Links to Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried and Planned Parenthood undermine a Republican’s political appointment

By: - August 8, 2019 7:00 am
Ron DeSantis

Florida Republican governor-elect Ron DeSantis claps during the 2018 Senate organizational session Tuesday, Nov. 20, in Florida’s Capitol building in Tallahassee. Lieutenant Governor-elect Jeanette Nunez sits beside him. CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix

A political donation to Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried and support for Planned Parenthood clinics may have cost a Republican woman a chance for an appointment to the Lee County Commission.

In a column published Tuesday in the Cape Coral Daily Breeze, Christin Collins details how she was told by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief of staff that she was to be appointed to a vacancy on the Lee County Commission in southwest Florida.

But a few hours later, that appointment was apparently rescinded after Shane Strum, the governor’s chief of staff, questioned Collins about a donation last year to Fried’s Democratic campaign for Agriculture Commissioner — Fried ultimately won the election — and her support for Planned Parenthood.

“I am a Republican woman who can see the good in the other side. Who supports access to health care and family planning. Who has spent two decades in this community working toward a healthier, happier more connected community. My story is not one about membership into a particular political party. It is also not about Planned Parenthood. And shame on those who made it about that,” Collins wrote.

Collins, who works for the Lee Health health-care system, says she was called by Strum on July 11 and was told the Governor’s Office was working on a press release about her appointment to the Lee County Commission to fill a vacancy created by the death of a member.

Strum told her he had to call two major GOP donors and the chairman of the commission to let them know about the decision before the release was sent out, Collins says.

Several hours later, Strum called back and quizzed her about her donations to Democrats and her support for Planned Parenthood, Collins says.

She acknowledged she had donated to Fried’s campaign last year after meeting her. “Ms. Fried is a Democrat. After hearing her message celebrating pro-business, pro-growth, pro-agriculture and pro-hemp, my husband and I gladly donated to her campaign,” Collins wrote.

Florida Division of Elections data show that a $500 donation was made to Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried, a Democrat, on Sept. 25, 2018, in the name of Christina Collis.

While that name is slightly different from Christin Collins, the address listed for “Christina Collis” matches Christin Collins’ address in Fort Myers. And the contribution was made by a “healthcare executive,” according to campaign finance records.

As for her stance on women’s reproductive rights, Collins says she told Strum that the issue was not likely to come before the county commission. “But regardless, I expressed that I do not sit in judgement of pro-life/pro-choice. Many decades ago I was robbed of the opportunity to have children, and I choose not to judge others,” Collins wrote.

In her column, Collins explains that as a young woman in the early 1990s, she was without a job and health insurance. She was interested in obtaining birth control and a friend referred her to a local health-care clinic.

Collins says after a doctor’s examination she was told she needed exploratory surgery that revealed she had ovarian cancer. It resulted in the removal of her ovaries.

“At 21 years old, with zero symptoms and zero health insurance…. this accidental discovery literally saved my life. So yes, I have shared many times that Planned Parenthood saved my life,” Collins wrote.

She says she never got to explain the full story to Strum, after he said he knew about it after reading an “article.” Collins is quoted, telling her story about her life-saving experience, in a December 2016 story in the Naples Daily News about a Planned Parenthood fund-raising luncheon in Naples.

After that exchange, Collins says Strum told her “to sit tight, that he would be back in touch.” She says she never heard from him again.

“For the past 21 days, I have sat with this experience. I chose to remain quiet during this phase, so that the process would work itself out without my interference,” Collins wrote.

Last week, DeSantis appointed Raymond Sandelli, a Bonita Springs businessman, to the Lee County Commission.

In a report that detailed the elaborate political machinations behind the Lee County appointment, Florida Politics said DeSantis’ office disputed Collins’ version of the story.

“As is always the case, the candidates who were interviewed and not chosen were called and thanked for their time and interest in being considered for public service,” Helen Ferré the governor’s spokeswoman, told Florida Politics.

In her column, Collins says she is “at peace knowing that this experience has made me a stronger, more whole person.”

“I proudly stand by my morals, values, honesty and integrity. I embrace my collaborative mind, not following the tribe just because I am a part of it, but taking each and every person & issue individually and making the best decision I can,” she wrote.

“Nikki Fried has NO IDEA who I am, or that my support of her has forever changed the trajectory of my life. Yet I will forever be thankful that I chose her. After years and years of donating to only Republican candidates, this one-time fateful donation has been an incredible gift showcasing my core belief in convening and co-existing,” Collins wrote. “This polarization needs to stop. This hate and fear needs to stop. This judgment needs to stop. We are hurting ourselves, and one another.”

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Lloyd Dunkelberger
Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger has been covering Florida government for over three decades. He’s reported and edited in Tallahassee for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group, Florida Politics, and the News Service of Florida. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County and got his journalism degree at the University of Florida.