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Meet Florida's New Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried

Nicole "Nikki" Fried speaks to supporters during a rally in Orlando, August 31, 2018.
Nicole "Nikki" Fried speaks to supporters during a rally in Orlando, August 31, 2018.

Weapons. Water. Weed. Nikki Fried successfully campaigned on those "three W's" to become Florida’s new agriculture commissioner. The former lobbyist defeated Republican challenger Matt Caldwell in an extremely tight race that went to a manual recount. The margin of victory was only 6,000 votes or .08%.

Fried has an ambitious and progressive policy platform but faces some difficult challenges. She will be the lone Democrat elected to Florida's cabinet and expects to face pushback on policies related to gun control and climate change.

Fried spoke with Sundial’s Luis Hernandez about the challenges ahead in Tallahassee, the three Ws and what it means to be a female leader in politics in the era of #metoo.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

WLRN: You’re a former lobbyist so you know how things are done in Tallahassee. With your position and your responsibilities, you might find yourself having to deal with the power of the NRA lobbying hand in Tallahassee. I mean, how do you forsee dealing with that?

Fried: The reality is, as a lobbyist, you need to know your boundaries. ... If you want to actually change legislation and change policy, run for office. A job of a lobbyist is to represent their client and to educate people. But there is a line that should not be crossed. And I do believe that the NRA lobby has crossed that line on numerous occasions.

The Federal Government released a report on climate change indicating that Floridians are likely to see more storms, flooding, more rainfall in the coming years from increased temperatures. How are you going to work with farmers to ensure that they are dealing with this issue, that the state is helping them? 

Well as you saw the report came out, and climate change is a reality. And I think step one is a recognition of it. Step two is coming up with ways that all of us [can help]. This didn't happen overnight. And this didn't just happen by chance. This is something that is manmade, a lot of these issues. So that means that we man solutions and that means everybody.

Our farming community and our ranchers, they live off of our land. That is so sacred to them. And so it's giving them the tools and the resources to accept new technologies and implement them on the way that they're using their best management practices. And then recognize that those are the good actors in the industry and also going after ones that are not living up to their standards.

Did you ... have the chance to talk with farmers? I wanted to get a sense of their ideas and their thoughts on the conversations about climate change and how is it impacting them.

Oh absolutely. We talked about it all the time. And a lot of the aspects of climate change, are on the usage of water and fertilizers. And we did talk a lot about that. And new technologies and new resources that they can utilize to make sure that they're effective and efficient and utilizing what is out there. So we did have lots of those conversations and I went out to a lot of the farms that are using fantastic water management systems and upgrades.

So there's a lot that's out there and bringing new technologies into the state as well. I talk about this all the time, but in Israel from a land of desert they created a fertile land and it has some of the best industries when it comes to citrus and water management.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Mrs. Fried was elected to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis' cabinet. The Florida cabinet is not appointed by the governor. It is made up of four elected positions: the governor, the state's chief financial officer, the attorney general, and the agriculture commissioner.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Chris Remington knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.