As the only Democrat currently holding a statewide office, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried said she assumes a particular responsibility to make sure her party’s concerns are represented in Tallahassee.
So much so that she considers herself “the head of the party” in Florida.
During an appearance with the Tampa Tiger Bay Club on Friday, Fried said she takes “very seriously” her role as the “voice” of the Democratic Party while stressing her desire to “put aside partisan politics.”
“When I decided to run for Commissioner of Agriculture, I did not envision being the only one,” Fried said. “I envisioned Sen. (Bill) Nelson making it past the finish line; I imagined the rest of the ticket with me. I did not go into the 2018 election expecting to be the only one.
"I do see myself as the head of the party, as our state bearer of the Democratic Party. As I've also said, as a member of the Cabinet, it's state before party. And we need to see more of that in D.C., because that is the only way that anything is going to get accomplished, is we push aside the partisan politics and work on policy."
Fried, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale who defeated North Fort Myers Republican Matt Caldwell in the November election, addressed several issues during her appearance. But it was a question on abortion that drew her most impassioned response.
Fried reiterated her campaign stance that similar abortion bills that have been passed across the country are “not the direction of our state.”
"I have made it very clear that if we start working on abortion bills and we start seeing them get through the legislature, that I will personally fund buses of women and supporters of women's rights up to Tallahassee, because this is something that we're seeing this wave across the country -- especially in the Southeast,” Fried said. “Florida is diverse -- both on generational, on economics, on backgrounds -- and not being able to provide this right to women takes us back to years past."
Fried acknowledged she is “respectful” in dealing with her Republican peers in Tallahassee while also holding strong to her convictions as the lone Democrat serving on the Florida Cabinet.
“I received a lot of support in my election from (independents) and Republicans so the issues I talked about were nonpartisan,” Fried said. “So I want to respect the voter also. So every day I have to make a decision whether to go all in. It’s definitely a balancing act.
“I do try to stay in my lane, but lucky for me, the commissioner of agriculture, the lane is very wide. There’s a lot of things that fall underneath my responsibility, so I’m very careful to stay in it. But like I said, you start passing bills that are going to infringe on people’s rights, I’m going to be very vocal.”
She addressed some of those responsibilities Friday, including:
Medical marijuana: “Medical Marijuana is actually overseen by the Department of Health. So we are going to be a thorn in their side every step along the way because I just found out during the (election) that (my mother) had cancer and was having to have undergo emergency surgery, and go through chemo and radiation afterward. So this is personal to me too, to make sure that patients not only have access, but affordable access to medical marijuana.”
Gas skimmers: "This year alone, we have found over 300 skimmers across the state of Florida. Each skimmer is valued at $1 million of fraud on the consumer. And if my picture on a gas station pump is creating conversations like this, to make sure that consumers understand that there is somebody accountable to them.”