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Nikki Fried says Gov. Ron DeSantis broke law by appointing new Department of Environmental Protection secretary

'I will remind you that you lack the legal authority to unilaterally make this appointment,' Florida agriculture commissioner writes in letter to governor
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Photo by: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee/Steve Cannon
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democratic member of the Florida Cabinet, has been an outspoken opponent of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Posted at 3:05 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 15:05:06-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried claims Gov. Ron DeSantis broke the law when he appointed Shawn Hamilton to serve as the next secretary for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

DeSantis on Tuesday named Hamilton, who has been serving as interim secretary since June after Noah Valenstein resigned, to the role permanently.

"Secretary Hamilton brings a strong, proven record of environmental stewardship and management of award-winning state parks and conservation lands," DeSantis said in a statement announcing the appointment. "I am confident in his ability to continue leading DEP and building on the foundations laid before him in our mission to protect and restore Florida's environment and natural resources."

But it didn't take long for the Republican governor's appointment to meet with objection by Fried, who is challenging DeSantis for governor in 2022.

Fried sent a letter to DeSantis later that evening informing him that the appointment was a violation of Florida law.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

"I will remind you that you lack the legal authority to unilaterally make this appointment," she wrote.

Fried claims that such an appointment must be approved by the governor's three-person Cabinet, of which she is a member, and confirmed by the Florida Senate.

Section 20.255(1) of the Florida Statutes verifies Fried's assertion.

"Instead of submitting an appointment in good faith to the Cabinet for a public interview and vote, you chose in June to defensively inject uncertainty into a matter on which state law is clear -- just as you choose now to disobey the law and your executive responsibility," Fried wrote.

WTXL
Attorney General Ashley Moody, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried attend a Florida Clemency Board meeting June 16, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Fried and DeSantis squabbled on the issue in June -- the same month she announced she was running for governor in next year's Democratic primary.

Hamilton's predecessor received Cabinet approval under former Gov. Rick Scott in 2017.

Fried noted in her letter that she has no issue with who DeSantis appointed. Rather, it's how it was handled.

"I believe him to be a good man and public servant, and he would break a glass ceiling as the first African-American secretary of this agency," Fried wrote. "My quarrel is not with him."

Instead, Fried wants DeSantis to bring the appointment before the Cabinet for "unanimous confirmation."

"As I said in June, you're going to have to deal with me and our fellow Cabinet members, if you want this appointment to be approved," she wrote. "Nothing has changed in that time, except the alarming increase in your disregard for our state's laws and the shared governance of the Cabinet, unique among American states."

Fried is the only elected Democrat in the Florida Cabinet. Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are Republicans.

Florida Governor's Office
Members of the Florida Cabinet, from left to right: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

"It is an honor and pleasure to be asked to serve as secretary under Gov. DeSantis, who has made the environment a top priority," Hamilton said in a statement released by the governor's office. "Having served at DEP for 13 years, I have seen first-hand the historic advancements that have been made, and the unprecedented resources that have been secured for the protection of the environment, especially under Gov. DeSantis' leadership. I look forward to furthering the agency's mission and advancing the governor's environmental priorities."

The governor's office has not yet replied to an email seeking comment on the matter.