Charlie Crist's running mate compared Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis to 'The Handmaid's Tale'

Karla Hernández-Mats, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in Florida, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Karla Hernández-Mats, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in Florida, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.Gaston De Cardenas/AP Photo and Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
  • Democrat Karla Hernández-Mats referred to Florida's Republican governor and lieutenant governor as "Commander DeSantis" and "Aunt Jeanette."

  • Hernández-Mats, who is running for lieutenant governor, was making a thinly veiled reference to dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale."

  • She told Insider that Florida laws on abortion, education, and voting led to the characterization.

MIAMI BEACH, Florida — Karla Hernández-Mats, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in Florida, said Friday that living in the state is beginning to feel like "The Handmaid's Tale," the dystopian novel from 1985 that rocketed to the bestseller list during Donald Trump's presidency.

During a speech at a fundraiser known as the Miami-Dade Democratic Party Blue Gala, Hernández-Mats — the No. 2 on the gubernatorial ticket with Charlie Crist — swiped at Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez by comparing them to characters in the Margaret Atwood novel.

"We can't allow Commander DeSantis and Aunt Jeanette to continue down the path of turning Florida into a mini Gilead," she said, referring to the book's fictitious Republic of Gilead, a military and religious dictatorship that overthrows the US government.

In the novel, women known as "Handmaids" are raped and forced to produce children for the male ruling class, known as "Commanders." Handmaids are not allowed to read, write, or own property, and newspapers are censored. The Aunts train and indoctrinate Handmaids.

"Obviously a lot of people have read 'The Handmaid's Tale,' and I think that we're going backwards just like that," Hernández-Mats said in an interview with Insider following the event, a plated dinner featuring other Democratic speakers and held at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Hernández-Mats drew comparisons to laws that have passed under DeSantis, including a 15-week abortion ban without exceptions for rape and incest, a push to redraw the state's congressional map, and the state's decision to reject certain math textbooks that didn't comply with a new education law restricting the way race is discussed in classrooms.

"All these things, unfortunately, sound like they're fictitious and fantastical and that it would never happen — because that's what I thought when I read that book — and here we are in 2022," she told Insider. "We're seeing a governor that acts like a dictator, that is authoritarian, and that is taking away and depriving our freedom, which is exactly what happened in Gilead."

Hernández-Mats said she hadn't used the comparison in a speech before Friday, but the comparison in Washington, DC, when Trump was president wasn't unusual.

Protestors dressed as Handmaids and gathered outside the US Capitol when the GOP-controlled Senate was confirming Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and when Republicans were attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's healthcare law.

Hernández-Mats told Insider she read the book but had not watched the Hulu rendition of "The Handmaid's Tale," which has won numerous Emmy Awards and stars Elizabeth Moss.

Rep. Charlie Crist celebrates as he announces his running mate Karla Hernández-Mats at Hialeah Middle School in Hialeah, Florida, on Saturday Aug. 27, 2022 as he challenges Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in November.
Rep. Charlie Crist celebrates as he announces his running mate Karla Hernández-Mats at Hialeah Middle School in Hialeah, Florida, on Saturday Aug. 27, 2022 as he challenges Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in November.Gaston De Cardenas/AP Photo

Governor's race homes in on defining freedom

Hernández-Mats, whose parents immigrated to the US from Honduras, is a former special education teacher who then went on to become president of the United Teachers of Dade, a teachers' union.

"My focus as a teacher is on teaching emotionally, behaviorally disturbed children," Hernández-Mats said during her speech on Friday evening. "So I think you'll agree that by itself makes me uniquely qualified to deal with dysfunctional legislators in Tallahassee."

Crist announced on August 27 that he'd picked Hernández-Mats to be on his ticket and resigned from the US House a few days later. He was governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, though he was a Republican at the time.

DeSantis rarely mentions Crist in his speeches. Instead, he regularly touts his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic to "keep Florida free" and has called the Sunshine State the "freest state." DeSantis defied federal health officials and drew a loyal base of supporters after allowing states and businesses to stay open far earlier than other states.

National name recognition — and speculation that he'll be running for president in 2024 — have followed.

During public events in recent weeks, DeSantis warned voters "not to take any of it for granted" that Florida would have operated similarly during the pandemic if he were not governor. DeSantis won his first term by less than half a percentage point against Democrat Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee.

DeSantis has criticized Hernández-Mats for backing pandemic-induced school lockdowns when she led the teacher's union. Hernández-Mats told Insider on Friday she supported reopening but wanted to do so safely.

Yet DeSantis views his education policies as one of his strongest cases for reelection. Though he was met with backlash over school reopenings for months, many blue states eventually followed suit amid parental backlash and as officials concluded virtual learning harmed social and educational outcomes.

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