Crist Crossed, Nikki Fried versus the Democratic Party

By the time you’re reading this column (and how long it takes you to read it), we will be just over a month away from this year’s statewide primaries in which our two main political parties (Democrats and Republicans, for the uninitiated) will select their nominees for a variety of positions on the local, state and national level. Depending on what county and neighborhood you live in, you can expect to see everything from your local school board to the U.S. Senate (which is apparently still a thing) on the ballot Aug. 23.

Our main event pits Nikki Fried against Charlie Crist for the Democratic nomination for governor, which carries with it the honor of getting housed by Ron DeSantis in the general election on Nov. 8. Of course, it’s way early to declare a victor, but that hasn’t stopped political writers up and down the state from repeating the same tired cliches about the incumbent’s inevitability. Let’s face it, statewide media has been baby-soft on the guy, offering minimal pushback to his record of hate-speech and his frequent abuse of power. These folks could make you believe the Jaguars were absolutely winning the next Super Bowl, such is the power of circular thinking. It’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as all prophecies tend to be.

As agriculture commissioner, Fried is directly responsible for the successful creation of Florida’s medical marijuana program. She built this system basically from scratch with minimal oversight by a governor who, surprisingly, actually respected the voters’ wishes on the matter. Fried is leaving that office in order to run for governor, which is a huge risk. Ryan Morales is my favorite among her potential successors, but the seat is probably destined to fall back into GOP hands. If Fried wins, she will probably find some way to allow for expanded recreational use, by way of bypassing the legislature. (Pro tip: Always bypass the legislature. They suck.) Assuming a Republican sweep, however, there’s no telling what they will do.

The capitalist argument is to keep doing exactly what they have been doing, but it will be hard for the famously petty DeSantis, having crushed all opposition, to punish his enemies by gutting the Office Of Medical Marijuana Use, raising license fees to punitive levels or simply refusing to permit any new investment in the industry. After all, the new scuttlebutt is that DeSantis is feeling himself so much now (having seen that Dems are stifling Fried, who is the only one with any chance of beating him) that he’s maybe looking to untether himself from Trump’s coattails, assume full control of the MAGA gimmick and parlay that into a 2024 run against Joe Biden, who is, by any objective standard the weakest Democratic president in living memory. Even at his lowest point, Harry Truman didn’t give off such strong “doormat” vibes.

Is Fried underfunded? No: her party is withholding funds, giving her little logistical support. Gossip and rumors follow her everywhere, while many rank-and-file Dems have expressed fear of working for her, lest they face retaliation from other party leaders. The fix is in, and they’re fixing to tank this election. Washington, meanwhile, appears to have no enthusiasm whatsoever in regard to the historic opportunities being presented in Florida, Georgia and Texas, three battleground states, redder than a baboon’s booty, all with weak, vulnerable governors and visionary new Democratic challengers, two of whom (Fried and Stacey Abrams) are women.

Charlie Crist can’t give you a good reason why he’s running, and no one really cares to ask him. Behind the scenes, political reporters across the state are saying the same thing: Democrats would rather see Ron DeSantis on Pennsylvania Avenue than see Nikki Fried on North Adams Street in Tallahassee. Like, these are exactly the stakes; everyone knows it, but the only one with any real sense of urgency is Fried. It’s like she sees the next five years so clearly that she’s willing to risk ruining her very promising political career (if not literally her life, as well)  in order to stop him. And if she leaves her fate in the hands of the same people who lost the last six consecutive governor’s races, well, that’s exactly what might happen.

About Shelton Hull