TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's primary election is scheduled for Aug. 23, 2022, and the focus of many Democrats will be deciding who will challenge Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Nov. 8 general election.
Now is the time to get to know the candidates you’ll see on your ballot.
Since Annette Taddeo dropped her bid for the governor's mansion to pursue a Congressional campaign, the two remaining Democratic frontrunners are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and former Republican governor turned U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.
Fried is a lifelong Floridian. She worked as a public defender in Alachua County and later became a government affairs advocate for the marijuana industry. Now, as agriculture commissioner, she's the only elected Democrat currently holding a statewide office in the state.
Crist is a longtime politician from St. Petersburg. He was Florida’s governor from 2007 to 2011 and was elected as a Republican before changing parties. In 2016, he flipped a Republican seat and was elected as the Democratic Congressman for Florida’s 13th district.
10 Tampa Bay reporter Liz Crawford talked to both candidates, who broke down their stances on issues ranging from abortion to the state's COVID-19 response. Below, read about the two candidates — their values, priorities and thoughts on the upcoming election.
Here are their extended interviews:
On the issues:
Fried called the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade a tragic day for women in America. From her perspective, 15 weeks – the length of time allowed under Florida's newly-passed law – is not enough time to make a decision about an abortion. Fried wishes the state had stuck to its 24-week rule, which was in effect up until July 2022. Fried opposes the fact that the new 15-week ban includes no exceptions for victims of rape, incest, or sex trafficking. Fried believes the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the abortion restrictions signed by DeSantis will create a dangerous environment where people will seek “back alley abortions.” Abortion should be a decision between a patient and their doctor, she said.
Crist said he wants to preserve a woman’s right to choose and make decisions about their own health and body. Most Floridians, believe in freedom, and abortion restrictions signed by DeSantis go directly against this, he said. If elected governor, on his first day in office, Crist vowed to sign an executive order to protect a woman’s right to an abortion. In terms of a timeframe for abortions, he said he supports Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman's privacy before the viability of a fetus, or for about 24 weeks. The overturning of Roe v. Wade after 50 years of it being “the law of the land” is “unconscionable” and a “nightmare,” Crist said.
Regarding parental rights, Fried believes parents should be involved with every aspect of their child’s lives — healthcare, education, classroom instruction. However, there must be balance due to the diversity of the state, she said. She believes aspects of education and healthcare have become skewed to one side.
“The pendulum has swung so far to the right at this point that you’re now alienating so many parents in our state,” Fried said. “We need to make sure it’s balanced and everybody has a seat at the table.”
Crist said parental rights are paramount. However, he believes DeSantis has overstepped in this matter.
“He talks about parental rights yet he wants to step in the shoes of parents,” Crist said.
Crist said he’s a Democrat running to protect democracy, and that DeSantis is “an autocrat running to have a dictatorship.”
Regarding DeSantis’s pandemic response, Fried believes DeSantis took a “my way or the highway approach.” She accused him of being unwilling to listen to those whose lives had been deeply impacted by COVID-19 and failing to be a calming presence for the public. She also denounced him for what she described as not listening to experts, holding back information and failing to preorder vaccines for children under 5.
Crist believes that DeSantis’ pandemic response failed Floridians. He pointed out the almost 80,000 people who died from COVID-19 in the state. Crist accused DeSantis of not advocating for vaccines and mask-wearing. The governor’s executive order banning masks in schools was the cause of unnecessary infections, including Crist's young niece who became infected with the virus shortly after the executive order was put into place, Crist said.
Two biggest priorities
Fried’s two biggest priorities are affordable housing and expanding Medicaid. She called the current state of access to affordable housing a housing crisis. On day one of her administration, she plans to declare a housing emergency so that solutions, like taking money out of reserves to build affordable homes and going after predatory landlords, can begin being brainstormed.
Regarding Medicaid expansion, Fried said too many people are falling through the gaps in health coverage, causing a healthcare crisis. This crisis was exacerbated during the pandemic, she said. Putting the people first in terms of healthcare is a top priority, she said.
Crist’s two biggest priorities are voting and women’s rights. He’s concerned with election integrity, he said, and believes that DeSantis has made it harder for some people, especially Black Floridians to vote. DeSantis has redrawn congressional districts and removed voting drop boxes in minority communities, making voting less accessible, he said.
The right to vote is precious and should be protected for everybody, Crist said.
In turn, ensuring the right to vote allows people to have a say in important issues like women’s rights, he said. Crist called the current climate an assault and war on women.
On beating Ron DeSantis
For the first time in Florida's history, the number of Republican voters has surpassed the number of Democratic voters since DeSantis was elected. However, both candidates do not see this as a concern.
Fried said she can beat DeSantis "without a doubt." The Republicans who are coming to Florida are from blue states like New York and California and do not reflect the "radical right" that already exists in the state, she said.
DeSantis has fostered an environment of fear and hatred, which is not what Floridians want, Fried said. They want a leader who lifts people up, brings them together and shows them there's a quality of life that is being fought for.
"Oh God, yes" was Crist's response to whether he can beat DeSantis. The current governor, he said, has shown disrespect towards multiple communities including LGBTQ+, Black communities and women.
Crist believes in a Florida for all where everybody matters, he said.
"We're one of the most diverse states in America, and I think that's something we should celebrate not castigate," he said.
How to reach across the aisle
A Democratic governor will most likely face a legislature that is majority Republican.
Fried believes she can reach across the aisle and work with Republican office holders. As the only Democratic Commissioner of Agriculture in a 4-person cabinet, she says she's had to work with a Republican House and Senate to pass legislation like a recent bill that legalized Hemp for farmers.
The legislative agenda for the last two years didn't work and didn't represent the wants of the people, Fried said. She wants to have personal conversations with members of the legislature to build bridges and find ways to compromise on issues.
However, she would not be afraid to use the governor's power to veto or call special legislative sessions if the legislature won't work with her, she said.
Crist said he reaches across the aisle and works with Republican politicians and congressmen all of the time. When he was first elected to Congress in 2016, Crist worked alongside Republican Congressman Mike Johnson to form the Honor and Civility Caucus, a bipartisan group that aims to uphold and promote civility and statesmanship as well as restore trust in American politicians.
If he becomes governor, he'll work on developing relationships especially with those moderate Republicans who are equally suppressed by the current governor, he said.
He plans to build trust by sharing experiences, finding common ground and learning the best ways to work together for the betterment of the people of Florida rather than the political parties in Florida.
Fried is focused on 2022 and being Florida governor. She says she runs for offices that she feels passionate about and where she feels she can do the most good.
"This is where my heart is, this is where my passion is...with the people of our state," Fried said. "I will never neglect them. This is where my priority is."
Crist says his political aspirations reach no further than being Florida governor and fighting for the people of the state.
This contrasts DeSantis who, Crist said, "cares more about the White House than your house."