ST. PETERSBURG — Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried each made their case Wednesday for why Florida Democrats should choose them in the Aug. 23 primary to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis in November.
Fried got into more detail on some of her policy proposals while getting in a dig or two at Crist, though fewer than usual, while Crist kept things simple and didn’t mention her at all.
Fried and Crist were interviewed separately by a panel of journalists from the Orlando Sentinel, Spectrum News 13 Orlando, Spectrum Bay News 9 and Tampa Bay Times. The event, sponsored by the four news operations, was held at the Bay News 9 studios in St. Petersburg.
Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner, started off by alluding to Crist’s refusal to hold more than one debate beyond last month’s event in Miami.
“I know that originally, we were trying to do this as a debate format,” she said.
Both Crist and Fried gave their most detailed answers on the economy and what they would do to solve the housing and homeowners insurance crises.
Crist, a member of the U.S. House from St. Petersburg, cited the special session he called as governor that resulted in insurance costs dropping by 10% and pledged to fully fund the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund used to pay for affordable housing.
Fried said she would declare a housing emergency on her first day in office to allow state attorneys to go after predatory landlords, as well as to create a task force on insurance to find ways to lower costs.
Fried and Crist both called for the return of moviemaking to the state, while Fried cited Colorado as a state with a booming legal marijuana industry that Florida could emulate.
Both candidates, however, said they did not believe the country was in a recession.
“We certainly are in a difficult time,” Crist said. “And Florida is the tip of the spear [as] the most expensive state to live in. We’re number one, and it’s not a good number one.”
Fried said that while there is high inflation, “people are working. People have opportunities out there. … We’re not [at a recession] yet.”
On abortion, Crist answered a question on whether he supported any restrictions by asking, “Why does Gov. DeSantis believe in restricting a woman’s right to make a decision about her own health and her own body?”
He said he would sign an executive order on his first day in office “to make sure that women in Florida have a right to choose when it comes to their health.”
Fried answered by saying Florida should go back to the 24-week limit on abortion the state had before DeSantis signed a 15-week ban into law earlier this year.
She also slammed Crist for appointing anti-abortion justices to the state Supreme Court as governor, including current Chief Justice Charles Canady. The high court is expected to hear in the coming months a challenge to the 15-week abortion law.
“Our right to privacy in our Florida Constitution is going to be overturned,” Fried warned. Crist “knew [Canady’s] background, knew what he was doing in appointing him. … And now we’re dealing with this situation today, based on decisions that he made when he was governor.”
Both candidates had some of their most spirited moments when talking about Florida’s culture wars, including the so-called “don’t say gay” law and bans on critical race theory in public schools.
Schools should “focus on teaching the truth and teaching facts, not trying to whitewash American history,” Crist said.
He also blasted recent moves by the DeSantis administration to ignore federal guidelines and eliminate Medicare coverage for transgender care.
“What’s wrong with fundamental fairness for everybody?” Crist said. “ … I mean, what, kind of delineation are they trying to create? By saying some people can get medicine other people cannot? I mean, what country is this?”
“Maybe I’m strange, but I believe in science,” Crist added.
Fried recalled visiting the U.S. Capitol with her niece and nephew and seeing a video on how it was built by slaves.
“‘Oh, my God, are we going to be able to learn and teach this in the state of Florida?’” she remembers thinking. “And that type of history has to be taught. And as we’re seeing the rise of racism, the rise of anti-Semitism, [and] we have neo-Nazis that are on our streets in Tampa in Orlando, the only way that we’re going to be able to combat that type of hatred is by education.”
Fried also spoke of her stepbrother coming out as gay in the 1990s.
“Times were different then, but unfortunately, they’re not so much [different] under this administration,” she said of LGTBQ policies. “This is family to me, and they have a true champion.”
Crist also slammed DeSantis over his focus on “parental rights,” saying he “talks about it a lot, but he doesn’t seem to respect it.”
He referenced an incident in March in which DeSantis told high school students to take off their masks at the University of South Florida, saying it was “COVID theater” and “ridiculous.”
“Kids were wearing a mask just trying to protect their health,” Crist said. “And he dressed him down in public. Who does that? Well, apparently, it’s Ron DeSantis who does that.”
Both candidates mentioned the governor’s veto pen when asked how they would govern with a likely Republican-controlled Legislature. As he spoke, Crist waved what he said was the veto pen he used as governor.
“If the carrot approach of the carrot-stick didn’t work, then I would resort to the stick,” Crist said, giving a hypothetical example of a lawmaker who wanted a project for his district. “I will respond with something along the lines of, ‘Well, there’s things that I think are important to me, representative. I’d like to make sure that we fight to get restoration of [felon voting] rights back on the table. … And if you’ll help me do that, I might let that project go.’”
Fried said she would have “no problem not only utilizing it on legislative priorities, [but also] vetoing an entire budget if necessary.” She also cited the power to call special sessions.
“If they don’t want to work with us, those legislators who think they are part-time, [they’ll be] spending a heck of a lot of time in Tallahassee,” she said.
Complete primary election coverage can be found at OrlandoSentinel.com/election.
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