An election of contrasts in Florida
This appeared in the South Florida Sun Sentinel
The most important race for governor in Florida history will be decided on Tuesday when voters choose between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Charlie Crist. Rarely in the history of Florida politics have two candidates disagreed on so much.
Here are some examples:
Abortion: DeSantis signed a 15-week ban on abortion with no exceptions for victims of rape, incest or human trafficking. “I’m proud of the 15 weeks that we did,” DeSantis said in a recent debate. Crist opposed the law and said of the lack of exceptions: “That’s callous, it’s barbaric and it’s wrong, and Florida deserves better.” Crist said he would sign an executive order his first day in office to protect abortion rights. DeSantis has declined to say whether he would seek additional abortion restrictions if he’s re-elected.
Antisemitism: Hours after antisemitic incidents last weekend at a UF-Georgia football game and on an I-10 overpass in Jacksonville, Crist issued a statement that said: “I am disgusted and horrified at the hateful, antisemitic rhetoric displayed in Jacksonville ... Hate should have no home in Florida, period.” Despite having the state’s most powerful megaphone, DeSantis said nothing, even though he was at the game. Two days later, a spokesman said weakly: “Governor DeSantis rejects attempts to scapegoat the Jewish community. It has no place in Florida.”
COVID-19: Determined to keep Florida “free,” DeSantis ran roughshod over local officials for imposing mask and vaccine mandates. Crist’s approach is the opposite. He supported mandates as a way of “listening to science.” Early in the pandemic, DeSantis’ own staff urged him to require masks, as we reported, but he wouldn’t. DeSantis criticized a group of teens for wearing masks, calling it “ridiculous” and “COVID theater.” Crist said criticizing the students was “the ultimate expression of the actions of a bully.”
Democracy: In an assault on democracy, DeSantis signed a bill last year (SB 1194) that nullified a vote of the people of Key West to ban large cruise ships from city docks, after he received $1 million from firms linked to a businessman who opposed the vote. Crist said he would have respected the will of the southernmost city and vetoed the bill. He accused DeSantis of bowing to wealthy campaign donor Mark Walsh. “Ron doesn’t know better,” Crist said.
Elections: Citing the need to “strengthen election integrity,” DeSantis pushed for a new Office of Election Crimes and Security to investigate allegations of election fraud. Crist says the office is a blatant effort to intimidate Florida voters, and he would abolish it. In a new request to the Legislature, the DeSantis administration wants $3.1 million more to expand the office from 25 to 52 people next year, the number of positions he initially requested.
Guns: If re-elected, DeSantis says he will sign an “open carry” law, so unlicensed gun owners can display weapons. Crist opposes open carry and supports expanded background checks and a ban on assault weapons; DeSantis opposes both. DeSantis said he would have vetoed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act because of portions that enacted a red-flag law and raised the age to buy rifles and shotguns to 21. Crist said he would strengthen the red-flag law.
Insurance: Homeowners have seen property insurance premiums skyrocket under DeSantis, a criticism echoed even by Republican Sen. Rick Scott, and fears of a market collapse persist, even after DeSantis signed new industry-friendly changes. Florida has among the highest rates in the U.S., and they will rise again because of damage from Hurricane Ian. Crist fought insurers as a populist Republican governor (2007-2011), and his claim that rates fell by 10% during his term was rated Mostly True by Politifact.
Medicaid: DeSantis opposes expanding Medicaid to an estimated 800,000 uninsured low-income Floridians. Crist would seek expansion if elected, and has said he would veto any state budget that does not include Medicaid expansion.
Migrants: DeSantis spent public money to charter jets to transport Venezuelan asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a decision that brought lawsuits in Florida and a criminal probe in Texas. “Our message is we’re not a sanctuary state,” DeSantis said. Crist called it “disgusting and vile,” and that he would not have done it.