‘Democracy is on the ballot’: Nikki Fried focuses on abortion rights to become Governor of Florida | Florida News | Tampa

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Photo via NikkiFried/Twitter

Nikki Fried (right) at an event in June calling for common sense gun laws.

Over the past five years, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has gone from being a medical marijuana lobbyist to being a flag bearer for the Florida Democratic Party to being an underdog in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary.

Selling herself to voters as ‘something new’ as she takes on U.S. Representative Charlie Crist in the primary, Fried battled with Republicans during her sole term as agriculture commissioner and has come under fire at times. by progressives.

But lately, as she bids to win the primary to face Gov. Ron DeSantis in November, Fried has focused on women’s rights after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the landmark ruling on the abortion Roe v. Wade.

“We’ve seen in some areas a 25-point swing from where we were to where we are today, because that’s one of those decisions that’s a litmus test,” Fried said this week.

When she officially entered the gubernatorial race just over 14 months ago, Fried, 44, aimed to counter two decades of Republican leadership in Tallahassee that she says has stalled ” health care, wages, education, justice, environment, marijuana and equal opportunity.

Trailing in fundraising and most polls, Fried maintains she’s the moderate in the Democratic primary with Crist, who has decades of recognition as a former Republican governor, education commissioner and prosecutor. general. Crist was elected governor in 2006 as a Republican before becoming an independent and then a Democrat.

While she hit out at Crist on her past actions as a Republican, particularly those regarding abortion, Fried acknowledged that her campaign had “significantly” refocused on women’s rights after the US Supreme Court ruling. United States on abortion in June in a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. Organization..

“Everything we fought for for over 50 years is at stake,” Fried said Sunday in Tallahassee after an abortion rights rally. “Democracy is on the ballot, not just in November, but in August. Because let me be very clear. I’m the only person in this race who’s been pro-choice my whole life.

Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida, said Fried was wise to emphasize abortion and women’s rights issues.

“It’s a critical political issue,” Jewett said. “And with the Dobbs decision, that may be the question that can help Democrats mobilize and energize their base and convert more independent, spirited voters and overcome the many obstacles that stand in their way — – DeSantis’ popularity and money and the two-year midterm election cycle with an unpopular Democratic president.

But Jewett said the contest would likely come down to who Democratic voters think has a better chance of defeating DeSantis in November.

“I think the eligibility and name recognition helps Charlie and many Democrats hope he can repeat Biden’s win – a non-threatening, more middle-of-the-road Democrat rather than a progressive wing fire-eater.” , said Jewett.

Fried, a Miami native, sees himself as holding the middle ground in the primary and general elections and talks about the need for everyone to find ways to work together on issues.

For his campaign colors, Fried’s signs and many t-shirts are bathed in battlefield purple rather than Democrat blue, while campaign signs proclaim “Roe the Vote.”

“My mom is a Democrat. My dad is a die-hard Republican,” Fried said on the campaign trail. “They live different lives, but they’re not enemies. And I’m where I am today thanks to the influence of both.

Fried’s parents divorced when she was 13, and she was primarily raised by her mother, a preschool teacher.

Fried went to the University of Florida, where she earned bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees, while cutting her political teeth as student body president.

After lobbying on medical marijuana and other issues, Fried entered the 2018 agriculture commissioner race after becoming frustrated with roadblocks from state health officials and lawmakers to funnel cannabis to Florida patients. Voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

Fried won a narrow victory in 2018 to become the only statewide Democrat elected. Often in conflict with DeSantis over the past four years, Fried has struggled to maintain a limited voice in the state cabinet.

Many Floridians might recognize Fried’s name from gas pumps, where it is affixed to Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspection stickers. A 2019 decision by Fried to include a photo of herself on the stickers was rebuked by Republican lawmakers, who demanded her office replace the stickers that had been affixed with her photo.

Fried has also come under scrutiny for needing to update financial disclosure forms due to previously unreported income and had to defend her past support for Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody, whom she knew since college, and for working on medical marijuana issues with controversial United States. Representative Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

“That doesn’t make us friends,” Fried said this month of working with Gaetz. “I don’t approve of who he is. What he says. And I certainly don’t approve of what he’s doing. But implementing the will of the people (on medical marijuana) is more important than partisan politics. Isn’t that what you want from a governor, someone who puts partisan politics aside and works for the good of all Floridians? »

As examples of his clashes with DeSantis, Fried called for a federal investigation into how his administration distributed COVID-19 vaccines and called his endorsement of a bill banning athletes “heartless.” transgender women to compete on high school girls and students. sports.

The Republican Party of Florida hit back by calling Fried a “lockdown lobbyist” who “tried to close Florida schools and tried to overturn Governor DeSantis’ executive order to get our kids back to class” during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.

As agriculture commissioner, Republicans have criticized his handling of the state’s concealed weapons licensing program, which his department administers. She touted the removal of the National Rifle Association’s influence from the program and the suspension of the weapons licenses of 35 Floridians who participated in the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol by supporters of the former President Donald Trump.

Still, the number of state-issued concealed weapons licenses increased 30% under Fried’s watch, from 1.95 million on Jan. 15, 2019, to 2.54 million. Additionally, she’s locked in a legal battle with the Biden administration over the federal government’s blocking medical marijuana patients from buying guns.

Some progressives and environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, say she could have done more for the environment, pointing to reports that changes she announced in 2019 and 2020 to deal with the impact of the The burning of the sugar cane fields mainly helped the sugar industry.

Fried said she’s “confident” in what her office has done on environmental issues, while acknowledging she’s limited in what she could get through the GOP-dominated Legislature as she pushes for it. styrofoam ban and for carbon sequestration programs.

“We have also made huge changes to our positions on agricultural water policy inside the office. We made sure to update the best management protocols,” Fried said. “We have a clean water initiative which we have taken forward and sent cases for the first time to DEP (the Department of Environmental Protection) for enforcement. We’re talkative on Piney Point (a former phosphate mill site in Manatee County). We made our voices heard on the roads to nowhere through our farming communities. We voted no on the plan in Miami to expand freeways when it would have interfered with the Everglades.