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The Florida Roundup

Crist Eyes Return As Governor — As A Democrat. And Mayors On Wiping Away Local COVID-19 Rules

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, gestures while speaking to supporters during a campaign rally as he announces his run for Florida governor Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Chris O'Meara/AP
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, gestures while speaking to supporters during a campaign rally as he announces his run for Florida governor Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Crist, who served as Florida governor for a single term before running other offices, is seeking the state’s highest office once again — this time as a Democrat. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Charlie Crist wants to move back to his old address — the Florida governor’s mansion. The one-time Republican governor is the first Democrat to declare his candidacy for the 2022 race. And local mayors react to canceling local pandemic restrictions.

Charlie Crist wants to return to Tallahassee, a place he worked as an elected official for more than a decade as a Republican.

He's a Democrat now. And he is the first Democrat to declare his candidacy for governor in the 2022 election. He made it official this week.

"I am who I am. I'm the same guy I've always been," he said during an interview with The Florida Roundup. "I've always been a fiscal conservative and a social moderate, to progressive."

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This will be Crist's third run for governor and his second as a Democrat. He lost to Rick Scott by 1% in 2014. Since 2017 he has served as the congressman from the 13th Congressional District in Pinellas County.

So why does he want his old job back?

"I think that we need to have a governor that's for all of Florida," he said. "What I mean by that is somebody who looks out for every single Floridian, regardless of color, regardless of race, regardless of ethnic background or their gender."

Before becoming a Democrat, Crist was an independent for a short time when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2010 and lost. And before that he was elected to the state Legislature, as attorney general, and governor — all as a Republican.

"I do believe that Governor [Ron] DeSantis is a radical right. I just don't think that's in line with what Florida believes. I feel that Floridians want a strong public education system for our state, not a governor who takes money away from the public. I think that Floridians want somebody who will fight for our environment," Crist said.

And Crist points to his record as a Republican governor to burnish his Democratic credentials — restoration of voting rights for felons, abortion rights, the environment and health care.

"I want to try to keep our taxes low. I want to keep our ambitions high. I want to support our universities and our colleges and make sure that we have teachers who are not just given bonuses, but rather given actual raises in our public schools. These are the kind of fundamentals I've always fought for and I always will," he said.

Crist is expected to be joined in the Democratic primary. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Orlando-area Congresswoman Val Demings are rumored to be considering runs.

Overruling Local COVID Rules

On Monday, Gov. DeSantis wiped out local pandemic restrictions with the stroke of a blue Sharpie. He signed an executive order that suspended local emergency orders and health restrictions immediately, and created a new law that restricts local orders.

"I think folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point, if you’re saying that you don’t believe in the vaccines. You don’t believe in the data. You don’t believe in the science," he said at a St. Petersburg restaurant.

"It's a laughable comment," said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. "He can make that claim if people were rushing out and getting vaccinated and our numbers were approaching 70%."

Through Friday at noon, the Florida Department of Health reported 6.8 million people have completed their vaccine doses. More than 9 million people have received at least one dose. That's 43% of adults in the state according to The New York Times vaccine tracker.

"Everybody who wants the vaccine has ready access to a vaccine," said St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch. "If my friends and neighbors are choosing not to get a vaccine, I'm not sure why I need to wear a mask to protect them from their decision."

About half of adults in St. Johns County, where St. Augustine is located, have been fully vaccinated. That's one of the highest rates in the state. Only 42% of adults in Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg is located, have finished their COVID-19 vaccinations.

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.