Florida's new agriculture commissioner fights with NRA lobbyist over concealed carry permits


Agriculture Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried wants to move the handling of concealed-weapons licenses from the agency she will soon oversee to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

But National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, the state’s top Second Amendment advocate, is digging in on her position that the license program needs the guiding hand of a statewide elected official, preferably of the Republican kind.

Fried, a Democrat, and Hammer this week continued a back-and-forth that started during the election campaign, with Fried sending out a series of tweets reaffirming her position that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the wrong place for concealed-weapons licenses.

“Politics should have no role in our concealed weapons permit process —- the current system has allowed groups like the @NRA to control our state government for long enough. I fully support moving the program to be under the authority of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” she tweeted.

Fried has questioned the need for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to oversee the program since a series of reports this summer by the Tampa Bay Times and Associated Press highlighted errors in background checks.

The Times reported this week that Senate Democrats are drafting language to support Fried’s proposal to move the program to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, while Hammer is pushing for it to go under state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican who won his Cabinet race Nov. 6.

Fried called Hammer’s effort “irresponsible” and “a blatant power grab and shameless political party shopping.”

“If the NRA is serious about public safety, they should agree with a non-partisan check on public safety & trust law enforcement to do their job,” Fried tweeted. “We must start the conversation of non-partisan oversight on concealed weapons permits to take the politics out of public safety.”

Hammer responded Wednesday in an email to The News Service of Florida by saying the move to Patronis’ office would protect the program and called Fried “an anti-gun politician who had already announced that she will effectively disrupt and derail the program.”

“No program that facilitates a constitutional right should be under a politically appointed agency head, it must be under an elected official answerable to the people,” Hammer said in the email. “I assure you 1.8 million (concealed weapons) license holders would not be happy if the program were disrupted.”

“I find it strange that all of a sudden a Democrat is asking us to trust law enforcement when Democrats have repeatedly criticized, verbally attacked and denounced law enforcement as untrustworthy,” Hammer concluded.

The NRA supported Republican Matt Caldwell in the agriculture commissioner contest. Fried, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who will take office in January, noted repeatedly during the campaign that she is a gun owner.


Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, who rode into Tallahassee on a mission vaguely seeking to “clean the swamp,” announced an inaugural committee this week deep in Tallahassee political insiders.

The committee includes inaugural chairs Brian and Kathryn Ballard, who also co-chaired the inaugural ceremonies of Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Brian Ballard, a lobbyist whose Ballard Partners offices stretch from Tallahassee to Washington, was noted in a news release announcing the inaugural committee as being a “top advisor” to the governor-elect and President Donald Trump.

It should be noted that Susie Wiles, the political guru who was brought on board DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign as it appeared to be foundering in late September, is a managing partner for Ballard’s firm in Jacksonville and Washington.

Co-chairs in helping to raise money and plan events around the Jan. 8 inaugural are Stanley and Gay Hart Gaines of Palm Beach and Bill and Lys Rubin of Broward County.

Gay Hart Gaines, a Republican fundraiser, is described in the news release as among DeSantis’ “strongest supporters.” Bill Rubin, president of the lobbying firm The Rubin Group, served on Scott’s inaugural committee.

Overseeing the inaugural finance committee are three heavy hitters: Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist with the firm Capital City Consulting; James “Bill” Heavener, CEO of The Heavener Company and Full Sail University; and Mori Hosseini. chairman and CEO of ICI Homes.


Top-of-the ticket Democrats who fell in the recent elections are still trying to make their cases.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum joined his counterpart from Georgia, Stacey Abrams, in expressing opposition this week to the judicial appointment of Thomas Farr.

Farr, whose resume includes being a campaign attorney for former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, has been nominated by Trump to fill a long-vacant judicial vacancy in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Farr’s selection has drawn opposition over his defense of a voting-rights law in North Carolina that was struck down by an appeals court for targeting African-American voters.

“When it comes to the trifecta of voter disenfranchisement —- voter suppression, racial gerrymandering, and restriction of voting rights —- Thomas Farr is, sadly, one of the most experienced election lawyers in the country,” said the statement from Gillum and Abrams, who became progressive favorites during their unsuccessful campaigns.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was defeated by Scott on Nov. 6, was back on the Senate floor Monday as part of what his office said will be “a number of speeches over the course of the next couple of weeks to comment on various matters.”

Monday’s topics ranged from protecting Florida’s environment by saying “no to drilling off our coast” to continuing rocket launches at Cape Canaveral.

He also warned of a “gathering darkness in our politics.”

“We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy, where truth is treated as disposable, where falsehoods abound, and the free press is assaulted as the enemy of the people,” Nelson said.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Just spoke to U.S. Trade Representative Amb. Robert Lighthizer about how bad the new trade deal with #Mexico is for #Florida seasonal vegetable growers. It will allow Mexico to continue unfair practices that will literally put many Florida farmers out of business.” —- U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (@marcorubio), referring to a proposed trade deal that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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