November 19, 2018

Caldwell concedes, blames Broward’s ‘abject failures’ for loss

Florida Republicans(2)

Florida's last statewide race to be called is over.

After grueling machine and manual recounts for the razor-thin race, Nicole "Nikki" Fried emerged victorious in the contest to replace term-limited Adam Putnam by just 6,753 votes — a margin of .08 percent.

Her opponent, state Rep. Matt Caldwell conceded in a letter to voters and a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner Monday afternoon. 

Caldwell was ahead of Fried by about half of one percent on election night, which triggered a state law requiring two recounts: one by machine, one by hand. 

He writes that his loss was a result of the "abject failures" in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, and that he would not pursue further legal action. 

Caldwell filed a lawsuit in Broward County earlier last week, asking the court to determine if Brenda Snipes, the Broward County supervisor of elections, “illegally included ballots after polls closed” Nov. 6. His campaign also filed a public-records request for vote counts and emails among Snipes, her team, and any third parties regarding ballot-counting.

Snipes misplaced more than 2,000 ballots and Palm Beach County's supervisor, Susan Bucher, said technical problems and understaffing meant their recount may not be finished until Christmas. Snipes' staff missed the state deadline to turn in machine recount numbers, and Bucher's never submitted them at all. 

On Saturday, Caldwell filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in Broward to mandate the county to submit machine recount results to the state, which would give Republicans a net increase.

That petition was denied, according to Broward County attorney Andrew Meyers.

"It has become clear that we may never gain an understanding of what transpired in the hours and days after polls closed, despite the exhaustive efforts of my legal team to get to the truth," Caldwell said. 

Caldwell, an eight-year veteran of the House, said he is proud of his time in the public eye and has offered to assist Fried in any way he can. 

"I hope to see Florida continue to prosper and pursue the proper balance between all of the things that make this state great."

In a separate letter addressed to Detzner, Caldwell wrote that supervisors across the state failed to act "fairly and competently," ultimately undermining voters' confidence in the process.

Caldwell laid out a long list of errors and failures that he said "plagued the vote counting process," including problems with logic and accuracy tests, improper commingling of provisional ballots in Broward County and the 2,000-vote discrepancy between first and second unofficial results reported by Broward County.  

"We cannot afford to have another election that produces similar delays, irregularities and questions over the validity of the election system," he wrote. "Let’s get in front of this problem now so we can be the model for fair, free and open elections, instead of the target of national criticism and derision."

Cabinet officers and new members will be sworn in Tuesday during the Legislature's organizational session. 

November 07, 2018

A manual recount for the agriculture commissioner race? Here's what you need to know



The super-tight race for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services could have a recount in its future.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, the Republican challenger, leads Fort Lauderdale attorney and lobbyist Nicole "Nikki" Fried by about 0.16 percentage points as of Wednesday morning. The threshold for a manual recount is 0.25 points.

The actual raw numbers Wednesday morning — with a trickle of absentee, military and overseas ballots possibly still to be tallied — put Caldwell ahead of Fried by just 12,521 votes, with just under 8 million votes cast.

"This is the closest race since we’ve seen here in Florida since Bush v. Gore in 2000—we’re heading into a recount,” Fried said in a statement. “We are going to ensure that every vote is counted, in a race this close, everyones' voices must be heard so the will of the people is upheld.”

Brian Swensen, spokesperson for the Caldwell campaign said, “We will be going through the state’s mandated recount and do not expect the results to change.”

For some perspective, Gov. Rick Scott was ahead of Sen. Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race by 34,435 votes Wednesday morning, and a recount seems imminent there.

Ballots go to automatic recount if 0.5 percent of the votes, or less, separate the candidates.

Under state law, the recount can only be triggered by the margin of votes, and in this race it has been met. There isn't an avenue for candidates to request a recount, but a losing candidate can submit a written request that a recount not be held.

Fried has not conceded the race.

The recount will likely take some time. Because the race is statewide, each canvassing board has to notify the Secretary of State the total combined number of overvote and undervote ballots in the county for the affected race. 

Counties have to report first unofficial returns to the state no later than noon on Saturday, according to the Division of Elections. By then, if a race is still within the recount margin, a machine recount will be ordered. Second unofficial returns will be due no later than 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15 if a machine recount is ordered. If any of the races are still within a 0.25 percent margin, a manual recount would then be ordered.

A poll conducted by St. Pete Polls during the last days of early voting showed Fried leading Caldwell in the race by less than one percentage point, well within the margin of error. Caldwell, however, had more than a half million in fundraising over Fried — $1.6 million to her $1 million.


October 30, 2018

As Election Day nears, Nikki Fried puts out TV ad calling for 'Something New'


Since the start of her campaign for agriculture commissioner, Nikki Fried has pushed the premise that she offers a fresh perspective the state needs — someone who is not a Tallahassee insider.

The Broward County attorney and Democratic candidate for commissioner of agriculture and consumer services has put out a new TV ad stressing that point exactly.

Released just a week before Election Day, the 30-second spot highlights the issues most prominent in the campaign for agriculture commissioner: green algae, red tide, background checks for concealed weapons permits and medical marijuana. 

The ad, paid for by the campaign, is narrated by Fried. She walks along a boardwalk, asking "What if instead of tolerating green algae and red tide — our leaders prioritized keeping Florida’s water blue?”

In the video, she sits down with group of children, emphasizing that she wants to keep them safe via background checks for concealed weapons permits.

She is shown walking alongside a patient, saying politicians need to "get out of the way" so that access to medical marijuana can be expanded. 

The ad ends with Fried saying it's "time for a change" and that Florida should "try something new." 

Her "fresh face" talking point has made appearances before in interviews and, more recently, in the first televised debate against opponent Rep. Matt Caldwell on CBS Miami last week.

She ended her time on the air by saying she "comes in with a new perspective, new ideas, a new approach.”

Caldwell, who had the final word, said experience holds more weight than fresh eyes. 

“It comes down to experience and leadership. Over the last eight years, I’ve dealt with the environment, with agriculture, with conservation. I’ve made them a priority and I’ll make them a priority as the commissioner of agriculture," he said then. 

October 23, 2018

Caldwell and NRA attack Fried two weeks before election day

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Just two weeks before the midterm election, Republican candidate for agriculture commissioner Rep. Matt Caldwell released an attack advertisement, calling out opponent Nikki Fried for being a lobbyist. 

The ad, paid for by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, calls her a "corporate hired gun," and highlight her role as a lobbyist for special interests.

"You pay taxes," the ad says. "They pay her for a piece of the pie."

The same day, National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer also sent out a statement, highlighting some of Fried's recent endorsements from Everytown For Gun Safety and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. 

"Fried opposes your second amendment right to self-defense," Hammer wrote. "If Fried gets elected, she will do everything she can to eliminate our gun rights. That is the plain truth."

The letter ends with an endorsement of Caldwell, who was endorsed by the NRA earlier this year and received an A+ rating. 

Fried responded to the letter in a statement Tuesday morning, calling Hammer's response a "fraudulent scare tactic." 

“I’m a gun owner, I support the second amendment and the right to self-defense," said Fried, who also has a concealed weapons permit. "I’m not running to take away anyone’s rights. These pathetic lies show just how desperate and worried the gun lobby has become."

Earlier this month, Fried sent a signed letter Hammer after a Tampa Bay Times report unveiled hundreds of emails exchanged between Hammer and officials within the agriculture commissioner's office, where Hammer gave staff direct orders. Fried emphasized that she would not be beholden to the NRA, and released an accompanying video to punctuate her point. 

In the email from Hammer, she writes that Fried never sent her a letter. Fried's campaign said they sent it to the email address listed for Hammer on the 2018 NRA/Unified Sportsmen of Florida questionnaire.

“The truth is, the NRA is terrified. They’re worried because their grip on our state government is threatened," Fried said Tuesday.


October 02, 2018

Newest Obama endorsements highlight Gillum, snub downballot candidates



Former President Barack Obama had Twitter abuzz Monday as he rolled out dozens of endorsements in key state and federal races nationwide. 

Obama endorsed Andrew Gillum in the high-profile governor's race, emphasizing the importance Democrats are 

In Florida, Obama also endorsed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, congressional candidates Stephanie Murphy, Chris Hunter, Nancy Soderberg and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Florida Senate candidates Janet Cruz, Annette Taddeo and David Perez, and Florida House candidates Nick Duran, Fentrice Driskell and Javier Fernandez. 

Missing from the list? Democratic candidates for all three non-gubernatorial cabinet offices -- Nicole "Nikki" Fried for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Jeremy Ring for Chief Financial Officer and Sean Shaw for Attorney General. 

"The unfortunate reality is that our race likely isn't on his radar," said Anthony Pardal, a spokesman for the Jeremy Ring campaign.

Shaw's campaign said any Democratic campaign would love to have the president's endorsement, but they are hopeful Obama will make an announcement ahead of election day in November. 

Fried's campaign declined to comment. 

Kevin Donohoe, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party said it appears that Obama is focusing more on the gubernatorial and legislative seats, not the downballot statewide positions. 

He's right. In the latest round of endorsements, Obama only picked two state treasurers (Colorado and Ohio), one secretary of state (Nevada) and one attorney general (also Nevada).

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Lujan Ray told the Miami Herald Monday that he expects a third round or even a fourth round of endorsements from the former president.

“I know they are always strategic in their thinking with rolling out endorsements," he said then. 

Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama's office, said Obama specifically focused on endorsing candidates in close races where his support would make a meaningful difference, in races with redistricting priorities and those who are alumni of Obama campaigns and adminstration. 

Hill said it's possible Obama will endorse additional individual candidates between now and Nov. 6.


October 01, 2018

Nikki Fried distances herself from NRA in new video, letter

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Nicole "Nikki" Fried, the Democratic candidate for the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, sent a clear message to the National Rifle Association Monday morning: “I won’t be beholden to you.”

The message comes in the form of a signed letter to NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. Fried says the letter was prompted by a Tampa Bay Times report that revealed emails between Hammer and officials within the agriculture commissioner’s office.

According to a Times review of hundreds of Hammer’s emails with the department, Hammer sent messages to senior officials within the department with complaints and demands at all hours of the day — including weekends and holidays.

The messages use colorful and forceful language, and suggest Hammer is rarely told “no.”

Hammer told the Times that the department appreciates her brutal honesty, and respond quickly to her because of it.

The New Yorker did a profile of Hammer in March, detailing how she pushed contentious gun laws like “stand your ground” through the legislature.

In 2014, Hammer had a hand in deciding which counties would participate in a partnership with county tax collectors to accept concealed weapons applications. The next year, Hammer saw posters forbidding cameras, cell phones and “carrying of unlawful weapons.” She demanded the last item be removed, and she was sent a new version of the poster two weeks later.

Five years ago, the department was accused of being run by the NRA after an ex-employee alleged she was told she “worked for the NRA.” The conversation came about after she tried to draw attention to problems with the gun licensing program.

The director who gave the ex-employee such a direction was Grea Bevis, who has run the concealed weapon’s program for the last eight years and infamously mishandled background checks on applications last year.

The department settled with the employee for $30,000

“Employees of the Department will work for the people of Florida,” Fried wrote in the letter. “Neither the Department, nor its employees will carry out the interests of the NRA, or any outside group that seeks to unduly influence the rules that apply to them.”

Fried, a gun owner herself, emphasizes that her stance is non-partisan.

“For the past eight years the NRA has run Florida’s Department of Agriculture,” she writes. “That ends on November 6.”

Accompanying the letter is a video of Fried, stating her views directly to the camera.


In the video, Fried points out that her opponent, Fort Myers Rep. Matt Caldwell, is endorsed and given an “A-plus” rating by the NRA. She also references Caldwell’s contentious vote against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

“Tallahassee politicians have forgotten who they work for,” she says. “This year, that’s going to change.”

September 26, 2018

Agriculture commissioner candidates will debate in October



Candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services have agreed to a debate on Sunday, Oct. 21.

Republican candidate Rep. Matt Caldwell and Democratic candidate, Fort Lauderdale attorney and lobbyist Nikki Fried, will appear in Miami for the live debate, which will be hosted by CBS4 reporter Jim Defede. 

The debate will be aired on WFOR/CBSMiami. For those outside of South Florida, the debate will be streamed live on and on the station's flagship Twitter and Facebook accounts. The debate begins at 8 a.m. and will last about 30 minutes, DeFede said. 

Caldwell challenged Fried to debate in a letter sent last Friday — but Fried's campaign contended they've already offered dates to debate that the Caldwell campaign declined.

Fried's campaign spokesman Max Flugrath said Friday that the Democratic candidate had already offered dates to debate that had been rejected: “Nikki Fried stands ready to debate the issues and in the past week alone, agreed to two dates on which to do just that—yet on both, the Caldwell campaign declined any availability."

Caldwell spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez said their campaign had not previously discussed debate dates with the Fried camp before Friday's letter was sent out.

"We're thrilled that the Fried team has agreed to our debate challenge," she said Friday. "It's important to Florida voters."

September 11, 2018

Florida AFL-CIO endorses Nikki Fried in agriculture commissioner race



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






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



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.