Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried reaffirmed her objection to COVID-19 mandates and bans following Florida’s lawsuit against the federal airplane mask mandate, a position that distinguishes her from the national narrative of the Democratic Party.
Fried, a Democrat who is hoping for her party’s nomination to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election in November, told reporters Wednesday that she had not reviewed the lawsuit and therefore declined to take a position on it. However, she maintained her position against COVID-19 policies, which sets her apart from President Joe Biden.
The government’s job is to ensure people have access to masks and vaccines and to inform people on how to make the right choice for themselves, she argued.
“As I have said consistently for the last year and a half — and I have been very consistent on this point — I am not in favor of mandates or bans across the board,” Fried said.
DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody on Tuesday announced the legal challenge, which was backed by officials from 20 other states. The lawsuit targets federal mask mandates for public transportation, such as airplanes and buses.
“In Florida, we’ve been very clear, we want people to be able to make their own decisions,” DeSantis said. “We don’t believe in COVID theater. And you do see lingering elements of that.”
The Transportation Security Administration extended the ongoing mask mandate through April 18. The mask order was set to expire on March 18 but was extended to allow the agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to set a framework for when masks should be required.
As the only Democrat elected to a statewide office in Florida and as a member of the Cabinet, Fried has been an outspoken critic of DeSantis. However, she at times has set herself apart from Biden, whose poll numbers have floundered recently.
It’s also not the first time Fried has declined to back Biden’s stance on the pandemic. In December, Fried told Florida Politics she takes her cues from what Floridians want.
That hasn’t stopped DeSantis from calling Fried a “lockdown lobbyist.”
Fried finds herself lagging in polls against both DeSantis and fellow Democratic contender and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.
A survey of 701 likely Democratic Primary voters released last week by Floridians for Economic Advancement showed Fried with 33% support, behind Crist at 43%. Sen. Annette Taddeo rounded out the field with 15% support. Still, Fried told reporters following the poll that she is not concerned about the state of the race.
“Obviously, we have room to grow, and that’s what we’re doing,” Fried said.