ORLANDO — Charlie Crist spoke Saturday morning to hundreds of educators at a Florida Education Association gathering in Orlando, in what amounted to the first Democratic campaign rally of the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Teachers union members roared as the former Republican governor and likely soon-to-be Democratic gubernatorial candidate took the stage. Van Halen blared from the sound system:
Now you gotta run to get even
Make future plans, don't dream about yesterday, hey
C'mon turn, turn this thing around
Right now, hey
It's your tomorrow
Crist blistered Gov. Rick Scott on his education record, even as he struck a largely centrist tone that wouldn't have alarmed Jeb Bush much.
"I haven't always agreed with Jeb Bush, I must admit, but I do agree with him that we should continue to push higher and never settle," said Crist, voicing his support for the Common Core educational standards that have drawn criticism from both the right and left.
"We should set a date — I believe by 2020 — we want to be in the top 10 percent, not just in America but globally in reading, math, science and technology. We should wake up every day asking ourselves what are we doing today to help our schools succeed? Sadly, while you are working very hard night and day to make our schools great, the support you're getting from the administration is pitiful: four education commissioners in four years, budget cuts, constantly moving targets on accountability and a governor who cares so little that he didn't even attend his own education summit — though he did find time the very same week to attend a tea party convention. Those are his priorities."
Scott over the past year has touted his commitment to education, including funding and bonuses for teachers.
"After cleaning up Charlie Crist's fiscal mess, Rick Scott put Florida on a sound path that has produced record, state-based funding of K-12 schools, $480 million in pay raises for teachers and the first budget surplus in six years. That's a record Crist can't refute," said Florida Republican Party spokeswoman Susan Hepworth.
No love for Sink
It's hard to imagine clearer evidence that Alex Sink made the right decision not to run for governor again and face a primary fight than her entrance in the teachers union conference compared with Crist's.
The former governor was mobbed by union members as he walked through the Orlando World Center Marriott, stopping every few steps as a scrum of educators a dozen-deep surrounded him, seeking photos and cheering him on.
"Our next governor — right here!"
"We're behind you, Charlie!"
Crist responded: "I'm behind YOU. We're in this together."
Sink arrived a little later and was barely noticed before she spoke. A handful of people asked for photos with her.
The contrast was especially striking given the Florida Education Association's history with Sink. In 2002 the union bankrolled and effectively ran the day-to-day operations of the gubernatorial campaign of her husband, Bill McBride, who died in December. On Saturday, the union played a video about McBride from his 2002 campaign, and FEA President Andy Ford tearfully presented Sink with a large and imposing piece of glasswork to honor McBride's commitment to public schools.
Check out Amanda Murphy, the Democratic candidate to replace Republican Mike Fasano in the state House. She appears today on Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Republican nominee Bill Gunter declined to sit down for a televised interview. Political adviser Brian Hughes said Gunter felt it was more important to spend his time knocking on voters' doors.
2016 games begin
Mark it down: The 2016 presidential election effectively begins in Florida on Oct. 22. That's when former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman hosts a low-dollar fundraiser/informational session on the Ready For Hillary political committee gearing up and pushing for a presidential bid by the former secretary of state.
"I've been having people ask me since before she left the secretary of state's office, 'What's she going to do? Is she going to run? How can I help out?' " said Freedman, who goes way back with the Clintons. "There's a tremendous amount of excitement."
The event will be at Tampa's Mise en Place restaurant from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and the suggested contribution is $25. Also on hand will be Craig Smith, Bill Clinton's chief of staff in Arkansas, who later worked in the Clinton White House and managed Joe Lieberman's campaign.
Bill Clinton has some history with Tampa. Just three days after the little-known governor announced his candidacy to take on the then-immensely popular George H.W. Bush in late 1991, he visited Tampa. He told Freedman he wanted to visit a school with many at-risk students, so she arranged a visit to Alexander Elementary. Clinton, Smith and Freedman arrived at the school, where a banner hung over the front door: "Welcome Bob Clinton."