Ag Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried sets up transition team; asks citizens for input

Nikki Fried
Democratic candidate Nikki Fried -- running for Commissioner of Agriculture -- talks to the press Monday, Aug. 20, in the Capitol building in Tallahassee. Fried is the first woman to be elected as Commissioner of Agriculture. Photo credit: Kevin Cate

Set to become Florida’s first female elected Agriculture Commissioner, Democrat Nikki Fried has set up a transition team that includes a wide range of experts, leaders and politicians.

“From Democratic, Republican, and independent leaders, to leaders in Florida’s agriculture and environmental communities, public safety, energy, consumer protection, and marijuana industries—our transition team reflects the values of all Floridians,” Fried said in an announcement.

The transition team will be chaired by former Congressman Patrick E. Murphy, with two vice chairs: Congressman Darren Soto and Fred Guttenberg, an activist against gun violence. His 14-year-old daughter was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in February in Broward County.

As a whole, the team includes 15 members, plus a general counsel and other transition staff, according to the announcement.

In addition, Fried’s website includes a “Share Your Ideas” section that asks citizens to help out: The website states, “We want to hear from you. What ideas do you have that will improve the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the lives of everyday Floridians?”

People can go online and submit suggestions.

Here are the names and bios for transition team members and staff:

Chair — Former Congressman Patrick Murphy
Murphy represented Florida’s 18th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 until 2017. While in office he helped secure nearly $2 billion in Everglades restoration funding, introducing the SAVE Act to eliminate billions in wasteful government spending, and passing legislation to reform the national flood insurance market. Murphy also formed the bipartisan United Solutions Caucus, bringing members of both parties together to explore ways to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.

Co-Vice Chair — Congressman Darren Soto
Elected in 2016, Congressman Soto represents Florida’s 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, home to many of the people who grow more citrus and raise more cattle than anywhere else in the state. Serving for a decade in the Florida Legislature, he passed landmark legislation protecting families of fallen firefighters, to help victims of sexual assault, and allowing Dreamers to be admitted to the Florida Bar. He secured $25 million to build a state of the art college campus in his district, $10 million to save Florida’s springs, and $15 million for a high-tech sensors manufacturing facility. Congressman Soto is the first Floridian of Puerto Rican descent to serve in Congress.

Co-Vice Chair — Fred Guttenberg
Guttenberg is an activist against gun violence — his 14-year-old daughter Jaime was murdered in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on February 14, 2018. After the massacre he has become one of the strongest voices for changes to gun laws in the nation—speaking out against President Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio for their ties to the NRA and support of the organization’s priorities. He and his wife founded the Orange Ribbons organizations to support causes important to Jaime, but also causes that will deal with the way her life was tragically cut short.

State Attorney Dave Aronberg
Aronberg was elected State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit in November 2012 and re-elected without opposition in 2016. He is a former Assistant Attorney General, White House Fellow and Florida Senator, and worked on an array of issues including serving as Chair of the Everglades Restoration Committee. As State Attorney, Aronberg leads a team of 120 prosecutors and 220 professional staff in five offices throughout Palm Beach County. Under his leadership, Palm Beach County has seen a significant increase in conviction rates for felonies and misdemeanors, a decrease in juveniles direct-filed into adult court, and a greatly improved working relationship with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Former Congressman Allen Boyd
From 1997 to 2011, Boyd represented the 2nd Congressional District of Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1999, he was appointed to the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives, where he worked to bring funding to the priorities of North Florida, including its military community, agriculture industry, and transportation systems. Boyd served on a number of sub-committees of the House Appropriations Committee, including Financial Services, Agriculture and Rural Development, Military Construction and Veterans, and Defense. In his role on the Committee, he oversaw the budgets of multiple agencies, including the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Pentagon, FDA, and USDA. Boyd focused much of his effort on ensuring that America maintained a strong military and continued to have a world-class agriculture production industry.

Susanne Clemons
Clemons is a fifth generation Floridian from Highlands County. She served as the state chairperson of the USDA State Farm Service Committee from 2010 until 2016, the first woman to hold the position. Married to Pete Clemons until his death on September 16, 2018, she worked with him in cattle ranching in Okeechobee and has been a citrus grower in Highlands and Hardee Counties with her family. Clemons has decades of experience with Florida’s agriculture industry. She formerly served as secretary of the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association, president of the Okeechobee Area Agri-Council, and a former board member of Florida Cattlemen’s Foundation.

Darin Cook
Cook is the co-founder and co-CEO of Infinite Energy, a Florida-based energy provider. Founded in 1994, the company now has more than 300 employees and provides retail energy in five states as well as wholesale energy in 22 states.The company has been recognized numerous times as one of the best companies to work for in Florida by Florida Trend, Outside and Inc. magazines. This year, Florida Trend also honored Cook as one of the state’s 500 most influential executives.

Former Senator Rick Dantzler
Dantzler is a third-generation Floridian. He was educated in Polk County public schools and attended the University of Florida, where he received his undergraduate and law degrees. At the age of 26, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives where he served eight years. In 1990, he was elected to the Florida Senate and served until he resigned to run for Governor in 1998, ultimately becoming the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor. Dantzler was appointed by President Obama in 2013 to serve as State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, Inc. Located in Lake Alfred, CRDF is an organization that funds research for the Florida citrus industry and is primarily involved in fighting citrus greening.

Sheriff Jerry Demings
Sheriff Demings is a native of Orlando and was recently elected Mayor of Orange County, marking the first African-American to hold the office. He will be the chief executive over 8,000 employees with a budget over $4 billion. He also served as Orlando’s first African-American Police Chief and was elected as the first African-American Orange County Sheriff in 2008, and re-elected in 2012 and 2016. As the chief law enforcement executive in the county, Sheriff Demings manages a budget of over $280 million and 2,600 employees. Prior to serving as Sheriff, County Mayor Richard Crotty appointed him Director of Public Safety for Orange County in October 2002. He oversaw departments including the Jail, Fire, Public Safety Communications and Emergency Operations, and had a budgetary oversight of over $320 million and about 3,200 employees.

Former Senator Denise Grimsley
A fifth-generation Floridian, Grimsley was born and raised in the Florida’s Heartland.  She graduated from South Florida Community College, Polk Community College and Warner Southern College with degrees in Nursing and Organizational Management, later earning an MBA from the University of Miami. In 2013, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters for her work in Health Policy by Nova Southeastern University. She served in the Florida House for eight years, and was the first female chair of the House Appropriations Committee. She also ran for and was elected to the Florida Senate where she served for six years. During her legislative career she served all 14 years on the Agriculture Committee and three years as chairman.

Chris Hand
Hand is a Jacksonville-based attorney with a long record of public service. From 1996 to 2000, he served as speechwriter and press secretary for former Florida Governor and then-U.S. Senator Bob Graham. Graham and Hand subsequently co-authored America, the Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall – and Win, a guide to effective citizenship. From 2011 to 2015, he was Chief of Staff at the City of Jacksonville. In that role, Hand coordinated Mayor Alvin Brown’s Cabinet of direct reports and managed the mayor’s office team, with oversight for policy, advocacy and communications. At the City of Jacksonville, he was actively involved with mayoral transitions in 2011 and 2015. In his legal practice, Hand helps clients anticipate and address strategic challenges and opportunities at every level of government.

Former Florida House Speaker Jon Mills
Mills is Dean Emeritus, Professor of Law, and Director of Center for Governmental Responsibility at UF’s Levin College of Law. He is Counsel to Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. Mills is a former Dean of the UF Levin College of Law from 1999-2003, a former Speaker of the Florida House, and served as member of the 1997-1998 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (as Chair of Style and Drafting Committee and was selected Most Valuable Member). He helped draft the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative in 2014, the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative in 2016, and the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative in 2018, and argued them in the Florida Supreme Court.

Sam Poole
Poole has extensive experience in planning and zoning in the development and redevelopment of Florida’s cities. He has over 25 years of experience advising clients on conventional and new urbanism land development issues in Florida. Poole has particular skills dealing with environmental constraints affecting land development. As Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District from 1994 to 1999, he directed a staff of 1,700 with annual budgets of $500 million to restore the Everglades and protect South Florida’s water supply and flood mitigation system and gained key insights into the effect of water issues on development.

Scheril Murray Powell, Esquire
Powell is an agricultural and cannabis attorney based in Fort Lauderdale. She is a member of the University of Florida Hemp Pilot Program Advisory Board and serves on the ASTM International Standards Committees for Cannabis, Textiles, Pesticides, and Biomass. Powell also serves as General Counsel for the Non-Profit Organization, Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana, General Counsel for Patience with Patients, Director of Strategy for the Pilgram Group LLC, and Chief Brand Officer of R and R Naturals. She is also president and founder of the consulting firm Green Sustainable Strong, LLC.

Former Representative Dean Saunders
Saunders is an 8th-generation Floridian who served in the Florida House, where he authored groundbreaking legislation for the Bright Futures Scholarship program and spearheaded significant Florida land conservation initiatives. Prior to his work in the state legislature, Dean served U.S. Senator, and then Florida Governor, Lawton Chiles, in several executive roles both in Washington and Tallahassee. He earned his BSA from the University of Florida in Fruit Crops, Food and Resource Economics. Dean is the founder and owner of Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Real Estate, an industry-leading firm in Lakeland, Florida recognized by The Land Report magazine as one of “America’s Best Brokerages.”

Transition Team General Counsel

Benedict Kuehne — General Counsel
Kuehne is Board Certified as a trial and appellate lawyer with a national practice. While best known for his representations as a white collar defense lawyer, he is one of the premier election law specialists in Florida, having represented Vice President Gore in the 2000 recount trial and the appeals to the Florida Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court, as well as Nikki Fried’s campaign for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the recent recount. In 2012, Kuehne obtained the 5th highest verdict in the nation, $155 million, for his representation of an educator who sued as a whistle blower for her wrongful termination. An Ironman athlete, he is the IronLawyer.

Transition Team Staff

Eric Johnson — Executive Director
Johnson has over 30 years of political and government experience in Washington, DC and Florida at the local, state, and federal levels. Having served as Chief of Staff to former Congressman Robert Wexler and former Congressman Patrick Murphy, he worked on issues including foreign affairs, the judiciary, intellectual property, securing funding for Everglades restoration and more. Johnson serves as a political advisor and media consultant for clients seeking offices at all levels of government and draws from a wealth of political experience, having also served as a top advisor to the Florida Chairman of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, Political Director of the Florida Democratic Party, and Chief of Staff to former Florida State Senator Tom Rossin.

Shelby Scarpa — Deputy Executive Director
Scarpa was the Campaign Manager for Commissioner-elect Fried’s successful run for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. For over a decade, she has been a senior campaign and fundraising consultant to Congressional, statewide, state, and local Democratic candidates across the country. Her Florida clients have included Congressman Patrick Murphy, State Attorney and former State Senator Dave Aronberg, and Congressman Ron Klein. Additionally, she has provided development consulting to international NGOs based in Washington, D.C. Scarpa previously served as the Public Affairs Director of Field Operations for Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast and as a program officer at the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties.

Deborah Tannenbaum — Senior Advisor
Tannenbaum serves as the Executive Director for the Florida Peanut Federation (FPF), a trade association that promotes, educates and markets the benefits of Florida peanuts to the public. Founded in 2017, FPF has engaged the public in over 90 peanut education events reaching over 300,000 in FL. Additionally, FPF has donated tens of thousands of jars of peanut butter to Floridians facing hunger challenges, from school backpack programs to recent hurricane disaster relief efforts. Tannenbaum has decades of experience in strategic development for trade associations, non-profit organizations, issue advocacy, and political campaigns in Florida and nationally. Prior to FPF, Tannenbaum served as Chief of Staff for Cannae Policy Group, a government affairs firm in Washington, DC, where she managed day to day operations client relations and developed strategic legislative plans and priorities. Tannenbaum is a native of Lake City, FL and is graduate of FSU and George Washington University.

Jordan Anderson —Director of  Operations
Anderson is a seventh generation Floridian from Tallahassee. Recently, he served as the Deputy Field Director for For Our Future, a progressive Super PAC focused on voter outreach and engagement. Anderson also led advocacy campaigns for progressive issues during the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions and helped oversee the recent statewide recount process in coordination with the Florida Democratic Party in his role as an attorney. He has served as Vice President, North Florida Regional Director, and Political Director for the Florida Young Democrats. Prior to joining For Our Future, Anderson was a Regional Field Director on former Congresswoman Gwen Graham’s 2014 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Jordan is a member of the Florida Justice Association and the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, having graduated from Florida State University’s College of Law in 2016.

Max Flugrath — Communications Director
Flugrath worked as Communications Director for Nikki Fried for Commissioner of Agriculture and Philip Levine for Governor during the 2018 election cycle. He also served as Communications Director for Leader Janet Cruz in the Florida House, where he worked directly with House Democrats on messaging strategies encompassing a wide variety of policy issues. Prior to his time with the House Democratic Caucus, Max was part of former State Senator Rod Smith’s campaign for Florida Senate district 8.



Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.


  1. Hello Diane, Thank you for writing this balanced perspective article. These are exciting times for Agriculture in Florida. Commissioner Fried has a comprehensive vision that will kickstart a movement towards cleaner agricultural methods, economic growth, and innovation. Journalists represent an important portal to the people, so your coverage is much appreciated
    -Scheril Murray Powell, Esquire

  2. With over 40 dead dolphins and other wildlife, continued unregulated pollution and run off from Lake O. My suggestion is to ask for a formal meeting with the Governor .Regulating Fertilizer use in the state; inspect septic tanks throughout the state, create water purification plant(s) in the future on Lake O; make cities responsible for water contaminate runoff; limit/ shut down Mosaic Phosphate mining, and limit population growth without plans for waste management. You could ask for state funding of Red Tide ( real research into stopping its reproduction, killing the organisms safely etc) not just reporting it is there. Also fund research on health effects on humans. We are seeing more sea life perish. It is “season” now, and the media does not want to focus on the ongoing catastrophe we are seeing. . Get Governor to COMMIT to this horrific problem. Beach protests, town protests, Mosaic protests are not the answer. Nothing happens that way. We MUST change what is going on!!

  3. Ag & silviculture are critical to Florida’s economy. Here in St. Johns County, an incredibly fast growing county, our rural land is coming under intense residential development pressure. Developing a robust framework for the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR’s) so that farmers and ranchers can continue to do what the past generations of their families have done without feeling like they need to sell out to developers is essential. When the housing boom crashed in 2008, it was the agricultural sector of our local economy that kept us afloat. The Growth Management Act has been gutted and now housing developments are popping up everywhere with little planning or guidance. While local governments have primary responsibility, the state needs to support the protection of rural lands for the future of our state.


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