TALLAHASSEE — Facing a friendly Democratic crowd Tuesday, Charlie Crist called Gov. Rick Scott "a disaster" for Florida and predicted "the nightmare will be over" when he wins in November.
In a 30-minute luncheon speech laced with scorn for his successor, Crist addressed about 300 members of the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee, many with ties to his alma mater, Florida State. Ignoring the club's tradition of light frivolity, Crist was all business as he challenged the crowd to help him defeat Scott, who has said he will spend $100 million to win a second term.
"I need you to be with me and I don't need for you to be casual about it. Don't just give us a couple of bucks," Crist said. "We've got six months to go and the nightmare will be over, and you'll have somebody up there with a heart again."
Speaking with a higher degree of intensity and combativeness than in past campaigns, Crist ripped Scott for seeking $3.3 billion in cuts to schools in his first year in office, rejecting billions in federal money for high-speed rail and failing to persuade the Legislature to expand Medicaid.
And he reminded the crowd of the $1.7 billion fraud fine paid by the governor's former hospital company, Columbia/HCA.
"He stole from people, his company did, a ton," Crist said. "Made him a very wealthy man. Well, okay, I've got my record and you've got yours on ethics. … We're good. He's not."
Crist said Scott once invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a deposition "so he wouldn't criminally implicate himself," and he said that every time Scott ducks a reporter's question, "he's essentially pleading the Fifth."
Asked to cite his proudest accomplishments as governor, Crist cited a "tone of cooperation and working together" and his 2008 order that extended early voting in Florida.
With eight days left in the 2014 session, Crist called on lawmakers to pass a bill giving in-state college tuition to students who live in Florida but are undocumented immigrants. The bill is stalled amid Republican Senate opposition and Scott supports it, as does Crist, who called it "the right thing to do."
Scott's campaign noted that Crist, as a Republican candidate for governor in 2006, opposed in-state tuition for those same students, and that Crist backed 15 percent discretionary tuition increases for universities that Scott is now trying to repeal.
"Charlie Crist has no moral authority or credibility on higher education," Scott's campaign said. "Gov. Scott is fighting to right Charlie Crist's wrongs."
Crist said the 15 percent tuition increase was the right thing to do at the time because the state was in a recession and universities needed the flexibility.
Crist drew applause when he called himself "pro-life" and added: "I also don't want to tell any woman what to do with her body. I never have."
He said he agreed with former Gov. Jeb Bush in supporting the national Common Core learning standards and blasted Scott for distancing himself from them. "Once again, our governor's not leading, so we're in a quagmire on education," Crist said.
After his talk, Crist signed copies of his book, The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat, for people who brought them to the Tallahassee Civic Center. They included Tom Pelham, who under Crist ran the Department of Community Affairs, a growth-management agency largely dismantled by Scott.
"You don't even have a department anymore," Crist said to Pelham. "What the hell's going on?"
Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.