It’s true: When it comes to political figures in Florida, Charlie Crist has redefined the word "unpredictable."
In fact, there will likely never be another politician capable of doing as much shape-shifting as Crist has done during his transformation from Republican governor to unsuccessful independent Senate candidate to failed Democratic gubernatorial hopeful to current member of Congress.
But what’s also true is that two things have remained consistent about Crist throughout his political evolution.
First, the St. Petersburg Democrat has always shown an appetite for putting the interests of Floridians above playing partisan politics – from working with progressives as a center-right governor to reduce voter disenfranchisement, protect the environment and rebuild Florida’s post-Great Recession economy to forging ties, as a center-left congressman, with conservative lawmakers on issues ranging from addressing climate change to promoting civility in America.
And, second, Crist has always been comfortably in step with the sensibilities of Florida’s too-often overlooked majority: the millions of independent-minded Floridians who favor centrism over extremism – and who want leaders who are brave enough to work with others to find sensible solutions to our state’s challenges.
These are admirable traits, and Floridians everywhere long for them to be embraced by the person who occupies the Governor’s Mansion. Our state needs a pragmatic, temperate governor who wants to solve existing problems rather than create new ones – and who possesses the political skills to do so.
That's why on Aug. 23, voters should choose Crist over Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. They should make Crist the party’s nominee to face Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a chronically divisive leader, in November.
A mainstream politician
What should appeal most to voters about Crist is his vow to focus on tackling genuine issues as Florida's governor, and not on pursuing ideological agendas.
During an endorsement interview with the Herald-Tribune Editorial Board, the Democrat crisply presented the top three priorities of a Crist administration: protecting the reproductive rights of Florida’s women in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, strengthening voting rights that have been altered by DeSantis and safeguarding our environment, which is in perpetual peril.
There’s nothing radical or extreme about any of these goals – in fact, they largely epitomize the type of mainstream, middle-of-the road public policies that polls show the majority of Floridians support.
“I’m a Democrat,” Crist said, “running to protect democracy.”
Now more than ever, Florida needs a robust champion for democracy in Tallahassee, and Crist is the Democratic candidate best suited to assume that mantle.
On Aug. 23, voters should choose Crist – and they should do so with enthusiasm.
Fried: A thoughtful, passionate candidate
Our endorsement of Crist certainly shouldn’t be viewed as slighting Fried, a thoughtful and passionate campaigner who was also impressive in her interview with the editorial board.
“Unfortunately, right now we have two Floridas,” Fried said. “We have one Florida for the top one percenters . . . and another for everyone else.”
Fried became the first woman to serve as agriculture commissioner after winning election in 2018, and she can point to numerous accomplishments as a member of the Florida Cabinet.
In addition to following through on a much-publicized campaign pledge to support and expand Florida’s hemp industry in a responsible manner, Fried has been a tireless advocate for the state’s farmers during her three-plus years as agriculture commissioner.
And Floridians owe Fried a huge debt of gratitude for her forceful and sustained efforts to push DeSantis to show more urgency in confronting the threat posed by COVID, which has killed nearly 80,000 Floridians since the pandemic began in early 2020.
But while Fried is a strong and worthy candidate, Crist’s past track record of getting things done as Florida’s chief executive makes him the more compelling choice.
How the Editorial Board made its endorsement
Opinions Editor Roger Brown conducted separate interviews with Democratic Party gubernatorial candidates Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried. The interviews were largely focused on public policy and the issues facing Florida, and the decision to endorse Crist was reached after reviewing the two candidates’ interviews, positions and records. The decision to endorse Crist was also reached in consultation with Executive Editor Jennifer Orsi.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Crist is the wise pick for Florida voters in the Dems' governor race