Agriculture Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried celebrated her last night before she drops the hyphenated portion of her title alongside the people who helped her get to Tallahassee.
A slew of elected party companions, lobbyists and general supporters packed a suite at Florida State University’s football stadium on Monday night to welcome to the capital Fried, the lone Democrat elected statewide in November.
Beverages matched the garb: cocktail. A steady synthetic drum beat of dance music and performances by Grammy Award-winning artist Wyclef Jean and DJ Irie filled the night.
Fried waged a campaign that began with an ad embracing the idea of expanding medical marijuana, touting her opposition to assault weapons and making quick work of her Republican soon-to-be predecessor Adam Putnam’s misstep.
Along the way, Fried promised to address water quality issues like red tide and blue-green algae. She’d later vow to “audit” the way the state doles out concealed-weapons permits.
Giving brief remarks to her inaugural audience, Fried credited these campaign talking points for her victory, no small feat given the red makeup of the other two Cabinet posts and Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis.
“We didn’t talk partisan politics,” Fried told the crowd. “We talked about policy issues that affect people on both sides of the aisle.”
Meanwhile, at least one policy issue already is bubbling in the background of Fried’s inaugural celebrations. And it could mean less authority from the Sunshine State’s chief Democrat.
Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book of Plantation has filed a bill that primarily seeks to shift the state’s concealed firearms licensing program away from Fried’s supervision and to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Fried, on board with the idea of reforming the concealed-carry permitting process, could end up relinquishing that power from her office if the bill becomes law. DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet jointly have the power to appoint a different FDLE Commissioner, currently Rick Swearingen, who was appointed by outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Fried, speaking to reporters during the event, said she currently wants the bill to move to the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement, meaning it’d still be under her purview.
“Our number-one priority is making sure that Floridians are safe,” Fried said. “We are doing a comprehensive review of the program, we’re going to make some systematic changes internally, making sure that full-time employees are actually reviewing these [concealed-weapons] applications.”
While she might not get to maintain supervision of the concealed-weapons program, Fried said she’s focused on “getting it right.”
Whatever comes her way during the next four years, Democrats are likely hoping Fried performs without flaw. After all, she’s the defacto leader of the party by ballot rank.
Steve Schale, a Tallahassee-based Democratic strategist and lobbyist, said that Fried is “uniquely positioned” as the only statewide Democrat, but her future political success relies on how her tenure unfolds.
“The smartest thing she can do is focus on doing her job, which she’s done,” Schale said.