A Cabinet office may become more “low-energy” if a proposal before the Legislature becomes law.
A House committee bill (PCB ANR 20-01) OK’d Tuesday by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday, would shift Office of Energy oversight from her office to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, had her say Tuesday on a House bill limiting the scope of her office, bemoaning a partisan “power grab.”
Fried, who has been careful in comments trying to put “state over party,” was more pointed, reacting to Republican attempts to weaken her office, making it the only Democratic sinecure in state government.
If the bill passes the GOP-controlled Legislature and becomes law, it would reverse a 2011 decision by former Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
In committee, Chair Holly Raschein ran the bill, arguing it would create new synergy and potential efficiency in federal grants if the Office of Energy were moved from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the FDEP.
Fried made what appeared to be a surprise appearance and argued that since the office was moved to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2011 it has thrived. She cited a number of stats.
She contended the proposed move is not for policy or budgetary reasons but for “some other reason.”
She wouldn’t come flat out and say it was a partisan political move in committee, which saw Democrats join Republicans in voting for it.
“Republicans control the budget,” Fried noted.
Fried also contended the move would be untimely considering her office spent eight months on an energy policy plan.
“Let’s continue to put state before party,” Fried said in committee. “The office of energy belongs under our department… We are the state’s consumer protection agency. We fight for Floridians in a way that quite frankly the Division of Environmental Protection cannot.”
To media on Tuesday after the vote, however, Fried struck a less conciliatory tone.
The commissioner said the bill “puts party before state, puts the Governor over Floridians.”
“This is part of the Governor’s plan to consolidate power,” Fried said.
Fried wondered why calls to move the office began, given FDEP failures managing the solar energy rebate process when they first handled it.
“We know why … the answer isn’t based in policy .., it’s partisan punishment, another power grab,” Fried said.
“Now that a Democratic woman sits in this office,” Fried said, “it needs to be moved.”
“We know why we’re here this morning. The lawmakers know why they’re here this morning,” Fried said. “This is politics as usual, and this is why people hate politics.”
“I will continue to put state before party,” Fried said. “Unfortunately [Republicans] are the ones who created a partisan divide.”
Echoing her thoughts: Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party.
“This bill is nothing more than a ridiculous partisan power grab. This is not about creating ‘efficiency’ in government, this is the governor consolidating his power,” Rizzo said.
“If Republicans think that they can get away with such a blatant partisan power grab, they are sorely mistaken. Voters will not soon forget about the Republicans’ irresponsible attempt to play politics with Florida’s energy future,” Rizzo vowed.
Whether Democrats aggressively message around the potential movement of the energy office is unknown, but for one day the issue underscored the very real divide between Fried and the Tallahassee power structure.