TALLAHASSEE — The Nov. 8 election between Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democrat Charlie Crist will give Florida voters a choice between two candidates with vastly different views about what they think is important to Floridians.
For the next two months, the candidates will make their case to voters and talk about how they plan to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the state.
For starters, they don’t exactly agree on what the top issues are.
On his campaign website, DeSantis asks voters to fill out a survey that asks “What issues matter to you going into 2022?” The list of issues from which to choose: “fighting against big tech, election integrity, protecting our Second Amendment, preserving Florida’s environment, our economy, protecting innocent life, education/banning critical race theory in classrooms, strengthening the border and other.”
By contrast, Crist’s website spells out the top issues he thinks voters want addressed: “defending reproductive freedom, voting is a right, clean water for all, office for new Floridians, justice for all, Crist action plan for Florida seniors, affordable Florida for all plan, Crist’s million solar roofs plan, safer Florida for all, accessibility for all, freedom to learn, Wall Street housing crackdown, equality for all and Black voters for Crist.”
The following is a brief summary of the candidates’ public statements and promises to date on: reproductive rights, the environment, education, gun rights, the cost of living in Florida and voting rights.
Charlie Crist: After his nomination, Crist repeated his campaign pledge to sign an executive order on his first day in office to protect abortion rights in Florida.
“Next year, as your governor, I’ll veto any anti-choice legislation that comes to my desk,” Crist said during a speech in Tampa in May.
When Crist was a Republican governor, he vetoed legislation that would have forced pregnant women to get an ultrasound before getting an abortion. While he now says he has “always” supported access to abortion, his record on the issue has fluctuated over the years. In the 2006 gubernatorial race, he cast himself as “pro-life,” though he said he wouldn’t support overturning the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that protected the constitutional right to an abortion.
Ron DeSantis: DeSantis has refused to publicly say whether he would support further abortion restrictions now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade.
The governor praised the Supreme Court ruling and promised that Florida “will work to expand pro-life protections,” but he has not offered specifics. Last week, he was asked what “pro-life protection” would look like in Florida if he is reelected. He said his focus was on “defending what we’ve done, and we’ve done more than any governor in the modern history of the state,” in reference to the state’s new 15-week abortion ban.
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“We want to make sure that what we’ve done will stick and then work with the Legislature. But I will tell you, though, that 15 was very difficult to be able to achieve,” DeSantis said. “We were happy that we were able to achieve it. And so we look forward and we welcome future endeavors. But this is, we realize, there’s still going to be a fight on the legal end.”
Charlie Crist: Crist has laid out several education policy priorities, including making Florida’s education commissioner an elected position again.
He wants to invest $5.5 billion to increase teacher pay, an amount that would continue going toward raising the starting teacher salary to $47,500 — an initiative pushed by DeSantis — and that would also go to pay veteran teachers at least $67,000.
He also wants to make some changes to how teachers receive health care options. On his website, Crist says he wants to give school districts the option to enroll in the state employee health plan because teachers and non-instructional staff “are public employees, too.”
“The state will even pick up the tab if districts use existing expenditures to increase teacher and non-instructional staff pay,” the website says. “The district and the union will decide how to allocate the salary increases.”
Crist was supported by the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, during the primary election.
Ron DeSantis: It is difficult to discern what specific education policies DeSantis will want to enact next if he is reelected.
But what we know is that those policies are likely to be related to the governor’s constant push against what he calls “woke ideology,” which has become somewhat of a catch-all phrase for what conservatives think is objectionable when it comes to teaching about race and gender.
DeSantis has made education a cornerstone of his reelection campaign and has been expanding the number of allies he has in local school board races, all in the pursuit of his education agenda.
The priorities in that agenda are described broadly, and focus on rejecting the teaching of what DeSantis calls “critical race theory” and “woke gender ideology.” He also wants to put more emphasis on civics education and increasing teacher pay. Those items have already been implemented, so it is unclear exactly what DeSantis wants to do to build on those issues.
Next year, DeSantis wants state lawmakers to give law enforcement officers and first responders easier access to temporary teaching certificates, to help schools fill vacant teaching positions. He also wants to continue raising the minimum teacher salary to $47,500.
Charlie Crist: Crist has said he would support gun control measures, including required background checks for “all firearm sales” including those done at gun shows. To get that done, he would have to work with the Republican majority in the Legislature.
“We’ll help law enforcement get illegal guns off our streets by limiting handgun purchases to once per month, cracking down on untraceable ghost guns and asking Floridians to report when their guns are lost or stolen,” Crist said at a news conference in March.
Crist also wants to strengthen Florida’s red flag law, which gives police a path to ask a judge to temporarily bar dangerous individuals from possessing or purchasing a firearm. The law was enacted after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with bipartisan support in the Legislature.
In June, when Congress gave final approval to a bipartisan compromise intended to stop dangerous people from accessing firearms, Crist called the measure an “important, life-saving step forward” but called for further action. In particular, he said he wants to see universal background checks for gun purchases and a ban on sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Ron DeSantis: The governor has promised to push for a bill that would allow Floridians to publicly carry firearms even if they have not previously taken a training course or obtained a permit.
“I can’t tell you exactly when, but I’m pretty confident that I will be able to sign ‘constitutional carry’ into law in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in April. “The Legislature will get it done.”
Handgun owners in Florida are currently required to get a license to carry their weapons in most public places. Gun owners are allowed to openly carry their firearms without a permit in certain limited circumstances, including while hunting or while traveling to and from a hunting trip.
The incoming Republican House speaker, Paul Renner, has said his chamber plans to put forward a “constitutional carry” policy for gun owners. But he told supporters, “we need to work on the Senate a little bit.” For DeSantis to keep his promise, both chambers would need to approve the measure.
Cost of living
Crist and Democrats see that as an issue they intend to use to galvanize voters about a governor they say is more focused on culture wars than Floridians’ pocketbooks. DeSantis blames what he calls “Biden-inflation” and says that Florida is a victim of its success under his administration because, as he kept schools and businesses open, people were moving to Florida, increasing demand for housing, goods and services and raising costs.
Charlie Crist: He blames global forces, the pandemic and interrupted supply chains for inflation. On general costs, he wants to temporarily suspend the gas tax at the state level and reject “unreasonable rate increases” sought by utility companies.
On housing, he wants to increase the affordable housing inventory and appoint a housing czar to place limits on corporations that buy up single-family homes and convert them to rental properties, pricing locals out of the market. He wants to temporarily, “but significantly,” increase the documentary stamp tax paid by development firms when they close on a house, with revenues to go toward the Sadowski trust fund for affordable housing. He also vows to fully fund the affordable housing trust fund and repeal the 2021 law that permanently diverted money from the fund. He also wants to expand down payment assistance programs for people buying a home.
On auto and homeowners insurance, Crist wants to appoint a state insurance advocate who is more consumer-focused and repeal the 2021 reform law signed by DeSantis that opponents say has backfired and led to higher premiums. He wants to expand competition in the homeowners insurance market by requiring large insurers that sell auto insurance to Floridians to also offer homeowners insurance.
For health care, he wants to expand Medicaid and negotiate lower prescription drug costs.
For state workers, he promises to restore annual cost-of-living adjustments for worker pay.
Ron DeSantis: He blames Biden for cost-of-living increases and says the governor’s efforts to keep businesses open during the pandemic contributed to Florida’s economy. On general costs, the governor signed a record tax reduction package for the next year that includes a $0.25 per gallon reduction in the state gas tax to run through the month of October. For the second year in a row, DeSantis approved $1,000 bonuses for all sworn law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders. And on Thursday, the governor announced a toll relief program to give customers with at least 40 paid transactions a month a 20% credit to their SunPass account on toll roads owned by the state. Customers with 80 or more paid transactions will receive a 25% credit each month.
On housing, DeSantis announced a Hometown Heroes program with a $100 million budget to provide workers in more than 100 eligible professions assistance with down payments and closing costs to help purchase a primary residence in the communities where they work. He has not addressed other issues related to affordable housing. He rejected requests to address rent relief in the legislative session. Since 2021, the state has distributed $1.5 billion in rental assistance funds provided to Floridians from federal COVID-19 relief dollars.
On property insurance, Florida lawmakers held a special session in May and delivered property insurance reforms sought by the governor and favored by the insurance industry. The measure prohibits an insurance company from refusing to write or renew a policy based on the age of a roof and imposes other limits. Since then, however, a number of insurance companies have discontinued writing insurance in the state. Average rates in Florida have tripled since 2019, and the insurance rating agency Demotech has threatened to downgrade more than 20 companies, potentially sending hundreds of thousands of policies into the high-cost, state-run insurer, Citizens Property Insurance.
DeSantis has not outlined any proposals to address the homeowners insurance issue since then, but he has said “companies by and large are in better shape than they were six months ago,” and he wants mortgage lenders to accept the downgraded companies. “We can use Citizens Insurance as kind of the reinsurer of last resort,” he said.
For state workers, DeSantis approved pay raises for state law enforcement officers that he says will amount to as much as 15% increases for some people. He approved $1 billion over four years to reach the goal of raising the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 and approved three years of teacher bonuses.
Charlie Crist: He says he will “roll back Tallahassee’s misguided voter suppression law and make it easier to vote.” He will reverse the limits on mail ballots approved by DeSantis, and if the Legislature refuses to act, he would declare a state of emergency before the next general election and make the changes himself.
Crist wants Florida to join other states and automatically register to vote anyone who seeks a driver’s license. He wants to make Election Day a state holiday and proposes moving the Florida primary to the spring to encourage voter participation. And the former governor wants to make it easier for felons who have completed their sentences but may still owe court fees to be able to register to vote.
Ron DeSantis: The governor has signed bills into law that make it more difficult to vote by mail, limit the use of ballot drop boxes, require third-party groups to issue a warning when trying to register voters and create an Election Crimes and Security investigative force. He signed a 2019 bill that restricts the ability of felons to have their rights restored under a voter-approved constitutional amendment. When federal judges blocked both of the bills, ruling they unfairly discriminate against Black voters, the governor appealed the rulings.
DeSantis has said he will “hold people accountable, who violated our election laws,” and earlier in August announced the arrests of 20 individuals who voted in 2020 but did not have their rights restored. He said there will be more arrests.
Charlie Crist: On energy, Crist wants Florida to reach one million solar roofs by expanding solar energy tax credits and low-cost financing, installing solar on state government buildings and supporting installations on other government buildings. He wants to create low-income solar grants, allow third-party ownership of solar arrays, streamline permitting, establish statewide energy efficiency standards and protect the current rule that lets customers who generate solar power sell excess energy to their utility company at retail rates. Crist also vows to repeal the law that restricts local governments’ natural gas hookups.
On water, Crist promises to strengthen regulations regarding runoff from agricultural lands and limit back-pumping into Lake Okeechobee. He opposes state preemption over local control of environmental issues and the retail sale of fertilizer. He wants to use federal American Rescue Plan dollars to replace all urban septic tanks and connect them to central sewer systems. He wants to make more public lands available to store and clean water and restore wetlands. And the former governor wants to give state water regulators more resources to protect wetlands and waterways.
Ron DeSantis: On energy, DeSantis vetoed a utility-written bill intended to reduce rooftop solar expansion, citing the increasing cost it could have on people in an inflation-burdened economy. He has appointed three of the five members of the Public Service Commission, which has approved rate increases for Florida Power & Light, Tampa Electric and Duke Energy Florida. The tax break package signed into law this year includes tax credits for energy star appliances.
On water and sea level rise, the governor vetoed a bill this year that would have given the sugar industry priority to water access over other Floridians. He secured $3.3 billion in state and federal funds for Everglades restoration, about $800 million above his $2.5 billion goal. Funding initiatives also include $404 million for 113 environmental resilience projects throughout the state, a statewide flooding and sea level rise resilience plan for 76 infrastructure projects totaling $270 million and $20 million for 98 projects statewide for inland and coastal community assessments.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the state has distributed $1.5 billion in rental assistance funds provided to Floridians from federal COVID-19 relief dollars.
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