Nikki Fried, possible candidate for Florida governor, clashes with Ron DeSantis over wildfires

click to enlarge Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried - Photo via News Service of Florida
Photo via News Service of Florida
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried
Florida Democrats hope to make wildfires that destroyed homes and other structures in the Panhandle the latest political wedge between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who some believe could clash in the 2022 gubernatorial election.

The Florida Democratic Party wasted little time noting that Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, had become the face of the state’s response to a series of wildfires, with the biggest a 2,000-acre Five Mile Swamp blaze in Santa Rosa County that closed a portion of Interstate 10, damaged buildings and caused evacuations and power outages.

“In a stark contrast to Ron DeSantis, Commissioner Fried made it a priority to thank the front-line heroes who deserve the most credit, as opposed to DeSantis who took to Twitter to praise Donald Trump, not even mentioning our brave first responders,” the Florida Democratic Party said in a news release that also highlighted Fried’s state and national media appearances to address the response to the fires.

Fried, who oversees the Florida Forest Service, DeSantis and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis all traveled to the region last week during the fires. Fried’s office later announced that a criminal investigation was underway for the Five Mile Swamp fire and an arrest had been made on charges of reckless burning and burning of illegal materials in a fire in Walton County.

“Glad to join @NikkiFriedFL at the @SRC_EM to give Floridians the latest on the #FiveMileSwampFire,” Patronis, who serves as the state fire marshal, tweeted, referring to the state Division of Emergency Management. “Homeowners in need of assistance with filing insurance claims please call our Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).”

Fried, who addressed the Pensacola media with Patronis, replied to Patronis in a tweet.

“Glad to join @JimmyPatronis yesterday as we respond to the #5MileSwampFire and #MussettBayouFire,” Fried tweeted. “Coming together to protect lives and property is our number one priority.”

DeSantis didn’t address the media while in Pensacola or address the fire at subsequent press conferences. But he issued three tweets about his visit.

The first was about heading to Santa Rosa County for a briefing on the fire and that he had requested assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The second gave a thanks to President Donald Trump as the federal assistance had been approved and noted he had been briefed locally on the Five Mile Swamp fire.

The third tweet highlighted his visit to Rusted Arrow Mercantile, a store in Pensacola, to pick up Mother’s Day gifts.

“Great store in a beautiful downtown area!” DeSantis tweeted.

Clashes and perceived clashes between DeSantis and Fried have been increasing. Recently, for example, Fried has criticized DeSantis for leaving her off his Re-Open Task Force that came up with recommendations related to the coronavirus.

Fried has also questioned DeSantis for canceling Cabinet meetings the past two months, saying elected officials need to jointly address the coronavirus even if the conversations are by phone. The Cabinet is set to meet on May 28, the first meeting since Feb. 4.

Rolling Out the Welcome Mat

Come to Florida, where we won’t arrest you. That was the message Patronis sent Tuesday to tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

In a series of tweets that also encouraged other people to join his Florida promotional campaign, Patronis invited Musk to relocate a Tesla electric car plant from Fremont, Calif., where he defied local orders by reopening the facility during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Join me in inviting @elonmusk to Florida where he can reopen @Tesla without lawsuits and the threat of imprisonment,” Patronis tweeted.

Responding to a reporter, Patronis added, “Would you ACTUALLY ever want to live in any other state than Florida??!!? @Tesla would gain in logistics to Europe (huge market) and the Americas. Come on, Disney? Happiest place on earth! #NoBrainer Help me trend #FloridaLovesTesla.”

On Saturday, Musk tweeted his anger at the Alameda County Health Department, which wouldn’t let the factory reopen due to virus lockdown measures.

“Frankly, this is the final straw,” Musk tweeted. “Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be (dependent) on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.”

The county announced on Tuesday that it had reached agreement on a plan that would allow Tesla to operate at the facility.

But when the Daily Mail posted a story that said Musk could save billions of dollars moving to Nevada or Texas, Patronis jumped in that the tax savings could also be enjoyed in Florida.

Musk has already spurned Florida once, opting in 2014 to set up the world's first private launch facility in Texas rather than at Cape Canaveral for his Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX.

Crossing the Aisle

Fourteen lawmakers in Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation drew positive marks for bipartisanship in 2019 from the Lugar Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank, and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

Among the 100 senators, Florida Republican Marco Rubio ranked ninth. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican who represents most of the Northern Tampa Bay area, was 32nd among representatives, for the best score among Florida House members.

The rankings were based on the frequency with which lawmakers worked with members of the other party on bill sponsorships and co-sponsorships, particularly in how often they succeeded in attracting co-sponsors from members of the other party, and how often they in turn co-sponsored bills introduced from across the aisle. Resolutions and ceremonial bills didn’t count.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., ranked 81st in the Senate, where the bipartisanship list was led by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “WATCH: Protesters calling for gyms to reopen in Florida are doing squats and push-ups outside the Clearwater courthouse.” – WFLA News (@WFLA).

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