Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has long been rumored to be challenging Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the 2022 gubernatorial race but has yet to make a campaign launch official.
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) May 12, 2021
Since she posted the video, news and political commentary about Fried and her personal relationships, business interests, potential ethical questions, and how they all fit together have entered the conversation in light of an impending campaign launch.
Questions about Fried’s relationship with her fiancé, Jake Bergmann, have circulated for over a year, particularly since law enforcement was called to address several disturbances in a Fort Lauderdale hotel between Fried and Bergmann. Bergmann was subsequently escorted off the hotel property.
As a result, Fried dismissed three of her closest advisors after they cited complaints saying she was in an “abusive” relationship. One of the advisors axed was Eric Johnson, and Fried criticized Johnson and defended her relationship with Bergmann.
“I’m a 42-year-old, independently strong female and would never allow somebody to put their hands on me and to abuse me,” Fried said in an interview. “This is Eric’s retribution. He has never agreed with Jake, has tried to kick him out of [my political] circles, and has refused to allow him to have an opinion or role in our politics.”
Bergmann is still in the process of getting a divorce from his current wife, but transferred their $700,000 home to Fried’s name, which might be a potential violation of Florida’s ethics law regarding gifts.
When Fried ran for agriculture commissioner, one of her chief policy positions was expanding medical marijuana access, and has added to her policy position since saying “legalizing cannabis solves lots of problems and creates none.” However, Bergmann owns a large stake in Surterra Wellness, one of Florida’s largest medical marijuana companies, which donated tens of thousands of dollars to Fried’s 2018 campaign. Fried’s father, Ronald Fried, a registered lobbyist in Tallahassee, is also financially tied to Surterra. Fried’s public policy positions and connection to Bergmann, and therefore Surterra, has raised questions asking if she will benefit financially from marijuana expansion in Florida.
More questions were raised around Fried’s obtaining of her medical marijuana card which she said she got for sleep issues, when Florida’s Constitution expressly lists debilitating illnesses as the only reasons to obtain a card.
Another close tie she wields is with embroiled U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL-1). Business Insider recently reported Fried and Gaetz were “pals,” and their friendship ties back to when Gaetz was a state legislator and Fried was a medical cannabis lobbyist.
When the allegations and news about Gaetz made national headlines, Fried hoped the allegations were false and federal law enforcement agencies would move along.
“I certainly hope they (the allegations) are not true on behalf of the potential victims of this case, and certainly hope the FBI and DOJ either come to a decision or make further findings, or it is time for people of our country and our state to move on and get on with the business of governing,” Fried said.
Among the growing chorus of questions about Fried includes Mac Stipanovich, former Chief of Staff to then-Governor Bob Martinez, who is supporting U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL-13)’s bid for governor. Stipanovich criticized Fried for her mistiming, saying her time to run for governor is not now:
So, no, running for Governor now is not the high percentage play for her. But Nikki has been running for Governor since the day she took the oath of office as Ag Commissioner, excoriating DeSantis for this, that, or whatever day in and day out, which brings me to the question of style. With the passage of time — although not that much time has passed — she has become louder and more acerbic, attempting to bait DeSantis into engaging with her, thereby anointing her as his nemesis and, as a result, making her the Democrat to be reckoned with in 2022. But while the Governor is nowhere near the sharpest knife in the drawer, Ivy League education notwithstanding, he didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday either: he has pretty much ignored Nikki, to her obvious frustration.
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