The race for Florida governor is heating up as Rep. Charlie Crist and Commissioner Nikki Fried compete for the Democratic nomination to face Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Florida Political Review recently caught up with both candidates to gain insight into the race ahead of the Aug. 23 primary.
Charlie Crist has held numerous offices in Florida including state senator, education commissioner, attorney general and governor. He was the last education commissioner to be elected statewide before the position became an appointment. Crist served in these positions as a Republican before becoming an independent then Democrat in 2012. Representing the St. Petersburg area, Crist has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2017. He is the first Democrat to represent this district since 1955. Crist’s campaign website is https://charliecrist.com/.
Crist answers questions about his background, reasons for running, opponents, important issues, literature recommendations and his message for students.
Q: You’ve served as state senator, education commissioner, attorney general and governor. How will this experience help you serve as governor this time and provide you inspiration in representing the Sunshine State?
A: I think experience is helpful. No question about it. Having served as your governor previously and as your governor at the time, we had a budget that was about $70 billion compared to the $110 billion that DeSantis has, yet we paid our school teachers more. It was a value that I respected. Something that I think is incredibly important, especially for your viewers, is getting their education, higher education, and opportunity to have a bright future is incredibly important. I get it, I’m a public school kid. I graduated from St. Pete High and also graduated from one of our great universities, Florida State. I understand the power of education. Having been commissioner of education, the last elected one in Florida history, was an important part of that experience and learning opportunities that I had.
Also serving as your governor, again I’ll go to education, because my dad served on the Pinellas County School Board. I have three sisters. Two of my three sisters were public school teachers in Pinellas County where I grew up and I put a high value on it.
Also on the environment, I’m convinced that the environment and the economy in Florida are inextricably linked. If we don’t protect our beautiful Florida and have a great environment, then it’s going to hurt one of our main industries — tourism — and that will hurt people who work in restaurants or hotels throughout the state of Florida. That would be devastating.
Our current governor DeSantis has taken his eye off the ball of the environment, off the ball of public education, and off the ball of voting rights, making it harder for my 90-year-old father and 87-year-old mother to cast their ballot. They love to vote by mail and now he’s made it more difficult. I like to vote by mail.
I’m a Democrat running to protect democracy. DeSantis is an autocrat running to be a dictator. He wants to have preemption laws, tell local school boards what they can and cannot do regarding kids wearing masks in school, for example. The list goes on and on. I’m honored to be running for governor. I’m in a primary. The primary is August the 23rd.
I just received my mail-in ballot yesterday. I ask for your vote, whether you vote early, or vote by mail, or vote on primary election day on August 23. It’s a very important election, and God willing, that will go well and hopefully go on to November 8 directly against DeSantis and bring about change for our beautiful Florida.
Q: More generally, why are you running for governor?
A: I’m running for governor because I love Florida. Most people do that live here. It’s a special place, let’s face it. I love my fellow Floridians and we’re being abused by the current governor.
As I mentioned, voting rights, civil rights, education rights, the environmental protection we deserve and Florida needs, minority rights — he (DeSantis) literally redlined out two Black congressional districts, one held by Al Lawson and the other by Val Demings who thank God is running for the U.S. Senate and will be our next United States senator. I’m running for Florida because Florida deserves better than this. We deserve better than what we’re getting, and the bar is pretty low, frankly. So I’m running for Florida Governor to bring the sunshine back to Florida again.
Q: How are you more qualified than Nikki Fried to be the Democratic nominee for Florida Governor?
A: Experience. It really comes down to that. You listed it in the introduction at the outset that I’ve served in the Florida Legislature as a state senator for six years. I’ve served as the last elected commissioner of education for the Sunshine State. I served as the attorney general fighting for civil rights and human rights as the attorney general. I’ve actually been governor of Florida once, and I am now a member of Congress working at the federal level.
Those combined experiences make me uniquely qualified to serve the people of Florida and continue serving you. I’ve got the energy, I’ve got the excitement, I’ve got the enthusiasm. We’re 21 points ahead in the primary according to the latest polls and we’ve outraised our primary opponent three-to-one. I’m transversing Florida each and every day. Just today I was in Orlando, Tampa, now St. Petersburg, and the day before that all over the state, having been in South Florida. I’m looking forward to continuing to crisscross the state for this primary victory, which I think is incredibly important.
I also know that we need to be united when it’s over. I told my primary opponent that I would endorse her on primary election night should she win. Unfortunately, she didn’t return that grace but that’s okay. I know this: we have to be united to defeat Governor Ron DeSantis. To me he is a nightmare. He’s torn our state apart. We need to unify our beautiful Florida and stay on the track that leads to a brighter future for all of you.
Q: How do you plan to beat Ron DeSantis who is a potential 2024 presidential hopeful and a widely popular candidate among Republicans?
A: The short answer is get more votes than he does. That’s obvious — it’s math. But how do you get to that success and that victory? I think the way to get to it is to tell the truth. Tell the truth to the people of Florida — those that you want to serve, those that you want to work for, and tell them about what Governor DeSantis has done working against them. He has worked for property insurance companies, for example. Our property insurance rates are through the roof. I just held a press conference in downtown Tampa talking about this and the fact that we need to have a plan to get us out of this. Governor DeSantis called a special session on property insurance about three weeks ago. It was special alright — for the property insurance companies. Not for the consumers of Florida. It didn’t lower rates 1%. In fact, it made it harder for consumers to fight for their own rights against property insurance companies. That’s not the right focus. Those aren’t the right values.
What’s the contrast with Charlie Crist? In my first administration, the first special session I called was on property insurance rates. They were going through the roof like they are right now when I came into office. We lowered the rates by 10% in a week special session. Governor DeSantis can’t do it and won’t do it because he’s beholden to the insurance companies, just like he is to the utility companies. When I was the attorney general I fought utility companies. I fought Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy, these companies that were essentially holding monopolies in their hand and would charge whatever they wanted because the public service commission that is supposed to regulate them wasn’t regulating under DeSantis. They haven’t been. They’ve been lapdogs more than watchdogs. When I’m Governor I’ll appoint members to the Public Service Commission who actually know they’re supposed to serve the public, ergo their name.
These are the differences between me and Governor DeSantis. He’s more concerned about the White House than your house. I’m more concerned about your child’s education, what you have to pay in property insurance, making sure that your utility expenses aren’t any higher than they need to be, and that we do what we need to do to keep our communities safe and protect our precious environment.
Q: You have been a Republican, independent and Democrat, and wrote about this in The Party’s Over. What has this taught you about working with people you may disagree with for the greater good?
A: The best example I could probably give you is having worked with President Obama when I was still a Republican governor. We had a crisis on our hands called the Great Recession. The economy was in the tank. The White House called my office in Tallahassee as governor, inviting me to be with President Obama in Fort Myers, Florida the next week. Staff came into my office and they said ‘The White House has invited you to be with the President in Fort Myers next week. Do you want to go?’ And I said ‘Of course, that sounds great.’ My then-staff looked at me and said, ‘Are you sure?’ And I said ‘Yeah. Why do you ask?’ They said, ‘Well, you know he’s a Democrat.’ The question is about bipartisanship. I said, ‘He’s the president of the United States of America, and I am going to go there, and I am going to fight for my fellow Floridians and try to get us out of this economic crisis we’re in. I don’t care if he’s a Democrat and I happen to be Republican. We’re supposed to serve the people we both work for.’
So I went to Fort Myers. He asked me to introduce him at this rally for the Recovery Act or the stimulus, as it was known. That afternoon, it passed. But during the course of the introduction I gave him, I finished by saying, ‘Please give a warm Florida welcome for President Barack Obama.’ He came up to the lectern, shook my hand and embraced me, and I embraced him back. And that was the hug that did it for Charlie Crist. My then-fellow Republicans, not all but a lot of them, were pretty displeased that I was there with a Democratic president. But what I came to find out shortly thereafter, after listening to several folks, was it wasn’t so much that he was the Democratic president. He was the first Black president. And that really broke my heart. And so that’s part of the straw that broke the camel’s back that got me to join the Florida Democratic Party.
And I’ve never been more comfortable politically than to be a proud Florida Democrat. I work across the aisle, now as a Democrat with Republicans. I’ll do whatever needs to be done in order to help the people of Florida, improve our education, improve our environment, protect our springs and our rivers, and make sure that we as Floridians have an economy that will flourish and a governor that will understand that the people are being crushed right now by property insurance, by the price of gas, and by the price of food. We have a governor that has done nothing on any of those issues because he’s pursuing the White House in 2024 instead of focusing on Florida in 2022.
Q: Let’s say that the election is over and you’re the winner. What is your first 100 day plan?
A: Actually it’s the first day plan. I’m going to assign a list of executive orders. Number one, protecting a woman’s right to choose. What the Supreme Court of the United States has done is unconscionable. To take away a 50-year legal precedent that protects the privacy and the importance of a woman’s right to choose and make decisions about her body and her health is outrageous. That’s the first executive order that I will sign to protect a woman’s right to choose in Florida.
The other things I’m very concerned about are our voting rights that we touched on earlier. We’ve got to make sure that our voting rights are protected. We have a governor in Ron DeSantis who’s trying to make it harder for you to vote to cast your ballot, taking away the ease of voting by mail and making it more difficult, removing drop boxes from minority communities throughout the state of Florida. That’s outrageous, that’s discriminatory. So voting rights are incredibly important because all these other issues that we care about really flow from our right to vote in free and open and fair elections.
I also think it’s very important that we pay our teachers more, and I would fight during the first legislative session for us to do just that. Right now, we’re the third largest state in America. We pay our teachers 48th or 49th out of the 50 states. That’s embarrassing. We have to do better than that in order to have a better education opportunity for the young people of our state. Those are just a few of the very first things that I’ll be working on, but it’ll be a very robust, aggressive, hard-charging first 100 days in the second Crist administration.
Q: Florida is a battleground for abortion right now, with a Jewish synagogue suing the state’s 15-week ban. Florida has also been shown to be the most pro-choice state in the South. What role do you think abortion is going to play in this election, and what do you plan to do for abortion rights as governor?
A: I think the role it’s going to play will be hugely significant, and it should be. I was raised with three sisters. I’m an only son. Respecting women came naturally to me just through my upbringing. And I think that’s what this issue boils down to. Some of these white elected officials in Tallahassee don’t care and don’t respect a woman’s right to make her own decision. That’s obvious. That’s what’s going on. So that has to be stopped, first and foremost, full stop. And I think that being focused on that is incredibly important.
I also think that what we need to do is look at what are the options available to us. If the current Supreme Court stays on its path in Washington, and the right to privacy isn’t protected, then as I said earlier, on day one of the second Crist administration I’ll sign an executive order protecting a woman’s right to choose. Number two, I will work with the legislature even though it’s probably going to be dominated by Republicans and still try to reach out to some moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents in the Florida House and the Florida Senate to repeal the 15-week law that Governor DeSantis signed restricting a woman’s right to make her own decision about her body. But then I’ll also fight to make sure that we put a new constitutional amendment embedded in the Florida Constitution, gather the signatures necessary to put it on the ballot, and make sure the people of Florida can express their view on this important issue. But don’t mistake this at all: what the Supreme Court of the United States did was put this issue of pro choice — Roe v. Wade — smack dab on governors races throughout the United States of America. That’s why I ask for your vote. That’s why I ask for you to make sure your friends are registered to vote. Get out and vote like your life depends on it because it does.
Q: This year, Governor DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed by the media “Don’t Say Gay.” In consideration of the state legislature likely maintaining its Republican stronghold come November, what is your plan of action beyond repealing the law and how do you think Florida students will be impacted?
A: I would fight to repeal the law. I wouldn’t give up on that. I never give up. And I think it’s incredibly important that we have an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to this and other laws that we need to repeal and get rid of, including the one we just talked about with the 15-week abortion bill that Governor DeSantis signed. I think it’s imperative that we try to get these things repealed and as I also stated earlier, I am convinced that there are moderate Republicans in the state House and the state Senate that have been suppressed under this governor too. They’re intimidated by him. He’s a bully. He even bullied kids that were standing behind him at a press conference just because they were wearing a mask to protect their health.
That’s the last thing you want as a governor: someone who has that much power and authority over our lives. You need somebody who’s compassionate, who’s decent, who’s respectful of others. That’s how I was raised here in St. Petersburg, Florida where I grew up. That’s the kind of governor I was, that’s the kind of governor I’ll be again, and that’s why I need your support to get these good things done and to bring, as I say, the sunshine back to the Sunshine State because under Governor DeSantis it’s been pretty dark.
Q: With the trial of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter in the spotlight and gun violence across the country on full display, what do you believe the state of Florida must do to protect our people, and how far do you believe would be too far in restricting firearm access?
A: Three things I think we need to do straight away in not just Florida, but the country. Number one, ban assault weapons. The fact that we haven’t banned assault weapons is insane. I can’t imagine that people would vote against that who are in elective office, but a lot of them are persuaded and swayed by the NRA and that’s unfortunate. We need to ban assault weapons, absolutely. We need to have background checks that actually do check backgrounds significantly and thoroughly so we don’t have people that get through the system who aren’t stable enough to be able to have a firearm. Number three, pass red flag laws across the country. Florida has one and I’m grateful for that. But we need them across America, and I’m the sponsor of it in the United States Congress. The reason we need to do that is imagine somebody goes to Savannah, Georgia, and they end up purchasing a gun under a lesser law or a weaker law, if you will, then they come down to Jacksonville or somewhere else in North Florida and they use that gun to commit a horrible crime. That’s why having uniformity across state lines is so significantly important.
To reiterate, it’s ban assault weapons, have background checks that don’t have loopholes, and make sure we have red flag laws, so that we can scan like radar and make sure that people who are trying to buy a gun that shouldn’t don’t get the opportunity.
Q: What are your views on recreational marijuana, and would you work to expand that industry if elected governor?
A: If I get elected governor, we’re going to have recreational marijuana in the Sunshine State. I think it’s incredibly important for three reasons. Number one, I had an older sister that I lost to brain cancer, and I watched her suffer in her dying days and it broke my heart. The only thing she could take would be powerful painkillers, the many of which are terribly, adversely impacting people all across America, particularly in the Appalachian area of our country. So that’s number one: empathy, compassion.
Number two, we need to be able to regulate it so if somebody has some, it’s not laced with something that’s going to destroy them.
And number three, to tax it. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. The tax revenue we could raise from recreational marijuana in the Sunshine State would be hugely significant. And what can we use those additional revenues for? Pay our hardworking public school teachers more, and number two, give more to law enforcement. We’re getting to the place where crime is rampant across America. We need to support law enforcement and make sure law enforcement gets the training that they need so we don’t have George Floyd incidents happening in the Sunshine State. So yes, I do support recreational marijuana.
Q: If you could choose one book for everyone in Florida’s government to read, what would it be?
A: Florida history. I think that would be great. I think it’s important that we have that kind of opportunity for young people, and I don’t mean just history that sugarcoats stuff. And I’m addressing CRT here: what I’m talking about is teaching actual history. Teach facts to our students in our Florida schools. Florida has a rich history with Ponce de Leon as the discoverer of our beautiful state, and the many multi diverse peoples that make up Florida today. We’re the third largest state in America, over 22 million people live here now. Florida’s a juggernaut and a beautiful place and I think reading her history would be valuable for every Florida student.
Q: What is your message for Florida students?
A: My message for Florida students is to be grateful for where you are. We’re in an amazing place and we have a big race and a big place right now for the next governor of Florida. I’m asking for your vote because if I win, you’ll have a governor who will be thinking about you every morning when I wake up. I care about you. I care about the future of our state. I care about your education and your opportunities as Floridians. I would encourage you if you’re eighteen to go ahead and get registered to vote. This is, like I said, a big race in a big place and we’ve got to get this right. Democracy is under attack. We had Nazis demonstrate in Florida yesterday, and our current governor DeSantis wouldn’t even denounce it. We deserve better. You deserve better. I’m running for governor because I love Florida, as I said earlier, and we’re so blessed to live in this most beautiful state in the country. So for Florida students, do you want a governor who’s got a heart? Do you want a governor who cares about you? Please vote for Charlie Crist. I’ll never let you down. God bless you all.
By Heather Moya, Makiya Seminera and Andy Shodell
Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.
Featured image: Florida Political Review candidate Q&A graphic depicting Rep. Charlie Crist. Image by Maria Varas.