'Disappointed' Charlie Crist to Press: Scott's Bad Ethics, Bad Policy Easy Targets
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In the quest to reclaim his old job, former Gov. Charlie Crist returned to Tallahassee Wednesday to meet the press -- this time as a Democrat. At the Capitol for the annual AP-sponsored legislative preview, Crist slammed Gov. Rick Scott on a host of fronts, saying he will go after the governor on ethics, education, the environment and other issues.
“I’m running for governor because I’m disappointed,” Crist said. “It breaks my heart.”
“I did not envision four years ago ... that I would be running for governor of Florida as a Democrat,” Crist admitted
Despite some fierce jabs from Rich earlier in the day, Crist ignored his primary rival as he focused on hitting Scott.
Crist ripped Scott over ethics, pointing to his record in public office and the governor’s record in the private sector. “The record in the private sector is not a sterling one,” Crist said. “And I’m going to talk about it.”
Hitting Scott for Medicaid fraud at HCA/Columbia during the governor’s time there, Crist noted his opponent pleaded the Fifth Amendment 70 times. “Children in our schools deserve a leader they can respect,” Crist said, clearly implying Scott was not up to that mark. Crist promised to talk about Scott’s record in the private sector every day.
“Ethics have always meant a lot to me,” Crist said, insisting “right vs. wrong” means more to him than “right vs. left.”
Turning to education, Crist said Scott was gutting funding and was denying children in Florida the opportunity to better themselves. Crist blew off Scott’s call for increased education funding as an “election year transformation” and said voters would see through it. “I don’t think Florida is going to be fooled a second time,” Crist insisted.
Crist said he was “listening” to Floridians who were concerned about the environment and said he made strong appointments to water management districts during his time as governor and contrasted it with Scott’s nominees. Pointing to increased problems with water in South Florida, Crist even suggested Scott “now had a contribution from it.”
Noting he worked with President Barack Obama during his time as governor, Crist said he was proud of accepting federal stimulus funds in 2009 due to the dire economy. Crist’s support of Obama on the matter was a major factor in his loss to Marco Rubio for the Senate nomination in 2010.
Crist even weighed in on his famous embrace of Obama in 2009. “It was the hug that killed me as a Republican,” Crist said. “I’m very happy to be a Democrat, a Florida Democrat ... I’ve seen the light.”
The new Democrat said Republicans have gone too far out of the mainstream and said he would fight to unite Florida. “We have got to come together,” Crist said.
Looking ahead, he called for more emphasis on trade and alternative energy. “I want to create good jobs for the future of our state,” Crist said, insisting education and innovation would lead to better jobs.
Crist also said he backed Obama’s call for a minimum wage increase. Saying people in Florida were suffering, Crist said he would help turn it around. “They need help and it’s coming,” Crist said. Asked about what he thought about a minimum wage, Crist said Obama’s $10.10 proposal “made sense to me.”
Looking at Scott’s budget, Crist said the governor’s tax cuts would only lead to higher property tax cuts. With Scott looking to roll back vehicle registration fees Crist enacted in 2009, the former governor defended his stance. “It was the right thing to do at the time,” Crist said. “But I wish they rolled it back a lot earlier.”
Asked about hitting Scott for a “pay-to-play culture in Tallahassee,” Crist said it was different during his time as governor. While he said he did accept contributions, Crist said he did not award contracts based on them and implied Scott did. Crist rejected a characterization of his Everglades preservation efforts as a bailout for U.S. Sugar.
Crist said he did not change his positions on same-sex marriage and other issues due to political expediency and noted he voted against requiring a woman to have a 24-hour waiting period before having an abortion when he served in the Florida Senate. He also said his position on same-sex marriage was similar to Obama’s.
Rewriting his political history, Crist said he was pro-choice even when he ran in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary. Crist also called the tea party “unembraceable” and said, had he run for a second term in 2010, he would have rejected the teas' agenda. Crist’s memoir on why he left the GOP will be on sale in the coming days.
The former governor sounded confident of victory over Scott, saying he was an “optimist” and could turn things around if he has a second term as governor.
Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), watched Crist’s speech and quickly went on the attack.
“That performance -- you had to say 'wow,'” Curry said.
Curry hammered the new Democrat’s “political experience” and insisted in 2010 that Crist would have sought tea party support. The RPOF chairman also expressed amazement that Crist, having made two party switches in three years, would attack Scott on “election transformations."
Taking a phrase from popular rapper Eminem, Curry asked, “Will the real Charlie Crist please stand up?”
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.