How Did Nikki Fried Succeed In Winning Statewide Office When Far Better Known Democratic Candidates For Governor And Senator (Including An Incumbent) Didn’t?
That question pushing Florida’s new Agriculture Commissioner into the spotlight as a real up-and-comer in the Democratic Party.
Fried was losing on election night, but a recount turned the race around. And late Monday her opponent conceded.
Agriculture Commissioner may not sound like much, but in Florida it’s a significant position, which is why it’s a separate, elected statewide office, and not a cabinet position appointed by the Governor. Of course Florida’s the 2nd largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the country, after California. But that’s not why, really. It’s because the Agriculture Commissioner is also in charge of guns. And Fried successfully navigated the issue of gun registration and regulation, which has been front of mind for many voters since 17 people were killed at a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida this past February.
The Miami Herald has a decent profile of Fried, and the issues she focused on to win, which you can link to by clicking on this photo.
Fried emphasizing she’s a gun owner, and doesn’t want to block anyone from getting a concealed carry permit as Florida allows, but also stressing she won’t be beholden to the N.R.A., which has had a stranglehold on the Florida legislature as much as any other state. That earned her an endorsement (and a chunk of money) from Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun reform group founded by Mike Bloomberg. Her opponent, and her predecessor both boasted A+ ratings from the N.R.A.
Florida’s legislature is still overwhelmingly Republican, and newly elected Governor Ron DeSantis gets an “A” (but not an “A+”) from the N.R.A., so it’s not likely Fried will be able to spearhead any new legislation. What she can do is make sure the current system of checks works the ways it’s supposed to: Florida was recently rocked by a scandal when it was discovered the department–for more than a year–had stopped cross referencing gun permit applications with an FBI database meant to ensure applicants are not legally barred from owning weapons in other states.
Fried is the first woman ever elected to the position. And pretty much every article we found about her victory–including the ones we’ve linked to in this article–quotes a lot of politicians and strategists in the state, both Democrats and Republicans, all men, who are quick to credit her win to her gender: “it’s the year of the woman“, and not much else. But we think there’s a lot more to it. And it has to do with a common sense, not too extreme approach to campaigning. Where you satisfy your core group of voters, without going out of your way to alienate those who don’t totally agree with you.
Fried’s a former public defender, and lobbyist for children’s rights and expanded use of medical marijuana, which has been legal in Florida since 2016. She wants to move oversight of medical marijuana from the Health Department, to the Agriculture Department, partly because she says marijuana is a good off-season crop for citrus growers.
Fried ran into trouble during her campaign because her accounts at several banks were shut down after she took donations from doctors and companies involved in medical marijuana. She’ll almost definitely be able to do something about that: Agriculture Commissioner in Florida is also in charge of consumer protection, and appoints the chief overseer of the state’s banking industry.