It’s no shock for those of us familiar with Tallahassee to learn Nikki Fried has actively campaigned for or given money to some onerous right-wing Republicans. It is after all what lobbyists do, and in this day and age of GOP domination of the state. In fact, rumors about Fried’s associations with Republicans are far and wide among the chattering classes, so this week’s disclosures again were not particularly surprising.
Yet this week’s revelations that Fried had campaigned for Manny Diaz Jr. (no relation to the Florida Democratic Party Chair or University of Miami Football Coach), one of the most conservative and buffoonish members of the Legislature as well as donating to Attorney General Ashley Moody’s 2018 campaign where she defeated Democrat Sean Shaw, leave a particularly bad taste in my mouth.
On the later, to me backing a Republican for Attorney General is inexcusable irrespective of personal friendships. As I have previously articulated, I believe controlling the Attorney General’s office is about as important at the state level as winning the Governorship from a policy perspective (lobbyists and consultants are often more concerned with political patronage, etc and may not feel this way, but still…). The Democrats have nominated high-quality candidates with years of experience for Attorney General in every election cycle since last holding the office in 2002. I’d argue we’ve nominated better candidates for Attorney General than for Governor in most cycles in fact, including 2018. So, if you’re a Democrat, no excuse exists for not backing a Democrat for that office. Period.
On the former, Manny Diaz Jr. was sitting in a State House district that leaned Democratic during a Presidential year (2016). I understand why Fried was backing medical marijuana advocates given who she was lobbying for, but again it runs directly into conflict with being a torch bearer for the Democratic Party. This is why lobbyists becoming political candidates, particularly high-level ones are always fraught with potential landmines (this isn’t really Fried’s fault beyond the fact she is running after spending years lobbying and being friendly with Republicans).
Fried has used the hashtag #SomethingNew to try and give the impression of a fresh face breaking through a class ceiling of male-dominated smoke-filled room politics.
What’s striking to me though the last few days is the number of Democratic activists I have talked to privately that have expressed shock about Fried’s associations, and feel offended by it. It’s as if many Democrats remain willfully ignorant as to what happens in Tallahassee with lobbyists in this era of complete GOP control of the state. Those who get ahead often do so by playing the game effectively, as Fried has done.
Activists often assume if someone has a social media persona that lends itself to being partisan and progressive they are also that way in real life – but Fried, like many other Democratic insiders in this era aren’t people of conviction but adroitly know how to play the power game to advance whatever cause they are contracted to push ahead. This is the case with many Democrats and leads to the malaise the party currently finds itself in.
But it also speaks volumes as to Fried’s own level of conviction for progressive causes. This comes after Fried’s advocates have had a great deal of success from my own anecdotal evidence in convincing activists that Charlie Crist, the former Republican Attorney General and Governor is insufficiently loyal to be the Democratic standard bearer against Ron DeSantis.
However, it is plainly clear that for the last decade Charlie Crist has been a loyal Democrat and much to my surprise, has compiled a very liberal voting record in the US House. This website hammered Crist over and over in 2013 and 2014 for his 1990’s opposition to Governor Chiles while a leading GOP State Senator and his wishy-washy record of the 2000’s where he was a moderate to liberal Republican one day and a conservative one the next. However, as I have often lamented the institutional memory of most political insiders let alone voters is shorter in Florida than most place – while I remember the 1990’s and 2000’s well, it’s become clear most don’t, nor do they really care when it comes down to it.
So, in the recent history and memory of most people, Crist has been a very loyal Democrat, and Fried, whose unforced errors we’ve discussed before on these pages, pretty clearly has not been. With State Senator Annette Taddeo, a bonafide progressive ready to jump into the race, Fried’s margins for error are going to get even thinner, when it comes to party loyalty and other clunky campaign mistakes.
The bottom line is this – despite a neatly packaged PR campaign that spins her as “something new,” a fresh face with a different perspective, Fried has made it perfectly obvious during the last several months she’s a typical political insider and one that also seems to have not really prepared herself for this race.
Saying you are “something new,” and proving it to an electorate that in this state is increasingly skeptical of both Democrats and political insiders (remember Donald Trump won the state twice and Ron DeSantis CRUSHED Adam Putnam in the 2018 GOP Primary) isn’t an easy task – but Fried is making it harder with all these unforced errors and a revelations of GOP support all too recently, for someone who actually wants to lead the Democratic Party in this state.