TAMPA, Fla. - In the August 23 Primary election, two Florida Democrats are competing for the nomination to challenge Governor Ron DeSantis: Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried and U.S. Rep. (and former Republican Governor) Charlie Crist. Both recently agreed to one-on-one interviews with Fox 13 Political Editor Craig Patrick.
Charlie Crist’s interview will be shown on Monday, August 8. Fried’s interview first aired on Friday, August 5 covering a wide range of topics, including the home insurance crisis, recreational marijuana, and reparations for descendants of slaves.
Fried Versus Crist
The interview began with a discussion about the tone of the Democratic primary race and Fried’s view of her rival, Crist. She has repeatedly called Crist a "nice guy," but says Florida "needs a fighter".
"The issues that we're dealing with today are so fundamental to who we are as a country, who we are as patriots, fighting for democracy, fighting for freedom, and the things between voting rights, between abortion rights, affordability of our state, that the Democrats are looking for somebody to stand up knowing that we're against a guy who has bullied everybody, has been divisive, has had retribution on anybody who crosses his path", Fried said.
Fried said she’s been "in the trenches" standing up to Governor DeSantis day-in-and-day-out since becoming Commissioner of Agriculture and said, "somebody is going to stand up for what we believe in, and that's going to be me in this primary."
Still, if Crist were to win the Democratic primary, she said she would support him in the Governor’s race.
"I will do everything in my power to make sure a Democrat wins that governor’s office," Fried said.
Fried Regrets Supporting Republicans
Fried was also asked about her past support of two Republicans, who now hold key positions within the state government: Attorney General Ashley Moody, and State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Junior.
She says she "absolutely" regrets making financial contributions to Moody’s campaign for Attorney General, which Moody ultimately won. Fried, who says she has known Moody "since our time at the University of Florida," has "failed the people of our state." She said Moody "made a promise to the people of our state that she was not going to politicize the Attorney General's Office and unfortunately, that is exactly what she has done." Fried said, "I have been severely disappointed with every action that she has had as our Attorney General.
Fried’s financial contributions to Manny Diaz, Junior, date back to his time as the chair of the Broward County School Board. Fried represented the Board at the time and says she felt it was important that she "develop a relationship with those making policy decisions." But Fried said Diaz has taken "an aggressive turn to the right" as Commissioner of Education. She called him an "extremist" and said her first day in office "would be his last day in office."
Florida Marijuana Policy
Fried says she is suing the Biden administration for prohibiting nearly all medical marijuana users in Florida from purchasing guns. She says ending the policy will actually make things safer because medical marijuana users who want firearms for their own personal safety would purchase them legally, instead of turning to the illegal marketplace and "not getting that background check".
Fried says she supports legalizing recreational marijuana and would be "open to discussion" for legalizing other psychedelic drugs for use in mental healthcare if research supports it. She said it is a conversation that needs to be happening at the "national level".
Fried said she supports the idea of financial reparations to African Americans who had ancestors who were slaves to address "the disparities that have come across in our nation's history."
Florida Home Insurance Crisis
During the interview, Fried spoke at length about the state’s homeowners Insurance crisis. Here is an excerpt of that portion of the interview:
Craig: State-run citizens insurance is supposed to be the insurer of last resort, so it's supposed to cost more, is it not? And it's supposed to cover less. I got dropped and in searching for new policies, I found private options and then a Citizens option that was much cheaper than the private option. Well, a couple of hundred dollars cheaper. So is Citizens underpriced and should rates go up higher than they currently are for citizens?
Fried: "So here's the problem. What we have done here, Citizens is absolutely supposed to be the insurer of last resort, not the only resort. And what we continue to do is put more of our policies into insurance, into Citizens, because the domestic market is literally collapsing and they're leaving the state. And so what we need to be doing is actually creating a more diverse marketplace, a more competitive marketplace, so that so those in the private sector can get actually lower premiums."
Craig: So rates should go up for Citizens?
Fried: "So rates go up for Citizens. Look, we're in a situation right now that everybody's property insurance rates are going through the roof. I'm hearing these stories all across the country, whether you have an individual who has been told that they can't get a new policy if in fact, they don't have a new roof. That's fraud. We're seeing the fact that so many of our domestic insurers are going out of business and going insolvent, forcing more into the into citizens at a time when we are seeing inflationary rates across the entire country and here in the state of Florida, which is higher than the national average. We should not be putting additional burden on anybody because the Republican Party have not fixed the domestic market. It is forcing more people into Citizens. Those rates should not increase because we don't want to hurt our people in our state because of the failures from Republican leadership to actually deal with the domestic market.
Craig: Not all, but much of the home insurance crisis is being driven by roofing fraud. Correct? … And that's a form of deceptive trade practice. When you're convincing homeowners they need a new roof when they really don't cause storm damage. What have you done as commissioner of Agriculture to crack down on it and what more can be done?
Fried: "I've been asking our current Commissioner of Insurance these same questions every time he goes to the Cabinet meeting. And I've asked those tough questions and there haven't been answers that are going to justify not taking decisive actions. What we need is something else that I'm talking about, even as commissioner, as governor is a couple of things. One, we need to have a full-on task force not thrown together on the wall during a legislative session, watching special interests versus special interests. But third-party actuary rules that sit down at a table and say, what has been the problem? What type of statutes needs to be put into place, making sure that the Commissioner of Insurance actually has the power to go after the fraud that's happening inside these insurance companies? The other thing is to also create -- we already have a consumer advocate, but more power inside of that office so that you have somebody that you actually can call and start reporting all of these and show decisive actions to go after these insurance companies that are mandating new roofs. I mean, my mom called me a couple of months ago. She's like, ‘Nikki, somebody came to my house telling me that there was a hailstorm like three years ago, and I need a new roof.’ I said, ‘Mom, that's fraud. Call this hotline and report it.’ But if you don't know and don't understand, you just assume that this is what has to happen. And if you're getting close to hurricane season, you feel that that's your only choice. So as governor, Fried would tackles these issues, understanding what is happening, both in the fraud by some of the litigiousness that is happening on the other side of it, too, but also making sure that we're changing statutes, empowering the consumer advocate inside of the governor's, inside of the Office of Insurance Regulation, and making sure that we're holding everybody, the bad actors accountable.
Fried is a former public defender and marijuana activist, who won a close race for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture in 2018. She is currently the only Democrat in statewide office, and is branding her campaign as ‘something new’.
Publicly available polling has favored Rep. Crist. He also maintains an advantage in fundraising and endorsements among state Democratic officials. However, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial race (in which underdog Andrew Gillum won the nomination) illustrates the close and unpredictable nature of Florida politics.