MIAMI — Nikki Fried, Florida’s agricultural commissioner, insists she can weather a competitive Democratic primary for Florida governor this August. Propelling that hope, she said, is keeping Democratic voters’ attention on reproductive rights.
She is currently trailing her main opponent, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, in both cash and endorsements. But she says she has momentum and excitement on her side.
“The attention that we are going to get across the nation, Florida will be in play. And if we have myself and Val Demings at the top of the ticket that shows such a difference than what they’ve got going for them.”
Fried made her predictions during a wide-ranging interview with the Miami Herald Editorial Board on Monday, in which she laid out her policy positions, summed up her accomplishments in public office, and stood by her criticism of Crist’s record on abortion.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling of Roe v. Wade, which gave pregnant women the right to an abortion, Fried has sought to make abortion a wedge issue for the Aug. 23 primary. She has repeatedly said that voters cannot trust Crist to uphold access to abortion.
“If he can’t deal with me in a primary, then you certainly can’t deal with Ron DeSantis,” Fried said. “These are issues and things that he has personally said. And if we think that it’s going to hurt the (Democratic) Party, then they need to understand that it will be a thousand times harder when you have $150 million lodged against you on the same issues.”
Specifically, Fried pointed to an interview from April in which Crist said he was “pro-life.” He went on to explain that position as also supporting women’s “right to choose” and making “decisions over her own body.”
Samantha Ramirez, Crist’s campaign spokesperson, pushed back against Fried’s comments.
“Commissioner Fried’s false attacks only hurt Democrats and do Ron DeSantis’ dirty work for him. It’s a sign of a flailing, losing campaign. Floridians know Charlie and they trust him. Our campaign’s mission is to beat Ron DeSantis, full stop,” Ramirez said in a statement.
Fried was the only Democrat elected statewide in 2018. Among her accomplishments at the Department of Agriculture, Fried highlighted, was the creation of Florida’s hemp-growing program, which she called “the gold standard” for the hemp industry across the country, and overhauling the gun-licensing process with an emphasis on thorough background checks.
Fried’s views on other issues
On working with a majority Republican Legislature: “In three and a half years, with myself as the only Democrat in the Cabinet, severely outnumbered in the Legislature, we were able to do some tremendous accomplishments. ... Every single year, we’ve probably got 75%, if not 85% of our budget proposals done, because we were able to really say, look, this is above partisan politics.”
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Fried added she believes a lot of Republican legislators are “not as radical as Ron” and she believes in figuring out “ways and issues that we can work together. And if not,” she added, “that veto can be extremely powerful, vetoing the budget priorities, vetoing their pieces of legislation.”
On abortion access: “I will be calling for an executive emergency order that allows me to now come in and say, we are not going to send money down to state attorneys who are prosecuting doctors and women.”
Fried said she wants to work with the Legislature while also promoting funding programs for women to go to states where abortion is more easily accessible, and within Florida, “you will have the full weight of the governor’s office to be drafting a new constitutional amendment to make sure that the right to privacy is expanded to increase and make sure that abortion rights are on the ballot or in the laws.”
On education: Fried says she commits to doubling the per-pupil public school funding, including revenue from the Florida Lottery. She also wants to address teacher pay to curb the teacher retention crisis in the state. “We’ve created a war zone for our teachers,” Fried said. “We are asking them to be the mental health counselors, we are asking them to be the parents, we’re asking them to teach, we’re asking them to now be the security guards. And now we’re telling them that they’re gonna get sued if they say the wrong things and we’re not going to pay you. And you wonder why we have a retention problem.”
She added: “Charter schools are here and parents like choice, but we need to make sure that we’re not hurting our public education system at the same point.”
On housing: “They’re coming in with all of this cash, especially after the pandemic and during the pandemic, and they come in and they buy the top of the market ... and then they squeeze down the rest of the market. And so that’s what’s been happening here in the state,” Fried said.
“There’s all these new pilot projects that are out there building new schools and having apartments that are being built with the schools,” Fried added. “So letting our local governments also utilize their tools, work with our local governments to make sure that money is coming in to help with those types of projects.”
On outreach to Black communities: “Let’s talk about economic opportunities. Let’s talk about generational wealth. How are we actually going to take investments and put it into those communities?” Fried said, referencing specifically the legalization of recreational marijuana as a financial stimulus for the state. “I talk about those dollars going back into the communities that have been the most harmed by the war on drugs, and that’s our Black and brown communities.”
On outreach to Hispanic voters and the “socialist” label: “I think that this is understanding the culture, understanding why people left. And I think that we as Democrats did a really, really, really bad job in 2020 because we didn’t combat it. We just let that narrative lie. … And we think that that’s it. And instead of understanding why that mattered, why was that striking a chord?”
On Florida’s economy: “If we don’t start to diversify our economy, then we’re going to have the same issues that people can’t afford to live here,” Fried said. “We need to bring the film industry back to the state of Florida. ... Second, we’ve got to legalize cannabis. That is an industry that can produce so many opportunities and so many jobs here in the state.”
On legalization of marijuana: “This gives us an opportunity for economic (impact) here in our state, again $3 billion to $4 billion of economic opportunity that can go back into our communities of color that have been disenfranchised from the war on drugs. This is an opportunity to create jobs. This is an opportunity again, for criminal justice reform for social justice reform. For the expungement of records, getting people back into society, which is a cost-saving for all of us when somebody is a productive member of society.”
On gun violence: Fried said there needs to be “more involvement on the local level on community policing ... and giving resources to some of these organizations that are doing the good work.” As examples, she cited the Circle of Brotherhood and Bullets 4 Life nonprofits. She also said that there needed to be more resources dedicated to mental health care, suicide prevention and changing the culture of guns.
“It goes to economic opportunities. That if we are truly investing in some of these communities, that we’re giving them hope that they can have an opportunity to start their own business or an opportunity which creates more jobs, or that they’ve got mentors in a profession and that they see that there is a way out of this lifestyle,” she added.