‘We need to bring people together’: Nikki Fried makes solo pitch to South Miami-Dade voters
Photo via Jesse Scheckner.

Fried Bullard
‘We have real problems happening in our state, and we’ve had 25 years of no one really paying attention to the people.’

Onstage in Homestead this past weekend, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried delivered an exclusive pitch for her gubernatorial campaign to the southernmost residents of Miami-Dade County.

She traversed myriad subjects during an hourlong talk with moderator Dwight Bullard, from property insurance, voter reenfranchisement and Medicare expansion to abortion rights, Disney and the ubiquitous “Florida Man” meme.

Her central message: The GOP has had more than two decades to deliver for Floridians, and it’s high time for something different.

“Whether it’s criminal justice issues, whether it’s housing, whether it’s education, our environment — we’ve basically had 25 straight years of one party controlling our state, and that means different voices don’t have a seat at the table. That means issues that are actually important to the people of our state are not being addressed,” she argued.

“We have a Republican Party now that is serving a very small but very vocal minority, and that has to change.”

Fried was the lone Democratic candidate for Governor to attend the Saturday event at the Seminole Theater in downtown Homestead. That wasn’t by design. Its organizers, a group called the JMV Coalition of South Dade Residents, promoted the event as a “Governor’s forum” featuring Fried and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.

Crist’s campaign backed out of the event following a disagreement over the forum’s format. Sen. Annette Taddeo, who with Crist and Fried is considered a front-runner in the Democratic contest, was never formally invited to participate.

Former Democratic State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who is running for Attorney General, also spoke at the event. She took the stage for a talk with Bullard, a former state Senator and current senior political adviser to Florida Rising, about 15 minutes after he concluded his conversation with Fried, to sell herself as a hardworking and socially conscious legal expert with an unparalleled talent for managing multiple simultaneous projects.

Former State Attorney Aramis Ayala, a Democratic candidate for Florida Attorney General, promised to be a fighter for everyday Floridians if elected. Photo via Jesse Scheckner.

Fried billed herself as the “polar opposite” of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Legislature. She called herself a “standard-bearer” of Democratic ideals in Tallahassee who spends “every day showing up for the people.”

“We need to bring people together,” she said. “We have real problems happening in our state, and we’ve had 25 years of no one really paying attention to the people. (For Republicans), it’s all about the next position they’re running for, the next job they’re going to take, making sure they’re putting money into their pockets … and making sure they’re helping their friends, which are mostly corporations.

“And now, you’re seeing how that’s backfiring on a lot of corporations in our state.”

Fried referenced recent actions by DeSantis and the Legislature, including the signing of HB 7 and HB 1557 that, among other things, restrict discussions about sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity and national origin.

Critics have decried the new laws as having a chilling effect on progressive, inclusive discourse. Proponents of the measures, meanwhile, say they protect children from inappropriate indoctrination.

Fried argued those policies and other Republican measures, including the passage of a congressional redistricting map that will halve the number of Black-performing districts from four to two, are “heartbreaking,” but are hardly final.

Fried said they will all lead to lawsuits, which will invariably result in financial losses for the state. She predicted lower courts will overturn the bills as unconstitutional. If a Democrat is in the Governor’s Mansion by that time, she continued, that person will hold the power in deciding whether to appeal those rulings or to let them stand.

As an example of what she’d do, Fried pointed to steps she took after her 2019 election against a restrictive state law that set punishments for local officials who enact gun control measures. She’d also take full advantage of the Governor’s power to call Special Sessions to veto bills and budget items with which she disagreed.

Fried said she was proud of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, including Reps. Yvonne Hinson, Tray McCurdy and Angie Nixon, who participated in a sit-in on the House floor Friday against the new congressional map, which attracted its first legal challenge the same day.

“They laid everything on the table and said, ‘We are not going to sit back and watch,’” Fried said, adding that she endorsed every Democrat who protested with them. “Because of those actions, every single member that was on the floor that day received my endorsement regardless of what they’re running for and who they’re running against, and my commitment is not only to give financial assistance but also to lift up their platform whenever I can.”

(L-R) Manuel Ernesto Gutierrez, Nikki Fried, Dwight Bullard, Venusmia Fernandez Lovely and Johnny Farias. Photo via Jesse Scheckner.

Regarding the state’s rising housing costs — which in South Florida have skyrocketed to crisis levels — Fried reiterated a commitment she made earlier this month to veto bills that divert money from the state’s Sadowski funds for affordable housing and create a planning task force to address the issue further.

She promised to prioritize affordable housing developments near mass transit, assist local governments in septic-to-sewer conversions and solar initiatives, and to promote “smart growth, smart development” through top-down leadership from Tallahassee and across the state.

On education, she committed to doubling the state’s per-student allocation in public schools, among other steps.

Fried is among Florida’s more vocal crusaders in the push to make marijuana as legal as alcohol. On April 20, she announced that her department will sue the federal government for infringing on the constitutional rights of medical cannabis patients to own guns.

The war on drugs, she said Saturday, has resulted in little positive social change and instead has led to the mass incarceration of Black Americans and other people of color. Fried said decriminalizing pot will be an economic boon to Florida, which could gain up to $5 billion yearly in added revenue, and will eliminate a cause for needless, negative interactions between otherwise law-abiding people and police that clog courts, prisons and the dockets of state attorneys and public defenders.

“It’s also health care reform,” she said. “So many people want to get off pharmaceutical drugs. They want to get off those prescription medications. They want to get off Tylenol and Advil and be able to use more natural medicine.”

Asked for her opinion on abortion, including legislation DeSantis signed April 14 that largely prohibits terminating pregnancies in the state beyond 15 weeks, Fried said that “everyone can agree the less abortions, the better.” Still, she said, the new state law — which does not include exceptions for victims of rape and incest — “goes against every fundamental right that a woman has to decide what’s best for her body.”

She said, “The Republicans, it was so important for them to take this away, but are they giving you more counseling services? Are they paying for additional costs?”

Fried asserted that she has long defended women’s reproductive rights. Then she took her first and only shot at Crist.

“Unfortunately, I wish my opponent was on the stage, because the same can’t be said about him,” she said.

She apologized to “all the women … who were involved in this fight 50 years ago.”

“I’m going to ask you to fight again, that we are standing on your shoulders, that we are here today because you fought for us, and now we have a moral and ethical obligation to fight for the next generation.”

Watch the full event below.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


One comment

  • David T. Hawkins

    April 27, 2022 at 8:27 am

    The Pre-K to 3rd Grade Transgender Issue has proven you can not bring the people together but you can try to make people be Civil to one another.

Comments are closed.


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