A long-time elected official in the state of Florida, Charlie Crist began his political career as a Republican member of the Florida Senate in 1992 and subsequently served as the state’s education commissioner, attorney general, governor and, most recently, as a member of Congress representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Now, he’s vying for one of those positions again, this time as a Democrat.
In his run for governor, Crist is hoping to unseat current Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who continues to dodge questions acknowledging President Joe Biden as “duly and legally elected” in 2020. In his time as governor, DeSantis has enacted Senate Bill 90, an omnibus voter suppression law; diminished Black electoral power by blocking maps drawn during the redistricting process and arrested 20 individuals for illegally voting, despite being told they were eligible to vote.
In Democracy Docket’s latest candidate Q&A of the 2022 cycle, Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist discusses the most concerning provisions in S.B. 90, rates DeSantis’ job with redistricting this cycle and picks a particular energy drink for his go-to campaign fuel.
Responses have been edited for style and clarity.
If elected as governor, you will most likely serve alongside a Republican-led Legislature. In addition to vetoing harmful bills passed by the Legislature, what other tools would you use to protect the right to vote in Florida?
Anything and everything. I’ve already announced in this campaign that on the first day of the Crist administration, I’ll sign an executive order that will protect a woman’s right to choose statewide. So executive order, vetoes and also working with the Legislature. I’ve done this before, and the way you work with the Legislature is to build relationships, which can lead to building trust, and try to find common ground with the moderate Republicans in the Legislature to make sure we protect a woman’s right to choose, do what’s right for education, do what’s right to protect Florida’s incredible environment and get back on economic issues that Floridians care about — like rising property insurance — that really aren’t partisan. They’re just economic and people need help. We can help them if we’re focused on it, and I will be.
Enacted in 2021, S.B. 90 is in effect — for the first time — in this year’s 2022 midterms. As we look to November, which provisions of this law concern you the most?
The ones affecting mail-in ballots are of grave concern to me. That’s a tradition that Floridians really have picked up on. A good example is my parents, frankly. My dad is 90 years old and my mother is wheelchair bound and 87. Voting by mail has become something that they treasure. In addition, the fact that we won’t have drop boxes for ballots in minority communities throughout the state is a major concern that I have. That kind of discrimination is unbelievable and it’s inappropriate. Couple that with [DeSantis’] election police, if you will, trying to intimidate people from voting, and having this stunt that he did down in Broward County arresting 20 or so people who were told that they were eligible to vote and given voting cards. It’s those kinds of things that are of concern to me.
What would be your first action as governor to mitigate S.B. 90’s impact?
Repeal it, get rid of the law and, if need be, continue the court fight, go to the judicial branch and executive orders if necessary. All hands on deck; we’ve got to protect democracy. DeSantis is eroding it, and he’s just wrong.
As you mentioned earlier, in August, DeSantis’ election crimes unit charged 20 individuals with voter fraud, yet in the weeks since then, it has emerged that the state gave many of these individuals government-issued voter registration cards and all were unaware or confused by their eligibility status. What do you make of these charges?
I think they’re a hoax, they’re unfounded and they’re wrong. [The state] tried to impede people from voting. About 65% of Floridians passed Amendment 4, giving the right to vote to former felons or returning citizens that have paid their debt to society. [DeSantis is] gumming up the entire democracy system in the state of Florida and that has to stop. A new governor would have the opportunity and the authority — with significant power of the veto pen along with it — to stop it, reverse it and restore democracy. One of the things I’d like to do, as well, is make Election Day a state holiday. It’s hard enough for working folks to be able to vote. We ought to make it easier, not harder. [DeSantis] makes it harder because he doesn’t like democracy. I want to make it easier because I love democracy. I’m a Democrat running for governor to protect democracy.
DeSantis vetoed the initial congressional map passed by the Legislature in order to push forward his own map that decreased political representation for Black Floridians. How would you rate the job he’s done with redistricting and how would you have handled this decennial process if you were governor?
His redistricting plan, I’d rate it an F. It’s terrible — you’re reducing minority representation by basically redlining out two African American congressional districts: [U.S. Rep.] Al Lawson’s (D) in North Florida and [Rep.] Val Demings’ (D) in Central Florida. It’s so apparent what [DeSantis is] trying to do: He’s afraid of the Black vote and he doesn’t want to have that representation on behalf of Florida in Washington [D.C.]. It’s clear that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s infuriating African American voters and he’s infuriating women voters. It’s almost like his administration is waging a war. He rounded up all those Venezuelans in Texas to Massachusetts and his lieutenant governor says we ought to bus Cubans out of Florida. They got a war on Hispanics going, a war on women going and a war on African American voters going. Pretty soon there’s not many people left. [DeSantis is] stripping away women’s freedom and the access to democracy for African Americans, as well as abusing Hispanics.
DeSantis’ recently appointed secretary of state, Cord Byrd, previously served in the Florida Legislature and still won’t acknowledge that Biden won the 2020 election. What do you think of the increasing number of elected officials sowing doubt in our elections?
That’s pretty disturbing. To have somebody in charge of our elections as secretary of state who still won’t acknowledge that Biden is president of the United States is shocking. It’s bizarre; the guy won by like nine million votes. To not acknowledge that victory and that act of democracy by the American people is stunning for someone who’s in a position [Byrd] is in right now.
Favorite campaign fuel?
On occasion, I will have a Red Bull Lite. It’s a good energy drink, and the fact that it’s lite instead of the regular means it’s less calories, so I like it.
Go-to walk up song?
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) [by Stevie Wonder] is my favorite. It’s inspiring.
Most underrated fact about Florida?
What’s underrated about Florida right now is our current governor, Ron DeSantis. He is underrated, but I think justifiably so. He’s so cruel and heartless and awful. I think the rating that a lot of people are forming about him as we speak is deserved. He’s not fit to be governor of Florida. [Also] what’s most underrated is our beautiful weather. It’s phenomenal, and our beaches are amazing.