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A decent man or a bully? Our pick for governor | Editorial
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis faces Democrat Charlie Crist in the Nov. 8 election
Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. [ AMY BETH BENNETT & JOE BURBANK | Orlando Sentinel ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 26, 2022

The governor should represent all Floridians, including those who disagree with him or didn’t vote for him. Charlie Crist would do that. Gov. Ron DeSantis does not — and would not. In 2018, DeSantis got 49.6% of the vote. In other words, more people voted for someone else. We thought that might encourage him to build consensus. Instead he doubled-down on the tribalism that plagues too much of today’s politics. We wanted to believe in him, for the good of the state. But he has always acted as if he won in a landslide, with a mandate not just to govern but to rule. It is not enough for him to win. He has to crush those who oppose him, whoever they are.

Gov. Ron DeSantis told high school students at a news conference at the University of South Florida that they didn’t need to wear masks.
Gov. Ron DeSantis told high school students at a news conference at the University of South Florida that they didn’t need to wear masks. [ WTSP ]

A bully. Look at how he hectored high school students — teenagers! — who were brought to the University of South Florida for a photo op in March. Seemingly irritated that several kids standing behind him on the stage were masked up, he told them, “You don’t have to wear those masks. Please take them off.” “This is ridiculous,” he went on. His behavior — for all the world to see — would have been unacceptable for their teacher or their principal. Yet, here was the governor bullying a bunch of teenagers. That boorish behavior elicited an avalanche of objections. The critics knew a bully when they saw one, and they were outraged.

Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis [ JOE RAEDLE | Getty Images North America ]

Unite or divide. It’s hard to imagine Charlie Crist acting that way, because he wouldn’t. Crist is a decent man who always asks, “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” That’s not DeSantis’ style. Crist will compromise, which is essential to the long-term health of Florida. At heart, he is a uniter. DeSantis is not. He divides to conquer.

It’s not just underrepresented communities who are shunted aside by DeSantis. It’s not just gay Floridians and their fears that flow from the “don’t say gay” law. It’s not just college students and high school teachers who are worried about academic freedom. It’s even some of the most powerful politicians in the state. DeSantis seems to revel in belittling anyone who doesn’t agree with him. He makes them feel small, while he flexes power.

A Venezuelan migrant is led onto a bus at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As part of a political stunt, Gov. Ron DeSantis had a a group of 48 migrants flown to the island from Texas leaving them stranded.
A Venezuelan migrant is led onto a bus at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As part of a political stunt, Gov. Ron DeSantis had a a group of 48 migrants flown to the island from Texas leaving them stranded. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
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Dangerous games. DeSantis is pro-science only when it suits him. He’s anti-expert when they defy him. He’s Donald Trump but devoid of the charm. He wasted Floridians’ tax dollars to send immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard and his new Office of Election Crimes and Security arrested felons for voter fraud even though they had good reason to believe they were allowed to vote. He turned the COVID pandemic into an us vs. them showdown, “them” being anyone who dared advocate for mask wearing or social distancing. He didn’t just push his COVID agenda, he threatened to remove, fine or sue local and county officials who were making hard decisions concerning public health during an unprecedented pandemic. He withheld funds from jurisdictions that weren’t in lockstep with him. He did this as more than 82,000 Floridians died from the virus. And parse and age-adjust the COVID numbers any way you wish, but his decisions meant that Floridians died unnecessarily.

Charlie Crist
Charlie Crist [ CRYSTAL VANDER WEIT/TCPALM | TCPALM ]

A clear choice. This election presents a clear choice between a decent man and a bully. Over their political careers, both DeSantis and Crist have shown the voters who they are. Believe them. No matter what you think about the state of the Florida economy or its schools or its future, no matter what you think of Crist’s past or DeSantis’ presidential ambitions, the choice really is this simple: Do you want the state governed by a decent man or a bully? The Tampa Bay Times recommends voting for Charlie Crist, a man of decency, for governor.

Related: Read the Times recommendations in other races.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.