As she continues to call Gov. DeSantis “a dictator and a zealot,” the former Agriculture Commissioner runs with plans to revitalize the party and fight for the state’s future.
She describes herself as “a bulldog” who won’t take no for an answer. “I’ve stood up my whole life for those who have needed a fighter,” she says. And, indeed, former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has proven to be someone who is not afraid to speak truth to power, calling Gov. Ron DeSantis a “dictator” and a “zealot.”
Now, days after a large cross-section of Florida Democratic Party executive committee members called for the former statewide elected leader to enter the race for the Florida Democratic Party Chair, Fried has announced her candidacy.
The life-long Democrat spoke with Floricua to share her views on the dangerous path she sees ahead for Florida, and to delineate her position moving forward.
‘Very Dangerous for People in Our State’
Which of the bills being pushed by Gov. DeSantis and the Florida GOP ahead of the March 7 legislative session concern you the most?
Right now, the two major ones that are giving me a lot of trepidation of where we are going to be in the future in our state are, first, permitless carry. [If the HB 543 passes] all 11,000 individuals who have been denied [from being allowed to conceal-carry a weapon] by the Department of Agriculture, including 34 individuals that I suspended who were involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection, would still have access to their concealed permits. Having to go through training courses in order to get your concealed weapons permit will be eliminated. So, this is very, very dangerous for the people of our state.
The second one is what is happening to higher education. [DeSantis] is already destroying grades K through 12. He’s pushing for a universal voucher program, wanting to take away AP classes, taking books off the shelves. He’s going after our higher education system.
As a current member of the University of Florida’s law board of trustees, what do you think this would mean for Florida’s higher education students?
We’re going to be producing individuals who can’t compete in a diverse workforce. Employers are not going to come and recruit from our universities and colleges. This is going to have a drastic impact on our graduates and their ability to get jobs, in the values of our own degrees. Those are two pieces of legislation that are going to put our state in the absolute wrong direction.
‘Everybody Else Is Suffering’
Many people have pointed out, including Democratic Minority Leader Lauren Book, that DeSantis is fighting “cultural wars,” such as his Stop W.O.K.E. Act and “Don’t Say Gay” law, to distract Floridians from the bigger issues facing them. What are those issues?
That’s an easy one. The unaffordability of our state. There was an article that came out this week that showed that Florida is the least affordable state in the nation. And this is under his watch.
If you are in the top one percent of our state, if you come down from New York and California with boatloads of money, you’re doing fine. Everybody else is suffering.
I spent some time with my mom who lives in Palm Beach County. She’s 71 years old, obviously on a fixed income, and she told me that her home insurance went up $1,000. That is happening all across our state. People are unable to afford their rent, people are unable to make a living wage. People who are servicing the tourist industry can’t afford to live here. This is a disaster and he’s not paying attention to it. He’s not helping the people. He is in fact doing just the opposite: not focusing his time and attention on what are actually the issues that are concerning the people of our state.
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What exactly has he done, or is doing, to allow Florida to become so unaffordable?
One, under his watch, insurance rates have escalated four times than when he first took office. Everybody was screaming when they started seeing the increases in rates. He’s done nothing. He’s taking power away from local governments who might be in a better position to see what is happening in the rental space and regulate. He’s directing money for the infrastructure [but] he’s not going into areas that potentially may need that job growth. Of course, particularly in Florida, if the local governments haven’t planned well enough on growth, then you in fact have a situation where the only people who are going to be able to come into these communities is at the top of the top of the market; they have cash and they squeeze the rest of the market down. But the biggest aspect is that for four straight years, he has gutted the affordable trust fund to build more affordable homes. And he boasts about the amount of money that’s sitting in our reserves right now. Thank you, Joe Biden, for all that money that’s coming down to the state of Florida that [DeSantis] is refusing to use in the appropriate manner and putting a lot of it back into reserves.
‘Not What a Democratic Leader Does’
Many people think that, even as talks about the “free state of Florida,” he’s taking away freedoms and rights. What do you make of that?
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I was the first person in March of 2020 to call him a dictator, because I saw it. As a member of the Florida cabinet, [I saw] what he was doing: taking away powers, taking away responsibilities from the legislature, from the judiciary, not following the Constitution. It was ‘his way or the highway.’ Teachers not being able to freely teach, books being banned, taking away a woman’s right to choose, taking away access to the ballot box, making it harder to get ballot initiatives, removing people from office. State attorneys, sheriffs, police chiefs, election superintendents, City and county commissioners, everybody is on the chopping block. In Ron’s mind, as long as he has some small opening to remove somebody, he’s going to do it, even though a court may tell him he doesn’t have authorization and he’s stripping away somebody’s freedom of speech. He’s [even] changing the protest laws inside of the Capitol! The whole reason that the First Amendment exists is so that the people can go and protest your elected officials. And he’s trying to stymie that debate by changing the ways people can come into the Capitol to protest. That is not what a democratic leader does.
What do you think of DeSantis going after individuals and corporations that defy his laws?
Anybody who crosses him, he’s going to come after, and that is so inappropriate for an elected official, and especially for somebody who wants to be president of the United States, the beacon of freedom and hope for the world. People need to understand that this guy is the most dangerous individual to our democracy, and we need to understand that we may disagree on policies, whether it’s a Democrat Republican, but can’t we all agree that democracy is worth protecting, and that anybody who threatens democracy needs to have no power in government in our country?
‘I Will Fight’
What changes do you hope to bring to the Democratic Party?
Everything from structural internal changes, how we organize on the ground, how we communicate externally, how we look at data, how we message. I’ve got a whole list of ideas and thoughts that I know can work. I’ve said to people ‘look, I can bring in all this money, and we can put all this money on the ground for voter registration and for and for engagement with voters. But at the end of the day, if our image is bad, no matter how much money you throw at it, you got to fix the image.’ If given the opportunity to lead the Democratic Party in the state of Florida, the people of our state will see somebody who is going to work 24 hours a day. I am a bulldog, and somebody who doesn’t take no for an answer very well. I will fight for the people of our state.