FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida – Former Gov. Charlie Crist laid out his plan Tuesday to boost the middle class, promising to raise the minimum wage, increase funding for public schools and expand Medicaid if he's elected.
Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, says one of the first things he'll do if elected is call a special session to expand Medicaid to roughly 1 million Floridians, which would draw down about $50 billion in federal funds over the next decade and also help the state's economy by creating 120,000 jobs. He also wants his opponent, incumbent Gov. Rick Scott, to add Medicaid to the agenda of this week's special session of the Legislature, which will focus on redrawing congressional districts after they were declared illegal by a state judge.
When asked how Crist would work with the Republican controlled Legislature, which has been resistant to Medicaid expansion, Crist said he'll remind them about those who can't see a doctor or pay for their prescriptions without it.
"We have to forget about the party affiliations and do what's right for our fellow Floridians … we can get it done and we owe it to them."
Crist also said he would work with lawmakers to expand the minimum wage to $10.10 and invest in public schools by raising per-child funding to $7,405.79 and make higher education and vocational training more affordable through loan forgiveness programs. Crist's plan echoes steps taken at the federal level by President Barack Obama.
Crist took several shots at his opponent as he released his "Fair Shot Florida" plan in Fort Lauderdale, saying "for most Floridians, life has gotten harder not better under Rick Scott."
"Rick Scott talks a lot about jobs but it's just that — all talk. He spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on incentives to bring companies here and they've only created 4 percent of the jobs they promised they would bring," Crist said.
The former governor hasn't been shy about calling out Scott even though Crist has not yet won the Democratic nomination. State Sen. Nan Rich is Crist's main opponent in the Aug. 26 primary.
John Thrasher, a state senator and chairman of Scott's re-election, said in a statement that Crist wounded Florida's economy as governor when unemployment tripled and the state lost 832,000 jobs.
"He piled on tax hikes and tuition increases on struggling middle-class families, only to attempt to flee to Washington instead of staying to fix the mess he created. Charlie Crist had his shot at being Governor — but he failed, then ran away," Thrasher said.
Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2011, responded by saying he wasn't responsible for the global economic meltdown.
Crist left his gubernatorial gig to run unsuccessfully as in independent for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Marco Rubio. The former Republican governor was famously criticized for hugging the newly elected Democratic President Barack Obama at an event in Fort Myers five years ago. Crist has said the hug was the beginning of the end for him in the Republican Party.