Fabiola Santiago

In a post-Parkland Florida, there should be no room for the NRA to bully government

From marijuana lobbyist to candidate for agriculture commissioner.

Nicole "Nikki" Fried, the Democratic candidate for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services speaks during a rally in Orlando on August 31, 2018.
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Nicole "Nikki" Fried, the Democratic candidate for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services speaks during a rally in Orlando on August 31, 2018.

The nation loves its Mueller time.

But, here in Florida, we’re also acquainted with “Hammer time,” another scandalous loaded gun, so to speak (this one for all the wrong reasons): Marion Hammer, chief state lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

Unlike the heroic special counsel Robert Mueller, Hammer isn’t a government hired hand. Nor is she an elected official, although she funds politicians with enough generous campaign contributions to command their time and their votes.

When it comes to Florida gun policy, Hammer gets to write it. Hammer gets to approve it. She gave us, for example, Stand Your Ground — which allows bad people to get away with murder — and backyard shooting ranges — self-explanatory crazy, the kind of stuff that has earned us the “only in Floriduh” moniker.

Marion Hammer, soon to turn 78, has been the NRA's chief lobbyist in Florida for years, and her voice carries a lot of weight in Tallahassee.

Hammer has shaped the Gunshine state and she hustles state employees like she owns the place, as revealed by a Tampa Bay Times compilation of 298 emails between Hammer and employees of the Department of Agriculture between 2014 and 2018, under Republican Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Who on earth was arrogant and antigun enough to authorize this?” Hammer demanded to know “ASAP” in an email to state division heads.

“Mrs. Hammer, please find the above proposed language for your review,” the director of the division of licensing sweet talks her in one email. “Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.”

What concerns could she possibly have when, under Putnam, Florida’s concealed-carry program became the first in the nation to surpass the one million mark, and when Putnam’s office didn’t even bother to put some 300 people through mandatory background checks, potentially giving dangerous people access to weapons?

It was Hammer time all the time!

Now imagine how angry Hammer is that her man Putnam not only lost the gubernatorial primary, but that a DEMOCRAT won the election and has become agriculture commissioner.

Only one thing to do: Launch the machinations to take the weapons-permitting program away from Nikki Fried, the Fort Lauderdale lawyer who won the post and is the only Democrat in the Cabinet.

Hammer never had any problems with gun-permitting being under Agriculture before, but now the past president of the national NRA wants the program in the hands of state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a reliable Panama City Republican.

Fried isn’t someone she can manipulate.

She has appointed outspoken Parkland father Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, to her transition team.

A former marijuana lobbyist, Fried had this interesting tidbit to say about lobbying:

“You need to know your boundaries,” she told South Florida radio station WLRN. “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.”

Fried, a concealed carrier herself, says she has no problem talking with lobbyists, but their influence in the office “stopped when I was elected. I will not be in the hands of the NRA.”

On the interview with Sundial host Luis Hernandez, Fried said she supports moving the concealed licensing program to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to “take the politics out of the conversation.” A bill to do so has been filed by state Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat.

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Fried said in a statement that, regardless of whether the program stays in agriculture or eventually moves to the FDLE, she wants her department to conduct a review of it, as she promised during her campaign.

“It is critical to Florida’s public safety that we determine where and how failures have occurred, and ensure that permits are only issued under my administration after the completion of background checks — as plainly required under Florida law,” she said.

And, she added: “Law enforcement is not subject to the whims of the political party that happens to be in power and could provide diligent oversight of the program.”

Putting people’s safety above politics. What a concept.

Whether she keeps concealed-carry or hands the licensing to FDLE, it’s Fried time, Florida!

Follow Fabiola Santiago on Twitter, @fabiolasantiago