By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Democrats hope to make wildfires that destroyed homes and other structures in the Panhandle the latest political wedge between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who some believe could clash in the 2022 gubernatorial election.
The Florida Democratic Party wasted little time noting that Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, had become the face of the state’s response to a series of wildfires, with the biggest a 2,000-acre Five Mile Swamp blaze in Santa Rosa County that closed a portion of Interstate 10, damaged buildings and caused evacuations and power outages.
“In a stark contrast to Ron DeSantis, Commissioner Fried made it a priority to thank the front-line heroes who deserve the most credit, as opposed to DeSantis who took to Twitter to praise Donald Trump, not even mentioning our brave first responders,” the Florida Democratic Party said in a news release that also highlighted Fried’s state and national media appearances to address the response to the fires.
Fried, who oversees the Florida Forest Service, DeSantis and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis all traveled to the region last week during the fires. Fried’s office later announced that a criminal investigation was underway for the Five Mile Swamp fire and an arrest had been made on charges of reckless burning and burning of illegal materials in a fire in Walton County.
“Glad to join @NikkiFriedFL at the @SRC_EM to give Floridians the latest on the #FiveMileSwampFire,” Patronis, who serves as the state fire marshal, tweeted, referring to the state Division of Emergency Management. “Homeowners in need of assistance with filing insurance claims please call our Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).”
Fried, who addressed the Pensacola media with Patronis, replied to Patronis in a tweet.
“Glad to join @JimmyPatronis yesterday as we respond to the #5MileSwampFire and #MussettBayouFire,” Fried tweeted. “Coming together to protect lives and property is our number one priority.”
DeSantis didn’t address the media while in Pensacola or address the fire at subsequent press conferences. But he issued three tweets about his visit.
The first was about heading to Santa Rosa County for a briefing on the fire and that he had requested assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The second gave a thanks to President Donald Trump as the federal assistance had been approved and noted he had been briefed locally on the Five Mile Swamp fire.
The third tweet highlighted his visit to Rusted Arrow Mercantile, a store in Pensacola, to pick up Mother’s Day gifts.
“Great store in a beautiful downtown area!” DeSantis tweeted.
Clashes and perceived clashes between DeSantis and Fried have been increasing. Recently, for example, Fried has criticized DeSantis for leaving her off his Re-Open Task Force that came up with recommendations related to the coronavirus.
Fried has also questioned DeSantis for canceling Cabinet meetings the past two months, saying elected officials need to jointly address the coronavirus even if the conversations are by phone. The Cabinet is set to meet on May 28, the first meeting since Feb. 4.