Former Gov. Charlie Crist wants to get his old job back because he wants Florida back. And it shouldn't be a surprise he switched parties to try to do it, he says.
"It's a unique race, obviously, for a lot of reasons," Crist told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Wednesday in a wide-ranging discussion about the governor's race. "To be running as a Democrat is a lot more fun for me, frankly, because I feel more at home."
The former Republican said he hadn't considered running for re-election after his 2007-11 term but that Gov. Rick Scott's actions on high-speed rail, education funding, the environment, ethics, Medicaid expansion and more convinced him that he must run.
"I didn't think this guy would win. I don't think anybody did," Crist said. "But he did. And I didn't also think, if he did, he would be this bad, but he is this bad."
Touting a spirit of working together in his administration — "it was not bipartisan; it was nonpartisan" — Crist said he would reverse the course on which Scott has set the state. He would clear out Scott's appointees for the Department of Environmental Protection, regional water management districts and the Public Service Commission.
He also said he would like to revisit plans for managed growth and work to address global warming and mass transit.
"This administration is not competent. It's not competent," Crist said. "Not only doesn't he (Scott) answer questions, they can't do anything right."
Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair responded by saying, "Charlie Crist is mudslinging again like the professional politician that he is. That's all he can do to distract from his total lack of transparency and refusing to release tax returns for both himself and his spouse."
Crist insisted that the key to the state's future remains its education system.
"You can't have a good job unless you have a good education. … If you're decimating your education system, you are guaranteeing a dysfunctional job market in the future for our state," Crist said, pointing out that per-pupil spending under Scott is still less than it was under Crist, even with a bigger budget. "So that's the first thing you do, is you restore faith and confidence in our education system. … Instead of destroying it, fortify it, nurture it."
He said he still supports Common Core, but Florida needs a committed education commissioner and dedication from teachers and administrators.
Issues facing the next governor will decide the future of the state for years to come, Crist said, pointing out that the next executive will appoint no fewer than four members of the state Supreme Court. While some of Crist's own judicial appointments have had a conservative bent, Scott would change the face of the court, he said.
"If he puts four ideologues on the court, and he would, then it's over for minorities, it's over for women, it's over for choice, it's over for the environment (and) it's over for public education," he said. "Everything gets appealed there. The only thing that's been holding Florida on from complete chaos, in my view, is the judicial branch of government."
The next governor also will have to work with the Legislature to make decisions on issues like gambling, immigration reform and Medicaid expansion. While Crist said he is "open-minded" on gambling and supports a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, he said his plan to persuade lawmakers reticent about accepting $51 billion in federal aid for Medicaid expansion would be to "shame 'em into it."
Sharing an anecdote about a disabled Floridian whose coverage had run out, Crist said he would tell legislators that story and point out "there's no good reason to not do this, unless you're just cruel and mean."
Reforming the property insurance market would be another goal, since he's at odds with Scott's plan to depopulate state-run insurer Citizens. Not that Crist is a fan of insurance companies.
"Private insurance companies are not the consumers' best friend, anyhow," he said. "They come in here and they rape us. Not all of them, but most."
Crist said campaign contributions show that enough Florida voters already support him enough to threaten Scott.
"There's about 30,000 contributions under $100. To the campaign, that's about 85 percent of our contributions. Under a hundred bucks," he said. "I don't think there's been 30,000 contributions to a statewide race in the history of Florida. They're hungry, they're upset and they want to fix it.
"And I'm the vessel."
Contact Joshua Gillin at [email protected] Follow @jpgillin.