TAMPA (WFLA) – Fresh off the long-expected announcement that she’s running for governor, Florida Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried answered questions from 8 On Your Side about how she would have led Florida differently.
Here are some of the topics Evan Donovan asked her about:
Evan Donovan: Would you have issued a statewide mask mandate?
Nikki Fried: “Yes, in fact I called upon it. Look, it’s a piece of cloth you put over your face. You can’t walk into a restaurant without a shirt on or shoes on. This is something that science was based on how it was going to help prevent the spread of the virus. This was simple, but again, [DeSantis] made it a partisan issue. We lost a lot of lives because of his lack of leadership.”
Evan: Would you have reopened schools for in-person learning last August?
Fried: “I would’ve, and I said that. My greatest concern is with how the governor rolled this out. One, he was back and forth, threatening schools and school districts on how they reopened. That’s not working with people and giving them a sense of confidence that we’ve got this.”
“And he not only made it confusing to our schools, our teachers, and our students, he also didn’t give the right resources and guidance of how to open up safely. He just mandated that everything was to be opened, and if you didn’t do so, you’re gonna get your funding cut.”
“That’s not how you lead. You work together with our school boards, local elected leaders, teachers’ associations. So I would have opened them, but I would have done it in a much different manner.”
8 On Your Side also found contrary statements from Fried about reopening schools.
Last July on MSNBC, Fried said “I absolutely stand with our teacher’s union” in reference to a lawsuit from the Florida Education Association arguing that the state could not reopen schools safely.
Evan: How much longer would you have kept Florida’s economy closed than DeSantis did? In September, you questioned his decision to reopen then to Phase 3, saying “Floridians, without being told so, are being forced to embrace the governor’s herd immunity plan. At what cost? How many more people have to die?
Fried: “You know, when he put out his plan to reopen the state, I actually applauded it. I thought that it was methodical, that it was guided on principles of science. And that there was a phased-in approach as to when we got to certain parameters and milestones as far as the number of cases being reported.”
“So I did praise that, and thought that was the right approach. The governor, on the advice of the White House, threw that all in the air, and just reopened, then cherry-picked which were going to be open and which not. Look what he did with WWE — opened that up with other things being closed. He gave confusing orders of what was being opened, what wasn’t being opened. That was more of the confusion than anything else.”
“I always believed it was right for us to start slowly opening back up our state. We should have never had a complete lockdown for a significant period of time. I was hearing the frustrations of so many of our local businesses — knowing they wanted to get back on track.”
Fried’s statement may be true, but after DeSantis announced Phase 1 reopening last April, she made critical comments about the plan, tweeting at her followers to let DeSantis know that “before we can reopen safely we need mass testing, contact tracing and proper social distancing measures in place.”
Later, in early fall, Fried was again critical of DeSantis, this time over his Phase 3 reopening. In one tweet, she said “[W]e have to listen to our public health experts. Dr. Fauci says we’re ‘really asking for trouble’ by reopening Florida prematurely…again.”
In another tweet, Fried said Gov. DeSantis’ “push forward on reopening…isn’t backed by science —it’s backed by Donald Trump.”
Florida’s new transgender sports law
On Wednesday, the same day Fried announced her run for governor, DeSantis signed a bill banning transgender females from girls’ and women’s school sports in Florida. At his side was one of several Connecticut high school female athletes who say they lost races and opportunities to two transgender women.
Evan: You opposed that bill. So what would you say to those girls or her parents?
Fried: “First of all, I fundamentally believe that this is not a place where government should have intruded. This is something between the sports leagues, between their schools, this is not something the government should have interfered with. Because what are you telling those trans children? That they’re not good enough. That there’s something wrong with them.”
“So what you’ve done as government is you’re choosing sides on this conversation. This is an overreach of government and should not have been something that we — we actually had hours upon hours of debate and heartfelt stories. We had one of our state senators whose granddaughter is transgender who got up on the floor of the state senate and pled with his colleagues not to vote for this because of how much this would hurt his granddaughter.”
“This was hurtful and spewing hatred, and the governor was praising this. This is not what a government should be doing. The government should not be intruding in these types of activities. This is a private matter.”
Cruise industry in Florida
Another hot-button issue in Florida is the CDC’s effective shutdown of the cruise industry. Gov. DeSantis sued the CDC in April, arguing it doesn’t have the authority to shut down an entire industry. Complicating the governor’s argument, however, is his executive order banning companies, agencies and schools in Florida from requiring customers be vaccinated.
A state law based on his order will take effect on July 1, authorizing a $5,000 fine against businesses that break the law. A governor’s office spokesperson confirmed that law would mean a $5,000 fine per cruise passenger if the cruise line stopping in Florida required vaccines.
Evan: Should people who choose not to be vaccinated have the right to go on a cruise?
Fried: “Every business should have the right to regulate their own when it comes to who their patrons are. This is something that has to be a free market decision.”
Evan: Do you agree with Florida filing a lawsuit against the CDC? Would you back that lawsuit as well?
Fried: “No, I would not. Because I also know this lawsuit was for the sole purpose of political games. This was not because they truly believe in this policy. It’s because they want to win points with a very small sector of our state.”