheduled to speak.
“I’m missing out,’' Fried said with a laugh Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll see how it turns out. It’s unique.”
‘We’re everyday people’
Fried said the takeaway for many Floridians should be that “we show we are no different than anybody else.” The party urged the keynoters to choose their own backdrop and wear casual clothes.
“I have the same family baggage, the same struggles as everybody,’' she said. “We are trying to show we are everyday people; we just have a title before our names,’' she said.
The theme of the Tuesday night program was “Leadership Matters” and featured remarks from former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the wife of the Democratic nominee, Jill Biden.
The abbreviated convention is scheduled for two hours during prime time Monday through Thursday evenings.
Fried has been considered a potential candidate for governor or U.S. Senate in 2022.
She said she hopes Floridians come away from the convention with an understanding that Democrats “know people are struggling and people and are scared — especially in South Florida where we continue to see cases every day because of the lack of leadership from the White House and Tallahassee.”
A critic of the governor
Fried has been a vigorous critic of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ leadership, particularly during the pandemic, criticizing him for not calling for a statewide shutdown or a statewide mask mandate as cases spiraled out of control. She launched her own public information campaign that urges people to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Before the coronavirus, Fried criticized DeSantis for violating state Sunshine laws in handling of the appointment of the state’s banking regulator. Although she has denied being interested in challenging DeSantis in 2022, she said there will be a “an electoral reckoning for his choices.”
Joining her for the “keynote” address were state representatives, mayors and members of Congress from across the country who reflect the racial, ethnic, regional and sexual diversity of the party.
They include Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s 2018 Democratic candidate for governor who was on Biden’s shortlist for running mate, former NFL player and U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Texas, and Robert Garcia, the first openly gay mayor of Long Beach, California.