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Morning Conversation: Florida Ag. Commissioner Nikki Fried

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 11:01 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Three years ago, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was running her own lobbying firm in South Florida. Now, she’s the top Democrat in a state that has been led by a Republican governor since 1999, and the first woman to hold the position she has now

WCTV’s Michael Hudak sat down with Fried in the latest edition of the Morning Conversation. You can watch the full interview in the video player above and read a transcribed version of it below.

HUDAK: You are the first elected female agricultural commissioner in Florida’s history. You’ve navigated your way and defined your own path in what has been a male-dominated institution. For other women across the country, how did you do it? What advice would you give to them?

FRIED: There’s always going to be people out there who say ‘you can’t do it.’ There are always going to be people who put obstacles in your path. You gotta have the internal confidence and passion for what you’re doing. That’s the key ... Is really having passion. And then fighting for that passion. And I never stopped. You know, for all those people who thought I was absolutely insane... I was like, ‘I’m going to run for Commissioner of Agriculture.’ they were like ‘Wait a second. You are a 15-year practicing attorney and your only agricultural experience is your involvement with the cannabis space.’ You know, ‘How are you doing to do this?’ a Jew from South Florida in a very white, male-dominated industry.”

HUDAK: Now you’re the top Democrat in the state of Florida; the lone statewide-elected Democrat in the state of Florida. That is the definition of “0 to 100.” How have you been able to embrace that and not get overwhelmed by that?

FRIED: I was living on a plantation. And I was running my own firm. And then I moved to Tallahassee. In public life, you know, I gave up the firm. I got engaged.”

HUDAK: That was the noise that we heard when you hit your hand on the desk was that rock on your finger — congratulations.

FRIED: Thank you. So I got engaged, you know a lot of life-altering, and now being the only statewide Democrat, having this new role and new title and new responsibility, you know, it was a little overwhelming... To be honest — it was a lot of trying to figure out where I fit into that role.

HUDAK: You have not shied away from criticizing Gov. Ron DeSantis for what you call “Corruption at its worst.” We know the Miami Herald article that reported DeSantis used pop-up vaccinations in only certain communities. Basically “Vaccine distribution for dollars” — What were your thoughts when you first read that article?

FRIED: This is business as usual in the state of Florida, and this is exactly why I ran, because I saw this type of corruption. We have a history here in the state of Florida of only taking care of the people that voted for us. Now it’s about people’s lives. Like, literally people’s lives are on the line of trying to get this vaccine. So I was angry. Angry that I was seeing business as usual here in the state of Florida, and only taking care of, again, the rich white people of our state.

HUDAK: We do have to mention that the governor has vehemently denied these claims, and says the vaccines are going to communities based on age. When you heard his response, what went through your mind then?

FRIED: He’s just pivoting. He’s staying on the same, you know, ‘Seniors First’ — that is true. But what the problem is is that there are seniors that are not in these populations, and because we never had a plan in place, we never knew, ‘OK, where are all of our seniors located?’ Not just the ones who are willing to give campaign contributions, but where are our most vulnerable seniors? Including, we still don’t have any vaccines in our jail system. We definitely have 65 and older in our jails. And some of our disadvantaged communities that didn’t have these sites and didn’t have this access. Which is why I’ve asked for the FBI to get involved. There’s too many things on the line for there not to be an investigation into Ron DeSantis.

HUDAK: You know, the Mason-Dixon poll has you second to Ron DeSantis among voters for a 2022 matchup for governor. People believe in your potential candidacy for governor. What are your thoughts on that?

FRIED: That I’m only down nine points. You know, I’m somebody who hasn’t declared. Ron DeSantis ran a gubernatorial campaign two years ago, spent $75 million. On my “Ag” race I spent $1.2 million. He is the governor of the state. I am a member of the cabinet. So there’s a lot of work to be done. I have complete confidence that in 2022, the Democrats will show that we are the party who is taking care of everybody.

HUDAK: Do you want to run for governor?

FRIED: You know, I’ll tell you a funny story that I’m sure you’ll hear a lot in the next couple years. So my first date with my fiance now — we were actually competitors. And at that dinner, he says ‘You know, you’re doing all these things I heard your history and I’m getting to know you. What are you doing with your life? You know? You’ve got all this potential, what are you doing with your life?’ And, again this is a few years ago. And I said ‘I’m going to be the governor of the state of Florida.’ You know, I’ve always been someone who wants to serve and to give back. So I’m going to be talking to a lot of people, and trusting my gut. We’ll figure out what’s next.

HUDAK: That feeling that you described to your eventual fiance of ‘I’m going to run for governor of the state of Florida’ — When did you first have that in your life? Can you identify when that kind of started for you?

FRIED: You know, it probably started when I was very young. My mom is a die-hard Democrat, and my dad is a die-hard Republican. That is the way my life has always been. I’ve always been taught to kind of listen to both sides. No side is correct all the time. And to kind of make my own decisions. And so, when I was 9 years old, my parents asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. And, of course, like every 9-year-old, I said ‘I wanna go see the White House.’

HUDAK: Every 9 year old? Haha, I was not doing those things when I was 9 years old. But that’s why you’re where you’re at, and I’m where I am.

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