One-on-one with Charlie Crist: His views on abortion, home insurance crisis

In the August 23 primary election, two Florida Democrats are competing for the nomination to challenge Governor Ron DeSantis: Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried and U.S. Rep. (and former Republican Governor) Charlie Crist. Both recently agreed to one-on-one interviews with FOX 13 Political Editor Craig Patrick.

Fried’s interview first aired on Friday, August 5. Crist’s interview first aired Monday, August 8, covering a wide range of topics, including abortion and the home insurance crisis. 

Crist on Abortion

The interview with Rep. Crist began with a discussion about abortion. Citing Crist’s previous statements that he is "pro-life," Fried accuses Crist of once opposing abortion rights. Crist maintains he has supported abortion rights throughout his political career. Craig asked Crist to explain his prior use of the term ‘pro-life.’ Here is an excerpt of that portion of the interview:

CRAIG PATRICK: "You say you're pro-life and pro-choice and when once asked, ‘Do you support abortion?’ You said, ‘No, you're pro-life.’ So, do we take that to mean that you're pro-life in the sense that you don't want abortions to occur, but pro-choice in the sense that it's not left in your mind to you or the government's to decide, but rather the pregnant women under the parameters of Roe v. Wade?’"

U.S. REP. CHARLIE CRIST: "I'm pro-choice, because I think women should have the opportunity to make that decision for themselves. After all, it's their body, it's their health. And I was raised with three sisters. I'm an only son, Craig, and I think we need to respect all Floridians. And that means whether they're black or white, whether they're, you know, an immigrant or not, whether they're native born Floridians or not like me, I was born in Pennsylvania. And whether they're a man or a woman, I think that all people, regardless of background, should and deserve to be respected. I wear these yellow wristbands every day. It talks about a rule that I was raised on in St. Pete, just across the bay by my mother and father and my Methodist church. The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done unto you." 

CRAIG PATRICK: "Why then do you go with labels that you know are going to confuse a lot of other people? Reagan, the great communicator, and Clinton, the great explainer would not do that."

U.S. REP. CHARLIE CRIST: "Well, I'm just being me. And, you know, everybody should be themselves and present themselves as they believe. And I believe in a woman's right to choose. And I've proven it every time I've had the opportunity in political office. The first time was 1995 as a state senator in the health care committee in the state Senate, I voted against an anti-abortion bill, killing it in committee on a33 tie, never went to the floor of the Senate. And then as your governor, I vetoed an anti-abortion bill, most recent governor, to have ever done so in the history of Florida. I'm very proud of that fact. And then almost six years now as a member of Congress and I have 100% rating by Planned Parenthood, 100% rating by name."

Fried versus Crist: Contrasting Tones

One of the biggest differentiators between Crist and Fried is the tone they bring to the race. While both have taken some hard swings at each other, and both sharply criticize Governor DeSantis, Crist has emphasized his reputation of maintaining a tone of politeness and civility in public discourse, while Fried has emphasized her fighting skills in the political arena. 

Crist said his approach will not cost him in terms of visibility on social media or in the volley of attacks in a potential matchup with Governor DeSantis.  

"I think there is a thirst and a yearning among Floridians, among Americans, frankly, for a return to decency," said Crist. "I mean, we elected Joe Biden, president of the United States, largely on that issue. We had chaos previous to his election. He had been a seasoned, respected, trusted public servant for years, for decades, you know, serving in the U.S. Senate from Delaware, then Vice President under President Barack Obama, an extraordinary man, a very decent man, a man with great empathy. And who could have more empathy than somebody like Joe Biden being through what he's been through and losing so many family members."

Crist Breaks News on His Clean Water Agenda 

At the time of our interview, the Crist Campaign Website stated it "will release a more specific plan for improving and accelerating the restoration of the Everglades soon."

Crist announced some details in his interview, revealing he plans to restore the Everglades by resuming his plans to buy out sugar farms in the region. 

"So the Crist administration [the first one], I had the opportunity to work with sugar companies and work out a deal where we were going to purchase over 100,000 acres just north of Lake Okeechobee agricultural land to take it out of AG," Crist said. "Therefore, you wouldn't have all the fertilizer going into the lake, the runoff and all the problems that caused the pollution that goes into Lake Okeechobee and then runs south into the Everglades. That would stop that. Obviously, at that time we hit the Great Recession, so we had to scale back. We did about 70,000 acres instead of over 100. What I would like to do in the Crist administration ‘Two’, is to re-fire that program up."

Craig noted another reason why that plan did not come to fruition in Crist’s term as governor from 2007-2011. He decided to not run for re-election and pursue a U.S. Senate bid, while his successor Rick Scott ended the effort to buy out more sugar farms. Crist said he did that instead of running for re-election in an effort to secure more federal support for Florida. 

Here is an excerpt from that exchange: 

CRAIG PATRICK: "What was so alluring about becoming a Washington politician that you would willingly leave behind so much unfinished business that required your follow through to see it through to completion?"

U.S. REP. CHARLIE CRIST: "Because I knew where the money was coming from to get us out of that Great Recession, it was Washington. So I thought running for the Senate would be more helpful for Florida, more helpful for America. That's why I did it, to help my state." 

Public Service Commission Appointments

When asked to describe some of Gov. DeSantis' recent appointments, Crist said "Chaos. It's very disturbing."

Craig related Crist’s concerns about recent gubernatorial appointments to his call to eliminate the nominating process for the Public Service Commission and give the governor full, direct power to appoint whoever the governor wants to the commission that regulates our utilities.

Crist said his proposal is tied his expectation that he will win the 2022 election.  

"Nothing's going to go wrong because I'm going to appoint people to the Public Service Commission. Let's start with that," Crist said. "That really understand it is the Public Service Commission, not the Utility Company Service Commission. Right now, they're lapdogs instead of watchdogs… Vote for Charlie Crist. If we do that, those problems won't exist because I am a benevolent person. I try to fight for the people of Florida because I love them, and I'll do that as your governor."

Florida's Home Insurance Crisis

Crist blamed the soaring home insurance premiums and declining availability of coverage on inaction from Governor DeSantis and the legislature. He said his approach includes positioning state-run citizens insurance to help homeowners struggling to pay rising premiums on the open market. 

U.S. REP. CHARLIE CRIST: "Compare it to what DeSantis has done. Zero. Nothing. He called a special session to try to address property insurance and how it's skyrocketing. You know what he did along with the Republican legislature? You do know this. They said it's going to be harder for consumers to sue in order to get your money back from your insurance company because you have damage. That's what they did. So it was special alright. Special for the insurance industry. Nothing for the consumer. I fought for the consumer. We got rates lowered. He has them going through the roof."

CRAIG PATRICK: "What specifically will you do looking ahead and if not 10% [reduction], what should the goal be?" 

U.S. REP. CHARLIE CRIST "As much as possible. I mean, you know, it's almost futile to try to put a number on it, but it has to start going down instead of going up. That's the problem. That's why Floridians are being squeezed at the gas pump. The governor wouldn't reduce the state gas tax when I recommended it last November. And so politically motivated, he says, okay, we'll do it in October. Really? Right before the election. Does he think Floridians are stupid? I mean, it's insulting. It really is. And so what we need to do is be focused on reducing those property insurance rates, getting them back down again. I knew how to do it then. I know how to do it now. Vote for me for governor, and we'll get this stuff done for Floridians. 

CRAIG PATRICK: "There are a number of causes. The big ones include roofing fraud and lawsuit abuse. It includes the accelerating effects of climate change, driving up the cost of doing business for the insurers in Florida, which they pass on to homeowners. Those are complicated problems. What is your specific solution, and how does it differ from what the legislature and governor did a couple of months ago?" 

U.S. REP. CHARLIE CRIST: "The CAT Fund, you mentioned it. That's what we did before. We can reset again. Yeah. And Citizens can actually be a good thing if we use it appropriately, and we regulate it the way it needs to be so that it's a stopgap. You’ve got a backup when regular insurance companies don't provide the rates that people deserve. And I remember it back at that time. You may remember this, too, Craig. State Farm said they were going to leave the state. I said good riddance. Here, here. Screw in our citizens anyway. Who need you here? And they were. And they stayed. Why? Because I know what you know. And they know Florida's too big a market to lead."