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Crist to pick Miami-Dade teachers union head Karla Hernandez-Mats as running mate

Charlie Crist, who is running for Florida governor, is expected to announce his pick for lieutenant governor on Saturday.
 
United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats, joined by members of the Broward Teachers Union, speaks during a news conference about the health and safety gaps that need to be addressed before the reopening of schools in both counties. They gathered at the United Teachers of Dade headquarters in Miami Springs on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.
United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats, joined by members of the Broward Teachers Union, speaks during a news conference about the health and safety gaps that need to be addressed before the reopening of schools in both counties. They gathered at the United Teachers of Dade headquarters in Miami Springs on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. [ SAM NAVARRO/Special to the Miami Herald ]
Published Aug. 26, 2022|Updated Aug. 27, 2022

MIAMI — Charlie Crist, the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor, has selected the head of Miami-Dade County’s teachers union as his running mate to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis in the fall, the Miami Herald has confirmed.

Three sources briefed on Crist’s decision confirmed the choice of Karla Hernandez-Mats, which was first reported by CBS Miami. The Crist campaign declined to confirm the news. An announcement is expected Saturday.

Hernandez-Mats, 42, serves as president of United Teachers of Dade and a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. The pick of the Miami Springs resident means there are two lieutenant governor candidates from Miami-Dade, since the current holder of the office is Jeanette Nuñez, who lives in west Miami-Dade.

The last time Crist ran for governor, and lost to Rick Scott in 2014, he tapped Annette Taddeo, another Hispanic woman from Miami-Dade. Hernandez-Mats is a first-generation American of Honduran descent and was born in Miami. Taddeo went on to become a state senator and on Tuesday, won the Democratic primary for Florida’s 27th Congressional District and will challenge incumbent Republican María Elvira Salazar in November.

Hernandez-Mats holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University in emotionally handicapped education and a master’s degree in business management from St. Thomas University. She taught in the classroom as a special education teacher for more than a decade, and in 2010, she was named Teacher of the Year at Hialeah Middle School.

This is Hernandez-Mats’ first run for public office.

Hernandez-Mats leads referendum vote

Hernandez-Mats joined United Teachers of Dade’s leadership group in 2013 as the secretary-treasurer and three years later, was elected as president, becoming the organization’s first Hispanic leader. In the years since, she, alongside other union leaders, spearheaded the school district’s campaign to pass a tax referendum to support teacher pay, advocated to keep health care premiums frozen and, according to Hernandez-Mats, got the union out of debt.

During the pandemic, she critiqued the district’s response, calling it inconsistent at the time but later stood alongside former Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to encourage students and staff to wear masks and get a COVID-19 vaccine. This year, Hernandez-Mats and the United Teachers of Dade leadership won their reelection, securing a third term. After her win, she told the Herald she was looking forward to campaigning and securing another tax referendum for teacher pay, which is up for renewal in November.

In recent months, Hernandez-Mats spoke out against Gov. Ron DeSantis and the slew of new education rules he signed into law in the spring and early summer. In March, after the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ by opponents, passed, Hernandez-Mats said the bill was not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, but it was an insult to teachers.

“The rhetoric about teachers is absurd. Teachers haven’t been teaching this,” she said at the time. Moreover, she said, teachers go to work every day to ensure all children feel welcomed and safe. “This is an attack on educators. It’s unfortunate. This is political pandering because [lawmakers] are trying to move their base.”

She also weighed in on teacher vacancies ahead of the new school year on the Katie Phang Show on MSNBC, citing the “culture wars” and the GOP’s efforts to “politicize the classroom. (Ahead of the 2022-23 school year, Miami-Dade schools reported about 225 classroom vacancies in the district, about 100 more than before the start of the 2021-22 year.)

Friday’s news comes days after two DeSantis-backed candidates won their bids to sit on the nine-member School Board. Roberto Alonso won his District 4 seat to succeed outgoing Chair Perla Tabares-Hantman, while Monica Colucci beat longtime incumbent Marta Perez for the District 8 seat. United Teachers of Dade did not endorse either candidate.

An emphasis on ‘education equity’

For Daniella Pierre, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP chapter, Hernandez-Mats’ nomination hopefully positions the school district, teachers and students to receive the funding and support that is needed. Hernandez-Mats has a “strong handle” of the issues, particularly education issues and “does not shy away from speaking up when the time is needed.”

Though she’s never worked with Hernandez-Mats, Pierre often sees the union president at school board meetings and said she has a group of people that supports her, follows her and believes that she can deliver. If elected, however, Pierre said that deliverable must be education equity.

“I need to see deliverables that are far beyond platitudes but something that is done in legislation and where we can see changes,” Pierre said.

McClatchy Washington correspondent Alex Roarty contributed to this report.

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