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Crist's running mate strikes back, says DeSantis threatens educational freedom

Karla Hernandez Mat Charlie Crist.jpeg
(AP Photo/Gaston De Cardenas)
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U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, center, and his fiancé Chelsea Grimes, right, celebrate as he announces his running mate Karla Hernández-Mats, left, at Hialeah Middle School in Hialeah, Fla., Saturday Aug. 27, 2022.

At a Pembroke Pines restaurant Karla Hernandez-Mats, head of the Miami-Dade teachers union, spoke with supporters of the democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Charlie Crist’s pick for Lieutenant Governor made multiple stops in South Florida this week. Governor Ron DeSantis criticized the choice within hours of the announcement that the Miami teacher would become his opponent’s running mate.

The criticism stemmed from her professional relationship with Wendell Nibbs, a fellow Miami-Dade teacher who was convicted of child sex crimes.

“Everybody knew this was going on, and her union protected him knowing that he represented a threat to those students in middle school classrooms,” DeSantis told reporters last week. “He abused and he abused and he abused, and he finally got caught and he’s finally in prison.”

Photos posted on Facebook show the two together, before criminal charges were filed. Hernandez-Mats said that the two were not close during his time at United Teachers of Dade.

“Our position has been very straightforward since the beginning when we did find out what was going on - it was horrific. It's evil. Nobody that does anything remotely close to that should be near children or any adult,“ she said.

Speaking during the campaign event at Sergio's, she hit back at Gov. DeSantis, pointing out that he has been silent about Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Republican Representative from Florida who is being federally investigated for sexual misconduct, reportedly over a relationship with an underage girl. Gaetz, who last week won his party's nomination for reelection, has denied the charges.

Hernandez-Mats says DeSantis is threatening educational freedom.

“While he's banning books and censoring teachers, not letting us teach with authenticity. He's taking away our freedoms,” she said during a campaign stop at Sergio’s restaurant in Pembroke Pines.

“The exact contrast is Charlie, who is embracing educators and saying, ‘You know what, I'm going to have a teacher come on this ride with me so that we can represent it. We can help kids.’”

School board candidates backed by Gov. DeSantis did well in last month's primary elections. DeSantis has supported bills that restrict teaching about racism and sexuality.

Gerard Albert III is back in Broward, where he grew up, after reporting on crime and public safety in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and West Palm Beach. Albert is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University.