TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — "Florida deserves better." U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist said that's why he is again seeking the governor's office next year. But the Democrat faces a divided party and popular incumbent, not to mention he's lost his last two statewide races.
Is Crist the right person to take the reins in 2022?
WHO IS CHARLIE CRIST?
Born in Pennsylvania in 1956, Charles Joseph Crist Jr. was 3 when his parents moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. He has since become an attorney and longtime politician in the Sunshine State. Crist currently serves as Florida's 13th District Congressman, a position he's held since 2017.
The Democrat started his political career as a Republican in the Florida Senate, serving from 1993-99. After a failed bid for U.S. Senate in 1998, he became Florida's commissioner of education from 2001-03. Next, it was Florida attorney general from 2003-07, leaving the post that final year to become governor of the state.
During his gubernatorial tenure, Crist touted leading the state through the Great Recession of 2007-09 and using federal dollars to preserve thousands of teaching jobs. Online, Crist said he also "fought to hold BP accountable after the 2010 oil spill" and that he "secured a landmark land acquisition to preserve the Florida Everglades."
In 2010, Crist decided not to seek reelection and became an initial frontrunner in the GOP primary to represent Florida in the U.S. Senate. Unable to secure funding support from the party, Crist chose to run as an independent, losing to current Sen. Marco Rubio in the general election.
In 2012, Crist announced support for the re-election of former President Barack Obama and that he would change his party affiliation to Democrat.
He made a second gubernatorial bid in 2014, losing to former Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Two years later, Crist ran for Congress and won his home district, claiming the 13th. It was the first time a Democrat had done so in more than 60 years.
WHY IS HE RUNNING?
With redistricting on the way, some have speculated Crist is running for governor to avoid losing in a re-election bid for Congress. The 13th District could be on the verge of becoming less purple and more red in the coming cycle as Republicans have remained in control of the state legislature.
Crist said he's running because of the current administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
"The more I've seen from this governor and the Legislature, what they're doing to the people of Florida, how they're suppressing their vote, among other things, enough's enough," Crist said.
Abortion: Critics have said Crist's position on abortion is unclear, though the candidate has said he hasn't changed his views despite changing party.
PolitiFact has rated that statement as "mostly false." Its review in 2014 found "Crist has always been all over the map on abortion."
From the 1990s to 2006, PolitiFact reported Crist has called himself both "pro-choice" and "pro-life."
"If he's shown a kernel of consistency, it's that he often -- but not always -- talked about being personally 'pro-life' but wanting to respect the right of women to make decisions with their doctors and without government interference," wrote PolitiFact reporter Amy Sherman.
More recently, Crist voted against the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in Congress. The policy would have amended the federal code making it a crime to attempt to perform an abortion if a fetus is 20 weeks or more.
Crist's campaign website doesn't explicitly list his position on abortion but said he "stopped radical attacks on women's rights, vetoing (as governor) laws to restrict a woman's right to choose."
Economy: Crist has been a regular supporter of federal stimulus packages. In 2009, he supported Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He credits the more than $800 billion plan with helping save thousands of jobs in the state during the Great Recession.
In Congress, Crist supported the $2.2 trillion CARES Act and subsequent $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Both aim to help the nation recover from COVID-19's economic impact.
Environment: Crist has taken credit for helping preserve Florida's Everglades. As governor in 2008, he pushed the state to purchase about 73,000 acres of sugar and citrus farmland for restoration projects.
Crist has consistently opposed offshore oil drilling during his political tenure. In 2008, however, as gas prices grew to near $4 a gallon, PolitiFact reports Crist was open to studying offshore drilling.
"We have to be sympathetic to the pocketbooks of Floridians and what they're paying at the pump for gas and balance that with any way that our state might be able to contribute in terms of resources to have a greater supply and therefore lower prices," Crist said. "I think an open-minded person understands that we ought to at least study (offshore drilling)."
Gun Rights: On firearms, Crist was seen as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment during the early years of his political career. He supported concealed carry laws and the repeal of gun restrictions.
During his 2006 bid for governor, Crist won the support of the National Rifle Association, with the organization saying at that time:
"No one has been stronger in support of Second Amendment, self-defense, and anti-crime issues than Charlie Crist and we sincerely appreciate your solid pro-sportsmen, pro-Second Amendment, pro-freedom record."
Following his party affiliation flip, the NRA reversed course in 2014 and ran attack ads against Crist as he again sought the governor's office.
While in Washington, the congressman has supported several gun control measures. Recently, he voted in favor of policies closing gun-show loopholes and expanding background checks.
"From Pulse to Parkland to Pensacola, our state has endured too many mass shootings caused by people who should not have been able to buy a gun in the first place," Crist said in a statement. "Thoughts are kind, and prayers are necessary, but Floridians are sick and tired of politicians coming up with excuse after excuse instead of doing their jobs to keep people safe. No more excuses!"
Immigration: Crist has had a somewhat mixed stance on immigration issues during his career. In 2006, the Miami Herald reported Crist said the legislature "did the 'right thing' earlier this year when they rejected a bill allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay the same tuition rates as Florida residents."
Crist flip-flopped in 2014. While challenging Rick Scott for governor, Crist's campaign website said: "We must immediately pass legislation that allows the children of undocumented parents to attend Florida colleges and universities at in-state tuition levels. It simply isn’t fair to punish children of undocumented parents."
In Congress, Crist was one of 24 House Democrats to support Kate's Law in 2017. The policy increases criminal penalties for certain crimes if a person enters the country illegally, is deported and then re-enters.
That same year, Crist supported an $827 billion bill funding a slew of projects including former President Donald Trump's border wall. Crist then issued a statement questioning its merit the next day.
"I hope the administration abandons this misguided proposal," Crist said.
In 2019, Crist voted in favor of terminating Trump's emergency declaration at the U.S.-Mexico border. The order had allowed Trump to re-allocate funds for the wall by bypassing Congress.
LGBTQ: Crist has admitted to changing his mind on gay rights over the years.
In 2006, he signed a petition for a "traditional marriage" ballot initiative, defining it as a union between "only one man and one woman." When it came before voters in 2008, Crist voted in favor.
"I voted for it," he said, according to PolitiFact. "It's what I believe in."
Crist has since reversed course, saying he fully supports marriage equality. In 2017, the congressman joined the LGBT Equality Caucus.
"Standing up for LGBTQ rights should never be a partisan issue -- it's about upholding our country's founding principle of equality for all Americans," Crist said in a statement. "I am proud to be a member of the bipartisan Equality Caucus as a strong ally of the LGBTQ community."
Marijuana: Crist supports the "full legalization" of marijuana. He mentioned it during the announcement of his 2022 gubernatorial bid.
In 2020, he voted in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. It would legalize cannabis at the federal level and expunge prior convictions for many.
Florida's primary election for governor is Aug. 23, 2022. The general election is Nov. 8, 2022.