December 06, 2018

Nikki Fried names senior adviser, sister as inaugural committee co-chairs

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Incoming Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nicole "Nikki" Fried announced her inaugural committee, which will be co-chaired by her senior adviser, Ben Pollara and her sister, Jenni Shaffren. 

Shaffren said the role brings her “deja vu” to the sisters’ shared University of Florida days. Shaffren, who is four years Fried's junior year, took an active role in both helping her sister campaign for student body president, but also planned an elaborate ball in her honor.

"It was a formal dinner, a string quartet," she said. "This is another chance for me to let Nikki shine in a much bigger venue. It's just an honor to be a part of such a monumental, historic event."

Over the course of the campaign, Shaffren served as the “Palm Beach hub” for people who wanted campaign signs or literature. She even brought her 6-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter along to learn about the voting process.

"After all of my work I did on the campaign, she felt it was something I had worked hard toward," Shaffren said. 

Pollara, who was also the campaign manager of the successful 2016 ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana, said the committee is "a big burden of responsibility" to "put the best face on the Florida Democratic party," since Fried was the only Democrat elected to statewide office this year.

Pollara was also involved with planning three Democratic National Conventions as well as Barack Obama's inauguration in 2012.

Finance chairs for the committee are several longtime Democratic strategists and activists, notably including Sean Pittman — one of the top advisers on Andrew Gillum's failed campaign for governor.

The senior financial adviser to Fried’s campaign, Stephanie McClung, will serve as executive director of the committee.

Honorary co-chair seats include soon-to-be former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, state Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson, state House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee and the state's Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo.

 

November 30, 2018

Nikki Fried announces full transition team, job openings on new website

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At the end of election day in November, it appeared that Democrat Nicole "Nikki:" Fried had lost to Republican Matt Caldwell for the Florida Cabinet post of agriculture commissioner.

But after late vote tallies in Broward and other counties showed she was actually ahead, Fried claimed victory and started working on a transition.

The state division of elections had just ordered automatic machine recounts for three statewide races, including Fried’s, but she moved on anyway and announced her transition leadership. 

Her transition team, she said then, will be led by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who represented the large agriculture community of Martin County. Also on the team is U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and Fred Guttenberg, a gun-control activist whose daughter, Jaime, was murdered in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last February.

On Friday, Fried announced the rest of her team and unveiled a new transition website. The team will be working out of the Department of Agriculture in the state capitol.

“We have brought people together from all corners of our state and all walks of life to help build a Department that will respect the priority issues of the people and work hard to deliver results,” Fried said Friday. “From Democratic, Republican, and independent leaders, to leaders in Florida’s agriculture and environmental communities, public safety, energy, consumer protection, and marijuana industries—our transition team reflects the values of all Floridians.”

The team includes:

  • Former Senator Denise Grimsley, one-time agriculture commissioner candidate who served 14 years on the Agriculture committee and three years as Chairman.
  • State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a former assistant Attorney General and state Senator where he served as Chair of the Everglades Restoration Committee. 

  • Former Congressman Allen Boyd, who represented the Panhandle area from 1997 to 2011

  • Susanne Clemons, a fifth-generation Floridian from Highlands County who once served as the first female state chairman of the USDA State Farm Service Committee.

  • Darin Cook, co-founder and co-CEO of Infinite Energy, a Florida-based energy provider.

  • Former Sen. Rick Dantzler, who also served in the Florida House of Representatives and ran for Governor in 1998. Dantzler was appointed by President Obama in 2013 to serve as State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency. He works for an organization that funds research for the Florida citrus industry and is primarily involved in fighting citrus greening.

  • Sheriff Jerry Demings, the recently elected Mayor of Orange County.

  • Chris Hand, a Jacksonville-based attorney and former speechwriter and press secretary for former Florida Governor and then-U.S. Senator Bob Graham. 

  • Former Florida House Speaker Jon Mills, who helped draft the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative in 2014, the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative in 2016, and the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative in 2018.

  • Sam Poole, former director of the South Florida Water Management District.

  • Scheril Murray Powell, a Fort Lauderdale Agricultural and Cannabis Attorney based in Fort Lauderdale.

  • Former State Rep. Dean Saunders, who spearheaded significant Florida land conservation initiatives during his time in the Legislature.

The general counsel for the office will be Benedict Kuehne, a trial and appellate lawyer and election law specialist. He represented Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 recount trial and also represented Fried’s campaign in the recent recount.

The transition team staff include Eric Johnson as executive director, former campaign manager Shelby Scarpa as deputy executive director, Deborah Tannenbaum as senior advisor, Jordan Anderson as director of operations and former campaign spokesman Max Flugrath as communications director.


The team must also fill around two dozen jobs within the office's many departments, which are listed on her new website.

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

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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'

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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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@samanthajgross

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

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@samanthajgross

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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@samanthajgross

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

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@samanthajgross

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 CBSMiami.com 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

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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