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Nikki Fried Enters Governor's Race While DeSantis Tangles With Cruise Industry Over Vaccines

 A screenshot from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried's video announcing she is running for governor in 2022.
A screenshot from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried's video announcing she is running for governor in 2022.

Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, is running for governor. She calls for "something new." And Gov. Ron DeSantis' stand-off with the cruise industry.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called Florida under Republican leadership "rigged" and "against [Floridians'] interests."

She announced her candidacy earlier this week, ending weeks of speculation that the first-time statewide officeholder would seek a promotion in 2022.

"It's time for something new," she said in the video.

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Fried becomes the second Democrat to seek the party's nomination. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who served one term as governor as a Republican, officially entered the race last month.

Fried won a tight 2018 race to become agriculture commissioner on a platform of weed, water and weapons. Her private interest in the marijuana industry has become an early campaign issue after she filed an amended financial disclosure form just before entering the gubernatorial race. She changed two financial forms to reflect earning significantly more money as a lobbyist than she first disclosed.

"It was an error that we saw when we are working through my forms this year," she said. One error totaled over $351,000 in previous undisclosed income.

"I gave my attorneys back in 2018 my salary for 2018. It was roughly six months of my income from January to when I announced [her candidacy for agriculture commissioner] and we realized that the 2017 gross income also included all of my business income and reimbursements. And that should have also been reported not just my salary," Fried said.

Essentially, Fried said her initial financial disclosure reflected just her salary, but not her total income.

"This is all stuff that has been disclosed as a lobbyist. I had to every quarter report all of my compensation," she said. "So that's been public for a long time. So this was an error on our part."

While Gov. Ron DeSantis has not officially announced his re-election plans, he said this week Fried "has done nothing" while in office. He called her a "lockdown lobbyist" in reference to her opposition to lifting some restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"I'm doing something right that I'm getting underneath the skin that he needs to lodge nicknames for me," Fried said.

Before she can presume to face the incumbent in a general election, she will have to prevail among Democrats, including former Gov. Crist.

"While, yes, people know Charlie, the state of Florida wants something new and wants something different," she said. "The only way to get that accomplished is by breaking the system and voting and supporting the mission that we have. And that's my platform. And so it's very simple."

Bruising Cruising

After remaining docked for 15 months the cruise ship industry says it’s ready to set sail again from Florida ports. Gov. DeSantis says they can’t require passengers to be vaccinated before they get onboard. However, some cruise operators want to require vaccines for most passengers and crews for early cruises.

DeSantis sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over its conditional sail order. After more than a week of court-ordered mediation with the cruise industry, there was no deal. The case returns to a federal judge in Tampa. Meantime, the governor's executive order prohibiting businesses from requiring customers to be vaccinated remains in place in advance of a state law doing the same thing going in effect July 1.

"It's really hard to say" if cruise passengers starting their journeys in Florida will have to be vaccinated by the time the ships are scheduled to set sail beginning later this month, said Miami Herald tourism reporter Taylor Dolven. "No one has a straight answer."

The governor has been steadfast in his refusal to allow cruise ships to mandate the vaccine for passengers. And several cruise operators still plan on requiring passengers to get their shots and provide proof before stepping onboard.

Royal Caribbean plans on requiring every passenger over 16 years old to be vaccinated. Its Celebrity Cruise brand is scheduled to be the first cruise with paying passengers to leave an American port since March 2020, when it sets sail June 26 from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

"The CDC doesn't have a vaccine requirement. It's leaving that decision up to the companies," Dolven said. The largest cruise ship operator, Carnival Corporation, has not announced a fleet-wide vaccination policy. Norwegian Cruise Line has a mandatory vaccination policy for all passengers and crew on ships departing through Oct. 31.

Royal Caribbean International announced Friday that four of its ships will begin sailing from Florida ports in July and August. The company said all crew members will be vaccinated and "guests are strongly recommended" get receive the vaccine, though they won't be required.

"Those who are unvaccinated or unable to verify vaccination will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols, which will be announced at a later date," according to a company press release.

Royal Caribbean is requiring passengers sailing to Alaska to be vaccinated.

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Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.