The two leading Democratic contenders in the Florida governor’s race held events in Tampa to denounce Gov. Ron DeSantis following his removal of Hillsborough County’s State Attorney Andrew Warren.
Both U.S. Rep Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried positioned DeSantis’ ousting of Warren — a Democrat and outspoken critic of DeSantis’ policies — as an overreach of power.
DeSantis’ executive order, released Thursday morning, alleged Warren had effectively neglected his duties when he signed onto letters pledging not to enforce laws banning gender-affirming care for transgender kids or limits on abortion.
Thursday afternoon, Warren gave a news conference he had scheduled about an update to a decades-old cold case. Instead of holding it at the state attorney’s office, he delivered it out of a lawyer’s office, addressing DeSantis’ move only at the end.
After Warren wrapped up, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist began his own news conference out of the same room.
There, Crist, a Democratic candidate for governor and the former Republican governor of Florida, slammed DeSantis, calling him an “autocrat that would love to be the dictator of Florida, and then America.”
Crist, who also previously served as the Florida attorney general, said prosecutorial discretion is necessary for state attorneys with limited resources to determine what they’re going to prioritize. In a large state like Florida, the interests and issues of one district won’t mirror another, he said.
“That’s inherent in the job, to give that kind of flexibility,” he said.
He said DeSantis, a lawyer who attended Harvard and Yale universities, should know better. Crist said the fact that Warren was reelected shows that he’s popular with the district, and that voters chose not to remove him when they had the opportunity.
DeSantis’ order argued that Warren’s pledges represented a blanket refusal to follow the law, citing state Supreme Court precedent that holds prosecutorial discretion must be exercised on a case-by-case basis. Warren had not yet actually declined to prosecute any cases related to Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, and the state currently has no law requiring criminal punishment of doctors or families providing gender-affirming care.
On Twitter, Crist fundraised off the event, asking followers to chip in $10 to “show Ron DeSantis that the people of Florida will not co-sign his authoritarian tactics.”
Speaking in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse Friday morning, where protesters had rallied against Warren’s removal the night before, Fried said the power to remove Warren belonged to Hillsborough County voters and not DeSantis.
“It is not up to the governor to remove elected officials because he does not agree with their philosophies,” Fried said. “This is a local issue that needed to have stayed local.”
Fried likened the governor’s move to the actions of a dictator. She contended Warren was using his prosecutorial discretion lawfully to “protect the rights” of Hillsborough County residents.
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Casting abortion as a central issue in the governor’s race, Fried alluded to the Kansas referendum in which voters struck down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have removed the right to abortion in the state.
Fried said she’d exchanged messages with Warren since the ousting.