Florida’s agriculture commissioner does so much more than boost the state’s farming community. That’s why Nikki Fried, a Miami-born Democrat, is the right person to fill this important job. Fried brings a wealth of ideas to propel the department forward and to better fulfill its role. After all, the agency’s full name is Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
As such, it not only comprises offices of agricultural water policy, agricultural law enforcement, a division of plant industry, another for forestry and still another for dairy inspection; but Floridians also rely upon the Department of Agriculture to approve concealed weapons licenses, and to protect them from unethical business practices. For instance, the department is responsible for thwarting scammers from secretly installing “skimmers” on gas pumps and other machines to steal people’s credit-card information when they swipe. She says that the department has done a poor job here. “It’s about enforcement,” Fried says. “Prosecute these people.”
As an attorney, Fried says that her background will enhance her ability as an advocate and a watchdog. She told a joint interview with the editorial page editors for the Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post that she tackled what she called “white-hat issues” in her legal career, from sex-trafficking cases to confronting injustice in the criminal-justice system.
Fried faces Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell in this race. He says that he is a “small-government guy” and touts his A+ rating from the NRA. He backs price supports for the sugar industry and President Trump’s push for bilateral trade agreements. Fried says that as Florida growers face more pressure from development and from deleterious trade agreements, that the state needs new cash crops. She is a former lobbyist for the medical marijuana industry who now advocates for expanding patients’ access.
Fried wants to lobby Washington, D.C., to insist on trade agreements that help, not hurt, Florida growers. “We need some exemptions for seasonality,” she said, meaning, for example, tomatoes from Latin America aren’t imported at the same time that Florida tomatoes are ripe on the vine and ready for distribution and sale. In addition, she says, those countries don’t have the same food-safety and pesticide standards. “It’s a national security issue.” She wants to create an “innovation fund” to boost citrus research and sees the need for incentives to foster collaboration to calm want she calls the “water wars.”
And she’s smart to want to explore offloading the Department of Agriculture’s responsibility over those concealed-weapons permits. She’s right: The task is more appropriately suited for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. As she points out, applications for these permits already are run through the Florida Crime Information Center, which is run by the FDLE. It only makes sense to put this task squarely under the roof of a law-enforcement agency, not the Ag Department.
There’s one more important part of this job: Agriculture commissioners are members of the Cabinet. As such, they have held sway over ex-felons seeking to have their rights restored. The courts have rightly labeled the process arbitrary — we would say capricious. Caldwell doesn’t back automatic restoration, and would continue to erect hurdles. Fried, however, a former public defender, backs the Florida Supreme Court’s finding that the process is unconstitutional — a finding with which we agree.
The Miami Herald recommends NIKKI FRIED for commissioner of agriculture.