Nikki Fried says Florida Cabinet 'left in the dark' during coronavirus pandemic

Lone Democrat on Cabinet calls for 'transparency' from governor
Nikki Fried in October 2019
Posted at 4:34 PM, May 28, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Florida, upbraided Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday for keeping the Florida Cabinet "in the dark" by failing to convene the panel to discuss the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite Fried's calls to do so, the outbreak was not specifically included on the agenda Thursday, when the politically powerful Cabinet convened for the first time since February and nearly three months after the governor authorized health officials to declare a public health emergency.

For the most critical months of the COVID-19 outbreak, she told the governor, "this Cabinet has been left in the dark."

As Florida's top Democrat, Fried has been especially vocal in demanding transparency in the state’s response to the pandemic.

She's called on DeSantis to bring key administration officials before the Cabinet, including the state's surgeon general and other top health officials, to discuss key metrics in the pandemic and how the information was being used to support reopening the state.

"Floridians expect our government to be united, especially during this time of unprecedented challenges to the state we all love," she said. "But we can't do that without information and without transparency."

DeSantis did not respond during the meeting, but a spokeswoman has previously accused Fried of politicizing the pandemic.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican, came to the governor's defense, saying that DeSantis has responded appropriately to the crisis.

"You have my support, and I appreciate everything you've done to get us through these turbulent waters," Patronis said.

After the meeting, Fried questioned the accuracy of the health data being made public -- a charge rejected by the governor and his health officials.

"We have to make sure we have accurate data so people can be making these personal choices," Fried said.

Thursday's agenda was mostly mundane, encompassing routine business such as land acquisitions and financing matters. Any discussion about the pandemic was mainly in passing, including a brief mention of social distancing at emergency shelters during hurricanes.

Cabinet meetings are chaired by the governor and its members include Fried, Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody.