Nikki Fried, the Democratic Party of Florida’s new chair, has perhaps one of the most difficult jobs in Florida politics: Fix the party after its worst electoral performance in over 20 years.
Her personal electoral history comes with highs and lows. After working as a lawyer and cannabis lobbyist, she was elected the state’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services in 2018 – the only Democrat to beat a Republican for a statewide office in recent history. She quickly put a focus on hemp crops and the medical marijuana growing industry, hiring a director of cannabis and installing related advisory panels, much of which has been undone by her GOP successor, egg farmer Wilton Simpson.
During her time in office, she also regularly feuded with Gov. Ron DeSantis. She has said in interviews that she was frequently shut out by the governor and the rest of the Florida Cabinet. Eventually, she passed up a chance for a second term as commissioner, instead losing a bid to Charlie Crist to be her party’s gubernatorial nominee by almost 25 points in 2022.
She’s still a thorn in the governor’s side, especially now that he almost assuredly plans to run for president, attacking him on Twitter several times a day. But she’s also taking to the road, showing up in Jacksonville Monday evening, Florida Politics reported, for a get-out-the-vote rally. Elections for mayor, City Council and other offices are next Tuesday. “We are going to continue to show up all the time because we know Duval is blue,” Fried said. “And it is time for us to start winning these local races again.”
With that, City & State has five questions for Nikki Fried. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity:
Your party suffered the largest electoral defeat last cycle in several decades. What is your plan to rebound in 2024?
2022 was a complete breakdown of the Democratic Party, everything from resources to organizing to grassroots to candidates. And so it is going to be my goal over the next few years to rebuild our trust with the people of our state. Rebuild our branding. Make sure that we are doing things differently. Make sure that we are organizing, that we are working year-round, talking to voters and listening to voters.
We want to make sure that people know that every single day Democrats are out there working and fighting for the issues that are on the tip of the spear of importance that everyday Floridians are focusing on.
Several people have mentioned that local parties have fallen behind. What support do you plan on giving local Democratic parties to help foster success?
We're gonna be doing a couple of things. First off, you're gonna see a lot more presence of the Florida Democrats all across our state, and all of our local organizers, all of our local committees. You'll also have a commitment from myself, that money that has been raised for the state party is going to go back to our local organizations for voter registration, year-round voter engagement, and making sure that we're changing the internal structure of the party, so that we are more efficient. Making sure that leaders from across our state, those that are in office and those that have been in office, are leaning in more to help out these local organizations.
All signs point to DeSantis running for president. You have a very vocal critic of him on social media as of late. What should be your and FDP’s messaging strategy for combating him after he was so successful electorally in Florida?
Ron DeSantis has already left our state. The issues that are important to the people are safety and affordability. Rent affordability, property and homeowners insurance affordability, and he just doesn't care. He has been spending more of his time talking about issues that are not important to the people of our state, and he is on his book-slash-ego tour all across the country. He can't even do his job here in the state.
That’s going to be our message, that he has become a fascist, that he is doing everything in his power to obtain more power by taking away power from the Legislature, the judiciary, the cabinet only to amass more for himself, and using the puppets of the legislature to push his very radical, fascist agenda on the backs of the Floridians who do not want it. Even if you look at the polling, the vast majority of our state do not agree with the policies that he is pushing in order to run for president.
The legislature is pushing a lot of culture war focused bills, aimed at decreasing abortion access, targeting LGTBQ+ education and banning certain degree programs from universities. Your party has a superminority in both chambers. What is its role in fighting back in the Legislature?
Our role is going to make sure that the people of our state understand what is happening in Tallahassee. We as the Democratic Party, and our electeds all across our state will continue to fight for the everyday working Floridians. The ones who get up every day, who work potentially two jobs just to make ends meet. That teacher or professor who is feeling like she's losing her academic freedom.
The Democrats are going to continue to fight for the people of our state. And we are going to continue to expose the radical agenda of this governor and the puppet legislature. We're going to continue to call them out for not focusing on the issues that are actually impacting the people of our state. They're talking about issues that are either fabricated or being pressed just for the purposes of Ron DeSantis running for president.
Republicans, like new RPOF chair Christian Ziegler and others, have criticized your election to chair, saying that your unsuccessful bid against Charlie Crist for governor is a sign that you won’t be a successful party chair. What is your response to critics in your opposition?
(laughs) Well, I’ve beaten Republicans. Look at my 2018 race. I beat a Republican in a seat that historically has gone Republican. I was the first female ever elected to commissioner of agriculture, the first female elected (agriculture commissioner) in the Southeast. In a head to head match against Republicans, I am 1-0.