Photo by Dave Decker
Nikki Fried outside Silver Oaks Apartments in Tampa, Florida on April 19, 2022.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has unfriended U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
In the run-up to next week’s Primary Election Day, the Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic candidate to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election has again come under fire for her past connections to the far-right Panhandle Republican, a staunch defender of President Donald Trump currently under investigation for violating federal sex trafficking laws.
Their link has been reported for more than a year, but with one week to go in a tightening Primary against U.S. Rep. and former Gov. Charlie Crist, Crist is questioning her associates after Fried hammered Crist for his history as a Republican.
During a campaign stop on the first day of her bus tour, Fried was asked whether she is still friends with Gaetz. She said no.
“I’m speechless because he has turned into a direction that is dangerous for our country,” Fried told reporters. “The things that he spews — going after women on abortion issues, supporting an insurrectionist — this is not the person I knew when he was here in the Legislature, and I’m disappointed that he’s become a character, and unfortunately, he’s very dangerous.”
It’s not the first time Fried has answered for her association with Gaetz, which began when they worked together on medical marijuana legislation back when Gaetz was in the Legislature and Fried was a cannabis lobbyist. During a Northeast Florida campaign stop last month, Fried called the criticism of their fraternity “chauvinistic” critiques mired in sexist preconceptions.
From reports the two “hung out” at the Trump Hotel in Washington to tales of them being friends during their association supporting medical cannabis — an issue Gaetz took lead on — the narrative suggests an abiding political friendship of some significance.
Their bond is so tight, Business Insider noted at the time, that Fried was the first to text Gaetz to ask if he was OK in the wake of the Capitol attacks from rogue Donald Trump supporters in January.
Fried attempted to qualify that as a general concern for the congressional delegation, but other than Gaetz, few told reporters they’d heard from Fried.
During the Democratic gubernatorial debate last month, Crist scrutinized Fried’s 2017 donation to Republican Ashley Moody, who is now a member of the Florida Cabinet alongside Fried as Attorney General. In her cabinet post, Moody has defended DeSantis’ executive orders and bill signatures in court, including the state’s 15-week abortion ban.
In passing during her campaign speech, Fried made sure to note Florida also needs a new Attorney General.
A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics contributed to this report.
This story was first published at Florida Politics.