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 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



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.

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.

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