Gov. Ron DeSantis and Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried, at right, participate with other Cabinet members during the panel’s second, and last scheduled, meeting of 2022, on Aug. 23. Source: Scrrenshot/Florida Channel
With polls open across Florida on primary election day, Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed himself a brief gesture toward Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried during a Florida Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee on Tuesday: He crossed over to her and said, “Good luck.”
Fried is running for the Democratic nominee for governor, and if she wins, she’d face DeSantis in the general election.
So the bonhomie didn’t last. Minutes later, the governor was roasting Fried in comments to news reporters.
Both DeSantis and Fried on Tuesday commented about Florida’s 15-week abortion ban and whether DeSantis will push for further restrictions on abortion access or attempt to eliminate abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, allowing states to make decisions about abortion.
The current law is being enforced, although it still is tied up in appeals after a state trial judge ruled it unconstitutional.
“I think we want to make sure that what we’ve done will stick, and then work with the Legislature,” DeSantis said.
“But I will tell you, you know, that 15 (week ban) was very difficult to be able to achieve. We were happy that we were able to achieve it. And so, you know, we look forward and we welcome future endeavors. But we realize there’s still going to be a fight on the legal end on that.”
Asked at that point what sort of abortion-related legislation he’d like to see, DeSantis left the room.
The Florida Democratic Party responded, describing DeSantis as “Ron Running Scared.”
“This morning, when asked if he supports a complete abortion ban, DeSantis’ question-dodging hit a new and embarrassing low: he simply ran straight out of the room,” according to a press release by the Democratic Party.
During a separate news gaggle shortly later, Fried said the voters won’t let the governor duck that question indefinitely.
“The people of our state deserve answers about where he is,” she said.
Fried added, “you better believe that when I’m our nominee that every single day I’m going to be asking that question. Because the women of our state need to know that if our governor is going to have the audacity to come in here and take away a woman’s right to choose, and when he says that that is what his plan is, you better believe that we are going to have the first female governor of the state of Florida.”
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, Fried’s opponent in the Democratic party primary for governor, has promised to sign an executive order on his first day, if elected, protecting abortion access.
Both DeSantis and Fried addressed reporters informally following a Cabinet meeting that stretched for nearly three hours on Tuesday morning. (Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis also are members of the Cabinet, which oversees numerous Florida boards and agencies).
The effect was to eat into Fried’s last full day of campaigning in the primary.
As the governor noted: “I’m glad I’m not on the ballot — it’s always best to run unopposed.” He noted that his GOP colleagues on the Cabinet, Moody and Patronis, faced no primary opposition, either.
“Three of us didn’t have elections, and so, you know, you’ve got to make decisions and so that’s just what we did,” DeSantis said.
“Of course it’s not a coincidence,” Fried told reporters of the scheduling conflict.
“I think that he is scared of me winning tonight and so is doing everything in his power to keep me off the campaign trail today, bring me up here. It’s unfortunate that this is only our second Cabinet meeting of the year. And, if I know this governor, it’s probably going to be the last one.”
Blast from DeSantis
“She had an opportunity as being the only Democrat elected statewide to maybe exercise some leadership and maybe get some things done and, instead, she’s used her time to basically try to smear me on a daily basis. That’s all she does,” DeSantis fumed.
“So, that’s the road she’s taken. And you think about it, her versus a guy that’s been running for office for five decades, who is voting with Biden 100 percent … she should have been able to win that going away. And it seems she’s going to come up not just short but significantly short. And I think that’s probably why,” he said.
The governor referred there to Crist, the former Republican governor who would also unsuccessfully seek statewide offices as an independent and Democrat. He also referred to polls suggesting Crist enjoys a significant lead over Fried notwithstanding recent gains by her campaign.
As for the governor’s bitter recriminations against her, Fried insisted she was just doing her job.
“What we’ve been able to do, not just as commissioner but now as a candidate for over a year, is show strength, show that we are not going to back down to an argument, to a fight. We’re going to show women and young girls what is possible out there,” Fried said.
“Our message has been very clear, not just on the overturning of Roe. v. Wade but what it is like to be a female leader in a very old-boy male network here in Florida politics and politics across the country.
“We have stood up and we have fought with dignity, with pride, and we believe that we have inspired the next generation of little girls to want to get involved in politics and follow their dreams.”
Fried mocked DeSantis’ latest reelection video spot, “Top Gov,” modeled on the “Top Gun” movies, which depicts him in jet-jockey drag “dogfighting” with the “corporate media.”
“He plays dress-up, like he’s, you know, a fighter pilot, you know. From my understanding, he doesn’t even fly jets. But he’d rather play dress-up than actually spend time dealing with issues on the ground here in the state of Florida,” she said.
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