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Blasting GOP’s ‘shameful agenda,’ Crist declares gubernatorial bid

Brian Hartz

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U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist officially launched his campaign for Florida governor Tuesday morning in South St. Petersburg. Photos by Brian Hartz.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, officially embarked on a third bid for the governorship on Tuesday during an event in the Deuces neighborhood of South St. Pete.

However, he could soon be joined in the race by former Orlando police chief and current U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who, just hours earlier on Tuesday, posted to Twitter what could be construed as a campaign video.

Speaking to a crowd of 100 or so socially distanced supporters, across the street from Chief’s Creole Café, Crist was introduced by State Rep. Ben Diamond, whose district includes St. Pete, as well as Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long and Rene Flowers. The three local leaders lauded Crist, 64, as a man of compassion who has dedicated his life to public service and would bring a steady, experienced hand to the helm of Florida’s ship of state.

State Rep. Ben Diamond warmed up the crowd at Charlie Crist’s campaign launch event Tuesday morning. 

“We are here because Florida is in trouble,” Flowers said. Referring to Crist’s record as a former governor, attorney general, education commissioner and current Congressman, she called him “a man of action … who has touched the lives of so many.”

Diamond, speaking first, set the tone of many of the remarks to follow when he referred to the just-finished legislative session in Tallahassee as “a disgrace and a distraction.” He took Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature to task for what he called “wasting time” on culture-war issues — like restrictions on transgender high school athletes — that score political points with the GOP base while ignoring the plight of everyday Floridians.

“It’s a complete dereliction of duty we have seen from this governor,” Diamond said.

Taking the stage to the sound of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Crist lit into DeSantis, who on Monday issued an executive order suspending all local Covid-19 restrictions.

“This is a governor who doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, and doesn’t think about you — unless you can write a campaign check,” Crist said. “He sees our state’s wonderful diversity as a threat, not a strength we all celebrate. He’s failed to lead during the greatest health and economic crisis in our lifetime.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist spoke to reporters after his campaign launch speech Tuesday morning in South St. Petersburg.

Crist pledged a complete reversal of DeSantis’s agenda, which he referred to as “shameful … and it doesn’t represent Floridians.” The governor and Florida Republicans, he said, “demonize, distract and divide Floridians.”

A few of Crist’s priorities include making it easier for people to vote, protecting people’s right to peacefully protest and standing up for the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. He also promised to expand Medicaid, develop a statewide energy plan that includes ambitious goals for renewable energy sources like solar and wind and invest in public transit, “not roads to nowhere.” Crist also said he would work to fully legalize marijuana use and raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, among other goals.

Speaking with reporters after his speech, Crist was asked about the prospect of facing Demings — a rising star in the party thanks to her consideration as President Joe Biden’s running mate last year — in the primary election. “Any Democrat who wants to run, should run,” he said.

Crist was also grilled on why Florida Democrats should rally around a candidate who lost his last two bids for statewide office. “Because I never give up,” he replied. “And everybody deserves a second chance.”

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