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  1. Opinion

Times recommends: In the Democratic primary for agriculture commissioner, Nikki Fried

Times The Tampa Bay Times editorial board makes its recommendations for Commissioner of Agriculture for the Aug.28 primary election.
Published Aug. 1, 2018

Three South Florida Democrats are vying for commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, an office dominated for decades by Republicans with farming backgrounds. Nikki Fried, an attorney and lobbyist who has worked for the burgeoning medical marijuana industry, would bring a fresh approach and a better balance between the competing responsibilities of the office.

Fried, 40, has the broadest credentials and clearest proposals for making the office more responsive to consumers. She wants to elevate the consumer services side of the position, which tends to be overshadowed by issues like citrus production and water management. She would work to update business regulations, go after fraud more aggressively and assess the systemic failures in processing concealed weapon permit applications under term-limited incumbent Adam Putnam to create a more careful process. She also wants the department to have greater oversight of medical marijuana, suggesting that it's a natural fit given that marijuana is first a crop and ultimately a consumer product.

Fried, who grew up in Miami, sees a balance in advocating for Florida's farmers, such as fighting the Trump administration's tariffs, while also ensuring that big agricultural interests are not flouting regulations and harming the environment. She favors automatic restoration of civil rights for felons who have completed their sentences. If Amendment 4, which would automatically give voting rights back to most felons, fails in the November election, she would support changing the clemency process to make it easier for people to recover their civil rights.

Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter, 58, served 10 years on the Homestead City Council before being elected mayor in 2013. Through his work in the industrial supply business, he says he came into contact with farmers and saw how their success affected the local economy. He supports the use of easements to save land from development as long as farmers are fairly compensated and wants the state to continue fighting citrus greening.

Roy David Walker, 33, is an environmental advocate who previously worked as a biological scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and says he resigned after Gov. Rick Scott banned use of the words "climate change" in official state communications. He wants to create a reserve account for growers battling disease or pests, funded through taxes on marijuana. He also favors development of alternative crops to help citrus growers who have lost their groves to greening. He would push for free lunches for all public school students through a program that connects schools to local farms.

There is a lack of clarity regarding Walker's personal finances. He says he is self-employed while listing no income on his financial disclosure form and a net worth of $65,000. Yet his campaign reports show he has loaned his campaign more than $159,000.

Fried is the most informed, viable candidate in this race. In the Democratic primary for Florida commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Nikki Fried.

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