Saying he did not want to mire the state in a legal battle, state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, conceded on Monday, almost two weeks after Election Day, to Democrat Nikki Fried in the race to be Florida’s next agriculture commissioner.

Down by almost 7,000 votes, Caldwell bowed out and said he has reached out to Fried to offer her whatever help he can.

“As I have stated from the onset, I am uninterested in using legal loopholes to win an election,” Caldwell said. All I have ever expected since Election Day is a full and fair accounting of all legal votes cast, and then respecting the will of the voters. Unfortunately, as a result of the abject failures in Broward and Palm Beach, it has become clear that we may never gain an understanding of what transpired in the hours and days after polls closed, despite the exhaustive efforts of my legal team to get to the truth. To continue this legal challenge would likely require millions of dollars and months to complete without providing any more clarity.

“But even more so, the most impressive feature of our republic is the peaceful transfer of power,” he added. “While history has vindicated that fraud was a serious part of the 1960 presidential election, the nation required closure and it would not be well served by prolonged and fractious litigation. The candidates set an example for our conduct and I believe the same is true about our state. Therefore, I will no longer be pursuing a challenge to the outcome of this race. Accordingly, I have called Nikki Fried and notified her of my decision to not pursue the matter any further and I have offered to assist her in any way I can as she takes the office of commissioner.

“While I will not serve as Florida’s next commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, my campaign was not a loss,” Caldwell insisted. “Every door knocked, every mile traveled, and every new hand shaken in every corner of the state, has emphasized the immediate and tangible needs of our state’s farmers, workers, small business owners, and consumers.

“Thank you all for the privilege. God Bless you and may God continue to bless the great state of Florida,” he concluded.

Fried declared victory on Sunday as she becomes the first Democrat to win a state Cabinet race since Alex Sink won the CFO post back in 2006.

“This victory belongs to the people of Florida, you chose a new vision, one that reflects the priorities of the people. To everyone who didn’t vote for me, I will be your voice in Tallahassee too,” Fried said. “I am humbled and honored to serve as Florida’s next commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“I want to congratulate Matt Caldwell on a close race and thank him for his willingness to step into the arena. This was a hard-fought, historic race and I’m so thankful for everyone who encouraged me along the way,” she added. “To all the volunteers and elections employees who put their lives on hold and worked to see the recount process through, and protect the integrity of Florida’s democracy—thank you. I also want to thank everyone who supported me, my team and volunteers as well as the Florida Democratic Party and Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo for their leadership during this recount effort. It’s now time for us to come together and work in union to govern for the people of Florida, and I plan to work my hardest so I’m ready to tackle the issues as your next agriculture commissioner.”

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

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