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Nikki Fried Runs For Governor, Florida’s New Budget, And Cleaning Water Using Cacti

Jose A. Iglesias
Miami Herald

Florida's only statewide elected Democrat is running for governor. The state's largest budget ever was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Who are the winners and losers? Plus, how to clean water using a cactus.

On this Thursday, June 3, episode of Sundial:

Nikki Fried Runs For Governor

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is the latest Democratic candidate to launch a bid for the 2022 gubernatorial race. As the lone Democratic statewide officeholder, Fried is the de-facto leader of the Democratic Party in Tallahassee and has been a counterpoint to the DeSantis administration on the coronavirus pandemic, gun control and immigration.

Before Fried can challenge DeSantis, she’ll need to win the primary next August and faces a difficult challenger in Democratic U.S. Rep — and former governor — Charlie Crist.

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“We all know Charlie. Charlie has been here for a long time. But the people of our state want something new. I’m not a career politician. I’m not somebody who is beholden to anybody besides the people of our state,” Fried said on Sundial.

St. Pete Polls conducted a survey of Florida Democratic voters last week and found Charlie Crist leads Nikki Fried by a margin of more than 30%. Beyond those odds, a Democrat hasn’t gotten into the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee in more than 20 years. But Fried argued she’s the candidate for Floridians that want change.

“After talking to people and getting this message across they’re going to know the system is rigged against them. Whether it’s our constitutional amendments that we have been passing consistently over the last 20 years, that once it gets to Tallahassee they dismantle it and let it go towards special interests," said Fried. "Whether it's our healthcare system, or the unemployment system that was designed to fail the people and we saw that firsthand last year."

The agriculture commissioner is facing scrutiny from Republicans for her ties to the medical marijuana industry. Last week, she added more than $350,000 in financial disclosures for money she gained from investments in the company Harvest. When asked about whether voters should be concerned about her being beholden to special interests, Fried said she would sell her shares of Harvest if she were elected governor.

Nikki Fried Runs For Governor
Photo: Florida News Service

Florida’s New Budget

This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed off on the biggest spending plan in the state’s history.

The $101.5 billion budget includes money for infrastructure, the environment, schools, health care and even wage raises for some state employees. This year’s boost is about $9 billion higher than last year’s. Much of that money is coming from multiple federal bailout plans.

“It certainly is a sign that the state is rebounding since the pandemic,” said Ana Ceballos, the Miami Herald’s politics and policy reporter. “This year [DeSantis] used his veto pen sparingly.”

In local projects, the governor vetoed just $54 million — much less than the $1 billion he vetoed the previous year in preparation for the economic setbacks from the pandemic.

The veto also included about $1 billion in federal money for a new emergency fund, the governor made this cut citing the hurdles the government put in place to make the money usable.

“That’s money that should be spent on Floridians and not put aside in reserves,” said Esteban Santis, a budget and revenue policy analyst with Florida Policy Institute.

His organization has made the case that the federal money vetoed should have been used to fix the “broken unemployment insurance system or implementing a state earned income tax credit.” Florida has until 2024 to use those funds.

Florida’s New Budget
Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida may have "vanquished the ghosts of Bush versus Gore." Video image: The Florida Channel

Cleaning Water Using Cacti

For millions of people living in the developing world, access to clean drinking water remains a critical challenge on a daily basis. Norma Alcantar, a chemical engineer from the University of South Florida, developed an innovative low-cost solution to the problem — using cacti in order to clean drinking water.

“So it’s like a gooey, very viscous substance that cacti have and they have properties that really act like a fishing net in the ocean. You throw the fishing net and it will fish whatever you have in the ocean. The cactus has these sugars that will act like a fishing net, it will catch whatever is in the water,” Alcantar said.

She was recently inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame for her creation. She used the invention to clean water in camps of displaced Haitians in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

“After the earthquake, there was a lot of debris in the water because most of the construction had actually gone down. And that had dissolved many of the metals from the construction sites and concrete and sediments into their water supplies,” Alcantar said.

Cleaning Water Using Cacti

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.