State Politics

Broward attorney Nikki Fried wins Democratic nomination for Agriculture commissioner

Broward County attorney Nikki Fried, 40, won the Democratic primary in the race to be Florida’s Agriculture commissioner, one of the state’s most powerful Cabinet posts. She is also a medical marijuana advocate.
Broward County attorney Nikki Fried, 40, won the Democratic primary in the race to be Florida’s Agriculture commissioner, one of the state’s most powerful Cabinet posts. She is also a medical marijuana advocate.

Broward County attorney and medical marijuana advocate Nikki Fried on Tuesday won the Democratic primary for commissioner of Agriculture, one of Florida’ most powerful Cabinet posts.

Fried, 40, was in the news less than two weeks ago when Wells Fargo ordered her campaign account closed because of contributions she had accepted from the medical marijuana industry.

Two candidates from Tampa, former judge Ashley Moody and Rep. Sean Shaw, won the Republican and Democratic primaries for attorney general. Shaw’s victory is historic — he is the first African-American nominee for a Cabinet post.

The new attorney general will replace term-limited Pam Bondi —also of Tampa.

“I have very high high high heels to fill,” Moody said of Bondi at a victory party Tuesday night.

Shaw had a commanding lead of 73 percent to 27 percent in the Democratic primary over his opponent, Ryan Torrens, whom he had tried to knock off the ballot via a lawsuit.

Meanwhile Moody collected 57 percent of the votes in the Republican primary to 42 percent for her rival, Frank White.

Meanwhile, in the agriculture commissioner race, conservative legislator Matt Caldwell took the lead in the Republican primary while Fried cruised to victory in the Democratic primary.

The winner of the November election will replace incumbent Adam Putnam, who lost the GOP nomination for governor. The job encompasses more than just farming issues. The commissioner also is in charge of consumer complaints, state forests and concealed weapons permits.

Caldwell, a state House member from North Fort Myers, had 33 percent of the vote, while rivals Denise Grimsley, a state senator from Sebring, and Baxter Troutman, a former lawmaker and businessman from Winter Haven, were tied at 26 percent.

Meanwhile, Fried, a lawyer and medical marijuana lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, easily beat Democratic rivals Jeffrey Duane Porter and Roy David Walker. She had 58 percent of the vote, compared to 25 percent for Walker, a South Florida environmental activist, and 15 percent for Porter, the mayor of Homestead.

There was no primary for the third Cabinet seat, that of chief financial officer. Incumbent Jimmy Patronis, a Republican, will face off against Democratic candidate Jeremy Ring of Margate in November.

The attorney general race has been a bitter one for both parties,with a plethora of attack ads aired by one Republican and an actual lawsuit between the Democratic candidates.

On the Republican side, White, 39, a Pensacola state House member who works for his in-law family’s chain of car dealerships, faced Moody, 43, a former circuit judge and federal prosecutor — the only candidate from either party with experience in law enforcement.

In millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads, White has called Moody a “liberal” and questioned her commitment to gun rights and opposition to abortion, based mostly on flimsy evidence.

Moody’s campaign and political committee had spent a total of about $5.2 million, including $808,000 in state party aid, through Aug. 18. White’s campaign and political committee spent a total of about $5.7 million, including $2.75 million of his and his wife’s money, plus thousands more in contributions from her family’s business and its employees.

The Democratic side of the race was roiled by a last-minute flurry of litigation.

Shaw, 40, is a consumer insurance lawyer, first-term state House member from Tampa and son of the late Leander Shaw, the first black chief justice of Florida. He faced Torrens, 33, a Tampa consumer foreclosure lawyer and first-time candidate.

Although he appeared to be leading, Shaw sued to have Torrens thrown off the ballot, alleging that with his campaign out of money, Torrens was able to pay his $7,738 qualifying fee with a contribution from his wife that violated contribution limits. Torrens denied that, saying the money was actually from a joint account and therefore his own.

On Friday, a judge ruled in Shaw’s favor, but as of Monday, an appeals court had stayed that judge’s order decertifying Torrens as a candidate. Torrens, meanwhile, counter sued Shaw for libel.

In the agriculture commissioner race, Caldwell ditched his trademark bow ties to campaign for the post. He quickly attracted endorsements from many Republican state House members and the National Rifle Association, as well as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Grimsley was endorsed by many of the state’s sheriffs and senators, and after 14 years in the Legislature showed her formidable fundraising chops, raising more than $3 million. Her campaign leaned on Grimsley’s background as an emergency room nurse, then her experience running a hospital and her family’s convenience store business.

Troutman mounted a formidable campaign because his personal wealth enabled him to spend $3 million to pay for TV ads. He is the grandson of legendary Florida citrus and cattle magnate Ben Hill Griffin Jr., and also owns his own job placement business.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Justin Trombley contributed to this report. Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.