September 11, 2018

Florida AFL-CIO endorses Nikki Fried in agriculture commissioner race

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@samanthajgross

One of the state's largest coalition of labor unions has endorsed Democrat Nicole 'Nikki' Fried in her run for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

In a statement Tuesday morning, Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams said Fried would bring a "bold and innovative approach" that will "put the needs and rights of consumers first."

He said Fried is the commissioner "Florida workers deserve."

As one of 50 statewide federations of the national AFL-CIO, the Florida AFL-CIO represents 500 different labor unions including construction workers, health care professionals, teachers, agricultural workers, hotel and restaurant employees, transportation workers, firefighters, law enforcement and correctional officers.

"[Fried] will take on our state’s growing need for access to fresh and healthy foods in our local communities and stronger consumer protections from exploitative business practices," Williams said. 

The Florida AFL-CIO has also endorsed Tallahassee mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Democratic congressional candidates Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Lauren Baer.

In a statement Tuesday, Fried said she plans to work with members and families across the state on issues ranging from consumer protection to healthy food.

“We will work together to ensure Florida's working families have the strongest consumer protections against fraud and abuse," Fried said. "Together, we will build a state where we support our local farmers, where everyone has access to clean water and a fresh and healthy food supply and we have a thorough and complete concealed weapons permitting process to keep our communities safe."

The endorsement news comes just two months before the general election, where Fried will face off against her Republican opponent, state Rep. Matt Caldwell. 

Fried has also snagged endorsements from the Florida State Council of Machinists Union and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU Florida). 

Photo: Nikki Fried campaign

September 10, 2018

In wake of bank account closures, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist joins Nikki Fried in call for marijuana policy reform

 

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@samanthajgross

After her ties to the medical marijuana industry led to two different banks shutting down her campaign account, Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner is calling for change. 

Nicole "Nikki" Fried teamed up with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist Monday morning in a call for reform of federal medical marijuana policy. Fried, a Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer, is one of the state’s most prominent lobbyists for expanding access to medical marijuana. 

During a call Monday morning, Fried and Crist used the account closures to underscore their stance on protecting state programs from federal interference.

Fried’s official campaign account was terminated twice in the past few weeks -- once by Wells Fargo and once by BB&T.

Both banks maintain that federal policy -- which prohibits the use, sale and possession of all forms of cannabis -- trumps state law when it comes to marijuana-related contributions in bank accounts.

Fried said that the account closures, which both happened in a span of three weeks just two months before election day, put her campaign in "an extremely tough position."

"This unnecessary action directly underscores the dire need for marijuana policy reform on the federal level," she said. "[Bank account closures] happen in the medical marijuana businesses daily." 

A review of Fried’s campaign finances shows a $1,000 donation from Savara Hastings,  executive director of the Florida-based American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association and $3,000 from Jake Bergman, CEO and founder of Atlanta-based Surterra Holdings LLC, which intends to become a national medical marijuana business.

Fried said that since her account closures made national news last week, her campaign has been approached by other state-chartered credit institutions who have "offered an olive branch." 

"The silver lining is that it became a national issue," she said. 

In 2016, Fried played a crucial role in the passing of HB 307, a bill relating to the use of medical marijuana for those with terminal illness. She said that she is being targeted by banks because of her role as a vocal advocate for medical marijuana.

Crist said that what happened to Fried is a reminder of conflicts that have yet to be resolved between the state and federal laws. 

In June, Crist sponsored the "STATES Act," a bipartisan piece of legislation that addresses such conflicts between federal law and law in states where medical marijuana is legal. The bill was supported by 95 members of Congress. 

"What has happened to Nikki is an unfortunate reminder of the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws, highlighting an urgent need for action," he said. "The STATES Act gives each state the best approach to marijuana policy without fear of federal interference." 

If she wins in November, Fried said she would go to Washington, D.C. to lobby on behalf of Florida citizens. She also has goals to work with the Chief Financial Officer's office to create policy that would protect banks and create a state bank that could house money from medical marijuana companies and patients in one location. 

"We have over-regulation of medical marijuana in our state, and under-regulation of weapons," she said. "I believe Tallahassee is broken and our priorities need to be realigned."

Fried is running against North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell, an eight-year veteran of the Florida House.

Photo: Nikki Fried campaign 

August 28, 2018

Parkland parent says Wells Fargo’s conduct on guns and marijuana is dishonest

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@alextdaugherty

Fred Guttenberg wasn’t happy with Wells Fargo’s decision to keep banking with the gun industry after the Parkland shooting, in which his daughter Jaime was one of the 17 people killed, but he was willing to continue talking when the bank’s CEO told him they wanted to remain politically neutral.

Then came the bank’s decision to shut down Florida Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried’s campaign account due to the financial support she received from the medical marijuana industry.

Guttenberg, angrier still with what he perceived as the bank’s hypocritical stance, emailed Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan asking him to reconsider their gun policy now that they waded into marijuana politics. 

He didn’t get a response.

And the final straw came Monday night, when CNN reported that Bloomberg News reassigned a reporter who covered Wells Fargo after the banking giant complained about the reporter’s coverage of Wells Fargo’s ties to the gun industry.

“I think people ought to move their accounts. We’ve seen what Wells Fargo will do to consumers in the past and now we see what they do to those who disagree with them,” Guttenberg said in an interview. “I could have gone public multiple times. When I read today that they’re actually seeking to punish people for covering their bad behavior when it comes to guns, now I’m going to go public because I’m angry.”

Guttenberg, a vocal proponent of increased gun control measures who is working to elect lawmakers who agree with him on the issue, said the Wells Fargo CEO’s behavior is different than others he’s confronted in public, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“Senator Rubio, he and I have had many private conversations because maybe one day we’ll try to come together,” Guttenberg said. “It became a problem to me when it became clear [Wells Fargo was] lying. I went public when they actually took action against someone.”

Read more here.

June 12, 2018

Remember when Cabinet meetings used to focus on agency oversight?

Florida Cabinet KeelerThe state agency in charge of regulating taxation in Florida has four equal bosses — Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected members of the Cabinet — but in the past two years, in public meetings and correspondence, they have asked few questions and have given the agency scant public scrutiny.

The agency's director, Leon Biegalski, was the governor's choice to lead the Department of Revenue when he was elevated from deputy secretary at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in April 2016. Since then, the governor has canceled DOR's regular appearance in 9 of 19 before the Cabinet meetings.

When Biegalski appears before the Cabinet on Wednesday, it will be the first time this year. Will they ask any questions?

Judging from the transcripts of the previous meetings, that's not likely. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam asked only two questions in Biegalski's 10 appearance before them — and both came from Putnam. Story here. 

Until Scott's tenure, the Florida Cabinet had a tradition of meeting every other week. 

Florida, unlike most other states, has a unique power-sharing relationship between its governor and the Cabinet members. They share oversight and hiring authority of the directors of the departments of revenue, law enforcement, highway safety, the division of bond finance and the state board of administration.But the shared role also underscores the structural weakness of Florida's governor in controlling the shared agencies and Scott has ratcheted down the amount of substantial dialogue that takes place during Cabinet meetings.

In the last seven years, Cabinet sessions have been more ceremonial and less substantive. More time is devoted to award ceremonies than under previous governors, and a regular feature is Bondi’s promotion of offering dogs for adoption.

Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, sets the calendar and has convened only three Cabinet meetings this year. He scheduled eight meetings for the entire year, the fewest in recent memory, and canceled the meeting in May.

When the Cabinet had both Democrats and Republicans on it, there were more questions of agency heads in the public forum than there have been under Scott.

At a Nov. 20, 2008, Cabinet meeting, as former Revenue Director Lisa Echeverri Vickers presented her legislative budget request and annual performance report, former CFO Alex Sink grilled her about enforcement of tax revenue collection. Vickers acknowledged that she is asking for more auditors to help them collect the unpaid taxes.

Sink, a former banker and a Democrat, then asked about tax collections on short sales, a policy based on the rule because the Legislature failed to pass a statute, and the agency's application of "a glitch in the depreciation laws" that had left many businesses vulnerable.

The discussion provided an opportunity for the public to hear the agency's response to handling two important issues in an open forum.

Under Gov. Jeb Bush, former Revenue Director admitted during his annual performance review on Sept. 21, 2004, that the measures related to review of property appraisers "were fairly easy to achieve."

"You're an honest man, Zingale,'' Bush replied.

"Well, we want to do better than that,'' Zingale responded.

August 15, 2016

Four people control who is disenfranchised in Florida; three say it's time for reform

Restrictions on felons voting is one of the two ways Florida legally disenfranchises voters.

One way, the write-in law, which allows a write-in candidate to close a primary to all voters, is intended to undercut the constitutional provision that allows all voters to vote in a primary election.

The other is the law that permanently requires felons who have completed their sentences to apply and petition for their voting rights to be restored. But unlike the write-in laws, which the Florida Legislature can revise to make less restrictive, the laws regulating ex-felons voting is controlled by the governor and Cabinet and the state Constitution. Any change in the rules requires the governor to be on the prevailing side.

In interviews with the Herald/Times, everyone but Gov. Rick Scott said they are open to changes in the system they installed five years ago.

“If someone does an analysis, we have been granting civil rights to those who were waiting who would have automatically had their rights restored [under the previous system] and it’s probably time for us to revisit,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

“Having had some time and experience on the Clemency Board, I’ve come to believe that there are opportunities for improvement,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she was open to some reforms before an application may begin.

"I wouldn't mind reevaluating the time frame of how long we wait,'' she said. "I would reconsider reevaluating the time frame to three years." But she does not support automatic restoration for non-violent felons.

“Serving your time meant that you lost your rights,” she said. “If you’re going to have your rights restored, I want you to ask for them.”

Scott, however, said through a spokesperson he does not support any changes. 

Florida leads the nation in the number of felons who have served their time who are disenfranchised with an estimated 1.5 million Floridians barred from voting. According to the Sentencing Project, Florida holds nearly one-fourth of all disenfranchised former felons in the nation. Read more on that here. 

The practice is a vestige of post Civil War white supremacy and now disenfranchises more whites than blacks. There once was a time when more blacks were registered to vote in Florida than whites. Our story on the history of disenfranchising black voters here.



March 04, 2015

Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea

As the aides to Gov. Rick Scott and his colleagues on the Cabinet revived the debate today over crafting a new policy about how to evaluate the performance of agency heads who report to them in the wake of the governor’s botched firing of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, some history:

If they had asked their predecessors, they would have learned that the practice had been in place for years and, on occasion used by this governor and Cabinet. 

Records and transcripts of Cabinet meetings reviewed by the Herald/Times show that the governor and Cabinet had a record of requiring a “performance review” of officials who reported to them.

The practice continued for the first year Scott and the three Cabinet officials came to office but then waned. DOR Secretary Lisa Echeverri did not have one in 2012 and her replacement, Marshall Stranburg, has never had one.

Continue reading "Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea" »

January 28, 2015

Harsh new criticism leveled at Gov. Rick Scott over FDLE firing

Top state officials in both political parties leveled harsh new criticism at Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday for his decision to oust the longtime Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner absent public discussion with the three Cabinet members who also oversee the agency.

In his strongest criticism yet, Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said "we were misled" about Scott's true intentions to orchestrate Gerald Bailey's removal after a glowing three-decade FDLE career.

When asked whether he believed Scott's version of the truth or Bailey's, Putnam paused and did not give a direct answer.

"Jerry Bailey's a fine man. He served our state very well. The way he was treated at the end of his distinguished career was shabby," Putnam said.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accused Scott of violating the Florida Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold, by not giving the Cabinet members any voice in the replacement of the FDLE commissioner.

"Hubris appears to be the organizing principle of our executive branch," Joyner said.

Developing story here.

October 01, 2014

New Putnam ad takes aim at Washington

With just five weeks until Election Day, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's re-election campaign is kicking into high gear.

The former U.S. congressman has a new TV spot that takes aim at Washington.

"Every day, Washington finds new ways to meddle with our dreams," he says. "And every day, as commissioner, I'm making sure they don't."

Putnam also talks about the need for better schools and technology so Florida's students can "compete with the world and win." That's somewhat outside of his duties as agriculture commissioner, though the department runs some school-based education programs.

The incumbent has raised $2.7 million for his campaign, state elections records show.

His Democratic challenger, longtime U.S. Department of Agriculture employee and environmentalist Thad Hamilton, has collected about $20,300.

Putnam's large haul may be a sign that he is looking to the future. He is already considered a strong candidate in the 2018 governor's race.

 

April 23, 2012

Florida Senate-race drama exposes GOP jitters

Jeff Atwater’s just-ended flirtation with a U.S. Senate bid speaks volumes about the nervousness of Florida Republicans these days.

The GOP’s best hope, Congressman Connie Mack, hasn’t been running the type of campaign many Republicans want to unseat a beatable Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Some wanted Atwater, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, to run. Others approached House Speaker Dean Cannon, who declined as did a wealthy no-name.

But the drama is about more than just Mack or the Senate race.

It’s about a Republican Party grappling with ebbing fortunes compared to the red-wave of an election year in 2010. It’s about a movement nagged by a sense of perpetual disappointment that stretches to the top of the ticket.

And it’s about the potentially colliding political agendas of Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Column here

March 08, 2011

What they're saying about Gov. Rick Scott's speech

House Speaker Dean Cannon: "I share Governor Scott’s commitment to making the tough policy decisions that will benefit our state in the long-term, rather than settling for a knee-jerk Washington approach that tries to put off short-term problems regardless of negative long-term consequences. I look forward to working with the Governor on the many issues for which he has advocated which require legislative approval or oversight. I am confident that we can work together to refine the best ideas that come from each chamber and the Governor’s Office and am very encouraged by the progress we have already made."

Senate President Mike Haridopolos: "I congratulate Governor Scott for laying out a vision for Florida that will result in the economic turnaround we so badly need in our state. The message of getting to work that propelled him to the Governor’s office has carried forward in his role as Florida’s chief executive. The Governor’s vision for Florida is bold and decisive.  The Florida Senate is prepared to work with him to accomplish the goals he discussed in his State of the State address. During the next 60 days, his agenda will get a thorough review in the Senate. We all share the same goal – getting Florida back to work."

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith: "Tonight, Governor Rick Scott’s words trying to defend his job destroying agenda rang hollow to Floridians hurting during the hard economic times. Since he took office, Floridians have seen that Rick Scott only cares about imposing his rigid and extreme philosophy on our state, rather than working to implement common sense solutions for Florida. Whether he is killing high speed rail, proposing his spending plan that would lay off 20,000 teachers, or putting communities at risk by ending critical law enforcement tools to stop pill-mills, Rick Scott’s agenda is doing real harm to our state."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam: “I share the Governor’s vision to reduce unemployment and grow our economy by creating jobs.  I look forward to working with the Governor, the members of the Cabinet and the Legislature to accomplish this goal. As Commissioner of Agriculture, I’m focused on fostering an environment in which businesses can grow and thrive in Florida. I believe we should invest in higher education, research and grants that will enable Floridians to create, innovate and, ultimately, generate more jobs across our great state."

Florida Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Mark Wilson: "It’s refreshing to have a Governor who says the same things after the election as he did before the election. Governor Scott understands that to grow the private sector, we must shrink the government sector. Tonight, Governor Scott reinforced his pledge to improve education, lower taxes on entrepreneurs, and to pass legal reform. Florida is keeping the American dream alive, and Governor Scott has the bold vision and the uncommon courage to stay strong and help Florida lead the nation back to prosperity."

House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera: “I, like Governor Scott, believe that Florida should not rely on handouts from the federal government or participate in the reckless spending practices that have become so commonplace in Washington D.C. The governor highlighted the need for a fiscally responsible government that eliminates wasteful spending, curbs the growth of entitlement programs, and restores jobs to Floridians.  Although addressing these difficult issues may not be easy, it is necessary to ensure the future economic prosperity of our state and our state’s citizens. I look forward to working with him this Session."