Democratic gubernatorial hopeful former Rep. Charlie Crist fielded big questions — on reproductive health care, on climate change, on gun reform and on other issues.
Big questions need big answers, Crist said. He advocated for statewide solar panel installation, education reform and an executive order securing the right to an abortion as he offered responses to voter questions.
The biggest answer of all, he said: a win against incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis Nov. 8.
Crist, a former governor and U.S. House representative, stopped at the Alachua County Democratic Party headquarters Sept. 24. A crowd of about 50 people came to listen to him speak about his platform, where he tackled common concerns and emphasized his political experience. He also urged attendees to vote.
The appearance comes more than a month ahead of the general election and behind Crist’s primary win, where he defeated Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried with almost 60% of the vote. Crist now faces DeSantis in the general election.
Projections from Politico predict Florida voters will likely choose DeSantis in November. DeSantis’ $166 million in campaign contributions dwarfs Crist’s $18 million, according to campaign finance data.
But Crist told the crowd he’s optimistic.
“The closer we get, the better it’s getting,” he said. “You feel it? I feel it too.”
Crist’s platform highlights Democratic ballot measures like expanding Medicare and protecting LGBTQ rights. His self-described “common sense” provisions have drawn the support of Democratic voters like Susan Bottcher, a 65-year-old volunteer with Alachua County Democrats, member of Equality Florida and former candidate for the Gainesville City Commission.
She hopes Crist’s platform will mitigate the widespread conservative influence in Florida, Bottcher said.
“It pushes back against the overreach from the Republicans, particularly our governor, who seems to be doing his best to out-extreme every other Republican in the country,” she said.
Democratic voters have criticized Crist for his past term as governor, when he ran and won as a Republican in the 2006 election. He’s faced backlash for past comments on abortion — he once described himself as “pro-life” — and his relatively moderate views.
Still, voters like Bottcher view his light blue as the best alternative to DeSantis’ deep red.
“I may not agree in deep detail with everything Charlie Crist says or does,” she said. “But he is heads and shoulders above everything that the Republican party is offering.”
The right to an abortion is his top priority, Crist said, promising to sign an executive order protecting it on his first day in office if elected. He pointed to his track record on abortion legislation and said he would carry those values to office again.
“When I was a Republican governor, I vetoed an anti-abortion bill,” he said. “What else do you need to know?”
Crist’s education plan includes repealing legislation like the “Stop WOKE” Act and the “Parental Rights in Education” Act — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics — two policy initiatives that limit what teachers can discuss in classrooms. He will also declare the teacher shortage a national emergency and allocate state funding to recruitment and hiring efforts.
He also vowed to fight censorship in schools, which is propelled by House Bill 1467. The bill, approved by DeSantis, keeps books like “Maus” by Art Spiegelman and “Beloved” by Toni Morrison off the shelves of some school libraries.
It’s an issue on the minds of voters like J.W. Honeysucker, a 58-year-old pastor at Grace United Ministries and Gainesville resident.
Honeysucker, whose 7-year-old daughter, Jaehannah, is in first grade at Cornerstone Academy, said the widespread ban on books and lack of resources for teachers concerns him.
“I’m supporting him for the stance and the platform he’s running on,” Honeysucker said. “Hopefully to help make a change.”
Parents expressed concern over not just school content, but also school safety. Amid a surge in mass shootings — including the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that left 21 dead in May — voters are calling for stricter gun laws and reform to school safety.
Meghan Froman, a 44-year-old former UF Health employee and medical student, works with Moms Demand Action to advocate for those changes. A mom to a 12 and a 9 year old, Froman said she supports legislation that regulates weapon sales and heightens security measures like waiting periods and background checks.
Her children routinely complete active shooter drills in school, she said, and she wants to see those procedures lessened. Crist’s legislation plan will help shift the burden of safety from schools to the government with initiatives that would ban assault weapons and strengthen red flag laws, she said.
Froman hopes the changes will grant her peace of mind while her children are learning, she said.
“You should be safe sending your children to school,” she said.
With issues like school safety on the ballot, Crist said this election is one of the most important in recent memory. He urged the crowd to vote in the general election and encouraged them to mobilize those around them to do the same.
The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 11. That Florida voters meet it and participate in the general election is a matter of life and death, he said.
During a pause in his speech, one voter called out, “You’re our only hope.”
“We’re each other’s hope,” Crist said in response. “We really are. And the good news is that it’s working.”
Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.