Endorsing the next Democratic governor

Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Aug. 10, 2022

Florida voters should have no doubt about the stakes of this year’s gubernatorial election.

What is being constructed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in Florida is a platform for his run for president in 2024. To do this, he is building in Florida the model of a DeSantis state along Trumpist lines.

It will be a state where there are no checks or balances on the governor’s pursuit of power, where science and data and truth and the health and well-being of residents are twisted or ignored in favor of politically-convenient fictions. It’s a place where extremism is embraced, intolerance enshrined and prejudice pursued.

And if this state of affairs succeeds in Florida in 2022, DeSantis will try to make it a model and take it national in 2024.

So the stakes in the Democratic gubernatorial primary go way beyond just the ambitions of two politicians seeking the nomination to take on DeSantis. It goes to the heart of preserving post-insurrection democracy.

When it comes to the gubernatorial ballot, every Democratic voter has to choose who is best capable of preserving democracy in Florida and the United States: Rep. Charles “Charlie” Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried.

The choice is the same kind that faced Democrats in the 2020 presidential nomination contest: should they go with a candidate of great experience, a proven track record, an older, white male who can attract moderate voters, seniors and perhaps disaffected Republicans and independents, or a newer, less proven, but more passionate and fiery candidate who also happens to be female? Is apparent electability more important than fervent commitment?  Does being right necessarily conflict with electoral success?

Early in-person voting in Lee and Collier counties begins Saturday, Aug. 13 (the last day to request a mail-in ballot) and runs until Saturday, Aug. 20. In Charlotte County it began on Aug. 8 and runs until Sunday, Aug. 21. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23. Mail-in ballots are already arriving.

This year both candidates bring great strengths to the contest and both face long odds against the incumbent.

The Crist chronicle

Crist, 66, brings long experience and knowledge, having served prior stints as governor, attorney general, education commissioner, and congressional representative. He is comfortable in Tallahassee and Washington, DC, as well as his own, native Tampa.

Although relatively low-key in manner, he is a formidable campaigner, having run in 10 races and won seven, not including primaries. He has an established fundraising network for this race and a significant bundle of heavyweight endorsements.

From a regional perspective, Crist is very familiar with Southwest Florida. As governor he brokered a deal to buy land owned by the US Sugar Corporation and use it to restore the Everglades system. At the time it was a bold and complex concept. Although its execution faced criticism and after Crist’s tenure it was never implemented as envisioned, it certainly moved in the right direction as far as the region’s environment was concerned. It also showed that such a deal could be done if approached with imagination and vigor and Crist was capable of conceiving such initiatives.

Another connection was less positive for Crist. It was in Fort Myers at a town hall meeting on Feb. 10, 2009 that his political world fell apart when he literally embraced the visiting President Barack Obama.

“It was the kind of hug I’d exchanged with thousands and thousands of Floridians over the years. I didn’t think a thing about it as it was happening,” Crist wrote in his memoir, The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat. The hug “ended my viable life as a Republican politician. I would never have a future in my old party again.”

Since then Crist has run as an independent and a Democrat. It has led to charges of political opportunism and distrust about his commitment to any political principle.

But it can also be seen in a different way: as an ability to evolve and change and grow, especially as he left a Republican party that he characterized as having “pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people”—and this was before Donald Trump came on the political scene.

The Fried factor

In contrast to Crist there has never been any doubt about Nikki Fried’s loyalties or commitment to the Democratic Party.

Fried, 44, is the only Democrat to currently hold a statewide elected office. Prior to her 2018 election she had a lengthy career in the law both in public and private practice. She’s been a corporate lawyer, a public defender, a foreclosure defense real estate lawyer and a lobbyist, mainly for the medical marijuana industry.

Her current post is the first electoral position she’s held and she won it by a hairsbreadth margin of 6,753 votes—and that after two recounts.

She’s been widely identified with the effort to legalize medical marijuana, having seen the disproportionate impact of criminalization in black and poor communities. She’s argued for the economic benefits of a legal cannabis sector and actively tried to roll back legal barriers to its sale and use.

However, Fried has gone well beyond that one topic and as Commissioner of Agriculture has dealt with a wide variety of matters, as she must. Beyond the issues that politicians pick and choose she’s clear and unambiguous about the major ones: she’s emphatically pro-choice, she supports LGBTQ rights and she’s vigorously urging that gun violence be stopped by all means available.

But most striking has been her battle to stop the encroaching authoritarianism of the DeSantis administration. Isolated in an otherwise Republican Cabinet, ostracized by a rubberstamp Republican legislature, vilified and defamed, over the past four years Fried fought on in every way she could to maintain an open, secular inclusive government. She has called out the hypocrisy, the actual lies and the malicious disregard for Floridians’ health during the pandemic and denounced the governor’s every move to restrict voting rights and intellectual—and actual—freedom.

Endorsement

The overriding issue in this election is whether democracy will survive in Florida and, by extension, in the United States.

Anything else is mere commentary. Without democracy there can be no rights of any kind, there will be no freedom, there will be no liberty. Democracy is the fundamental bedrock on which everything else rests.

Nikki Fried, by demonstrating her persistence, her indefatigability, her devotion to constitutional government as well as her demonstrated care for the health, wealth and wellbeing of all Floridians, should serve as the next governor of the state of Florida.

From an old-school political standpoint, her candidacy may not present the most conventional choice. No doubt many undecided Floridians may be put off by the fact that she’s a woman and an outspoken democrat.

However, at a time when the very foundations of American politics and the Constitution are at risk her clear commitment to the ideals of the American experiment is what’s needed, especially in Florida where they’re most at risk.

As a candidate she has an immense task before her: if nominated she needs to unite Democrats, win over undecided voters and Republicans alienated from the Trumpist extremism of their party. She has to overcome DeSantis’ advantages in party organization and fundraising. She has to turn back a tide of fanaticism and reaction encroaching on Floridians’ lives, minds and fortunes.

Nonetheless, Fried seems up to the task. At the very core of this election there can be no doubt that Fried is a democrat with both an uppercase and a lowercase “d.”

Nikki Fried should be the next governor of the great state of Florida.

Commissioner Nikki Fried

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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