February 13, 2019

Nikki Fried taps Gwen Graham's husband, a cop-turned-attorney, to oversee Division of Licensing

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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced Wednesday that Stephen Hurm, a former police officer and attorney, will serve as the next Director of the Division of Licensing. 

Hurm, a police officer-turned-lawyer who is married to former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham, will oversee the concealed weapons permitting and licensing program.

“One of my top priorities is to adequately screen applicants for concealed weapons permits and correct the previous administration’s serious failures in oversight,” Fried said in a statement Wednesday. “Stephen’s experience implementing successful risk management strategies makes him the careful, competent, and qualified leader the Division needs as we move forward to remedy the past failures.”

Grea Bevis, the former Director of the Division of Licensing, resigned effective January 11. A 2013 lawsuit from a former supervisor in former Commissioner Adam Putnam's department alleged Bevis and another supervisor told her she "worked for the NRA" and pointed to "gross misconduct."

The lawsuit came about after a Tampa Bay Times report found that Putnam's office revoked 291 concealed weapons permits from people who should have been disqualified after an employee failed to review the results of a national background check for more than a year.

Hurm will serve under Miami attorney and one-time congressional candidate Mary Barzee Flores, a gun control advocate and vocal critic of the National Rifle Association.

"When someone applies for a concealed weapons permit in our state, we will ensure they receive the full and complete background check required by law — anything less is a disservice to public safety and a failure to uphold our responsibility to the people of Florida," he said in a statement Wednesday. "I’m appreciative of the opportunity to serve the state I love and to do my part to keep our communities safe."

Hurm, Graham's husband since 2010, is general counsel for the Leon County Sheriff's Office. He's also the director of the Policing Research & Policy Institute at Florida State University. 

Fried also announced Jordan Anderson, a voter outreach advocate, as the Assistant Director. Anderson worked on Gwen Graham’s 2014 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives.

January 18, 2019

Nikki Fried adds LGBTQ protections to department workplace policy

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After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an anti-discrimination order for state employees that excluded protections for the LGBTQ community, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried issued a revised discrimination policy for state employees in her department.

The revisions add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of workplace protections for the Department's 4,000 employees. Florida civil rights laws don't explicitly protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.

In a statement Friday, Fried said the revision to her Department's policy is "long overdue" and that her fellow Cabinet members should follow suit.  

"We are pledging today that our Department is committed to an inclusive culture of equality, in which every employee is hired, promoted, and respected on the basis of their merit," she said. "This is a common-sense, long-overdue measure that the majority of Fortune 500 companies have implemented, and the majority of Floridians agree with."

When asked about the exclusion of the LGBTQ community at a press conference Thursday, DeSantis said he was simply continuing the anti-discrimination policy that came before him under Gov. Rick Scott. 

"My workplace policy is really just one sentence: we hire based on merit." he said. 

January 14, 2019

Nikki Fried taps Miami Democrat Barzee Flores for Deputy Commissioner

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Miami attorney and one-time congressional candidate Mary Barzee Flores was tapped by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried Monday to serve as the Department’s Deputy Commissioner for Consumer Affairs.

Barzee Flores, a gun control advocate and critic of the National Rifle Association, will oversee the consumer services aspects of the Department, including the concealed weapons permitting and licensing program.

“I’m honored to join an administration focused on protecting consumer rights and the interests, safety, and security of all Floridians,” Barzee Flores said in a statement Monday.

Grea Bevis, the current Director of the Division of Licensing, resigned effective January 11. A 2013 lawsuit from a former supervisor in former Commissioner Adam Putnam's department alleged Bevis and another supervisor told her she "worked for the NRA" and pointed to "gross misconduct.

The lawsuit came about after a Tampa Bay Times report found that Putnam's office revoked 291 concealed weapons permits from people who should have been disqualified after an employee failed to review the results of a national background check for more than a year.

“Mary’s extensive experience with consumer protection issues, as both an attorney and a judge, make her a perfect fit as we strengthen our Department’s consumer services and protect Florida taxpayers,” Fried said Monday.

Barzee Flores grew up in Little Havana, attended Miami-Dade schools and graduated from Coral Gables High School. She went on to study music at the University of Miami, where a mentor convinced her to pursue a law degree. She attended law school at UM, and then went on to work as an attorney in private practice. Shortly after, she joined the federal Office of the Public Defender in Miami, where she served for 12 years.

In 2002, Barzee Flores ran for an open seat for circuit court judge and won after her opponent dropped out to run for the House. In 2011 she left the bench for private practice with Miami law firm Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff and Sitterson. In 2016, she was nominated by President Barack Obama to be a district court judge in the Southern District of Florida, but Sen. Marco Rubio blocked the nomination, accusing her of not disclosing support from the ACLU and Emily’s List, an abortion rights group.

This past election cycle, Flores ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Rubio ally U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in congressional district 25, which includes most of northwestern Miami-Dade and extends across the Everglades.

In her campaign, Barzee Flores said among other things that she was “100 percent committed to taking on the NRA.” She supports universal background checks and the reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban. Her stance on gun control drew donations and volunteers from groups like Moms Demand Action, a gun-control advocacy group formed in 2012 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

December 21, 2018

Fried says Florida jobs, revenue will benefit from Farm Bill's hemp provision

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President Donald Trump signed into law Thursday an $867 billion farm bill which, among other things, classifies hemp as an agricultural commodity and takes it off the federal controlled substances list.

Nicole "Nikki" Fried, agriculture commissioner-elect, said she was “elated” when she heard the bill passed.

Hemp, a form of the cannabis plant, contains only trace amounts of THC — the naturally occurring component in marijuana that produces a high — and uses less water and fertilizer to grow. States like Kentucky have embraced hemp as a way to replace failing tobacco farms and falling crop prices.

“Lifting the needless ban on hemp presents an incredible opportunity for our farmers and Florida as a whole," said Fried,  a marijuana lobbyist and South Florida attorney who made a name for herself on a weed-heavy campaign platform. "I look forward to ensuring we take the necessary steps so Florida is ready to become a national leader on hemp.

Hemp growing is already being studied in Florida, thanks to legislation that authorized the Department of Agriculture to issue hemp field study permits through Florida A&M and the University of Florida. 

UF’s two-year program is housed on three sites across the state, where researchers are studying the risk of hemp plants becoming invasive threats as well as identifying hemp varieties suitable for Florida’s various environments. Right now, researchers are preparing the land and necessary approvals for planting at the research locations in the spring. They are still hiring research personnel, ordering seed, applying for planting permits and working to get additional sponsorship.

Since the new farm bill will allow hemp production beyond the university setting, Fried’s campaign promise to expand industrial hemp can hold true

"This is an alternative crop which will give Florida’s agriculture community the tools they need to be competitive and successful," Fried said. "It has the potential to become a multi-billion dollar industry for our state, which could drive job growth with an open market and account for a strong new source of revenue." 

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

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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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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.