TALLAHASSEE — With a governor seeking re-election in 2022 and a member of the state Cabinet challenging him, don’t expect everyone to play nice in the sandbox when they get together for business.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this week locked horns during meetings of the Cabinet and the state Board of Executive Clemency, as the governor tried to impose his will and the lone statewide elected Democrat cast herself as his nemesis.
During a meeting Wednesday, the DeSantis-led clemency board pardoned all Floridians who were arrested or fined for violating local-government requirements about wearing masks or social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This action is necessary so that we can recover, have a good transition to normal operations, and also just a recognition that a lot of this stuff was way, way overboard,” DeSantis said.
The pardon continued a push by DeSantis to end locally imposed COVID-19 measures. The governor issued an executive order in May suspending local pandemic restrictions and subsequently signed a bill to curb the ability of local officials to issue emergency orders.
State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, both Republicans, backed the governor during the clemency board meeting, but Fried voted against the statewide pardon.
“Our local governments stepped up to protect the people of our state. They did what was best for the interests of their communities,” Fried said.
The meetings this week continued a ramped-up feud between DeSantis and Fried, as the governor has painted the Democrat as a “lockdown lobbyist” and Fried has hit back by calling DeSantis an “authoritarian dictator.”
On Tuesday, DeSantis suggested he might not seek approval from the Cabinet for an appointee to replace former Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein. The move would be unprecedented, but DeSantis argued he might only need the Legislature to sign off on his upcoming pick.
“I think if you actually look at the Constitution, it says either the Cabinet or the Legislature, the Senate,” DeSantis said, while acknowledging that part of a statute about the department’s creation says both the Cabinet and Legislature would have to give approval.
“My sense would be the Legislature would retain their authority rather than give the Cabinet authority, so that would be a live issue potentially, if we end up with a conflict,” DeSantis said.
Fried told reporters Tuesday that DeSantis “is going to have to deal with me, in order for it to be approved.”