The stakes for the LGBT community in Florida are mighty high come November when Republican Gov. Rick Scott squares off against former GOP Gov. Charlie Crist (2007-2010), now a Democrat, running for the same office.
Watermark publisher Tom Dyer placed his recent Crist interview in context, explaining more about the Sunshine State’s political landscape — and how a Democratic governor might make all the difference in advancing LGBT equality.
“Start off with the fact that Florida has half a million more Democrats than Republicans, and yet we haven’t had a Democratic governor in 15 years,” Dyer told Press Press Q. “Up until the last election cycle, both houses of the state legislature had supermajorities (more than 60 percent Republican). Now they just have solid majorities.”
While that is “not the case anymore,” he said, “having a Democratic head of state — in a state where the legislature governs from a place of extreme conservatism — that would be “huge.”
Florida has gone blue in recent national elections, voting for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
As Dyer explained, recent legislative majorities in Tallahassee, the state capital, are “more conservative than the population is.” So, he continued, if Crist were elected, “he would have a veto pen. It would change the dynamic. The Republicans have done pretty much what they wanted, restricting voting rights, resisting the Affordable Care Act, turning down Medicaid funding.”
If Crist were to win, Dyer said, “The [political] equation would change dramatically.”
A new political equation in Florida would more than likely bode well for advancing Sunshine State LGBT equality.
Here are excerpts from the Crist interview.
WATERMARK: What you would do to advance LGBT equality as governor? Rep. Linda Stewart just introduced a bill to create a statewide Domestic Partner Registry. Given the progress made in other states it seems like a small thing, but even that faces many hurdles in the Republican-controlled State Legislature. The Competitive Workforce Act —an employment non-discrimination bill — can’t get out of committee. Marriage Equality seems a long way off, unless through some sort of court action. What can you do?
CRIST: I want to do all those things. It’s not complicated. It comes down to one word: fairness. Everybody deserves to be treated fairly.
Later in the interview, Crist added: "And to your point about Linda’s legislation, she called me a month ago to tell me what she was doing in case I was asked about it. And I said, ‘Can I ask you a favor? Go for marriage. Why go half way?’ She explained that she didn’t think it was politically possible at this time, and I said, ‘You don’t know unless you try. You’ve gotta push it to make it happen. Plus,’ I said, ‘I think it could help us win the governor’s race. It might not pass right now, but if marriage equality is out there as an option we can say that Rick Scott opposes it, and I'm for it."
Earlier in the interview, Dyer pressed — and kept up the pressure on — Crist about his change of heart.
WATERMARK: You’ve recently articulated support for marriage equality, adoption rights, employment non-discrimination protections, ... pretty much all the acknowledged ingredients of full LGBT equality. At the same time, I think it’s legitimate for members of the LGBT community to be skeptical. When you first ran for governor in 2006, you said that a ban on same-sex marriage was unnecessary, but then you signed a petition to place Amendment 2 [banning same-sex marriage] on the ballot.
CRIST: And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did that. It was a mistake. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
WATERMARK: I appreciate that, but I want to make sure I spell this out in full. After you signed the petition you said Amendment 2 wasn’t an issue that moved you, but then you ended up voting for it, saying you believed in it. Just three years ago, when you were running for the Senate as a Republican, you told CNN that you believed that “marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.” And just three years ago, when talking about gay adoption, you expressed a belief that traditional families are best.
CRIST: Tom, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
WATERMARK: Well, again, I appreciate that. But I think it’s important for you to address this. When you look back at the circumstances, one could come to the conclusion that your shifts in opinion were either politically expedient ...
CRIST: They were. They were. And it was wrong. That’s what I’m telling you. And I’m sorry.
WATERMARK: ... or that you were just trying to make everyone happy and had no real convictions on these matters. I appreciate the apology ...
CRIST: I’m not sure you do.
WATERMARK: Well, I’m trying. But more importantly I want you to have the opportunity to address this in full, to explain where you’ve been and where you are right now.
CRIST: I was a Republican. You know why I was a Republican? Because my mom and dad were Republicans. I’ve told many people this. It’s the same reason I’m a Methodist. So I grew up as a Republican. I joined the Young Republicans, College Republicans, all that stuff. And as I got older, I got interested in politics, and I ran for office as a Republican and I tried to be a good team player. But it was an awkward fit, and on social issues it was especially awkward. I have three sisters. My mom and dad raised my three sisters and me to be decent to other people, to be kind to other people, to have compassion, empathy, sympathy when necessary. ... And it became harder and harder for me to toe the Republican Party line. I tried, and I tried, and I tried, until I couldn’t any more.
The examples you cited were examples of me trying to be a good Republican. I couldn’t do it anymore, and I’m sorry I did. I made a mistake. I’m not perfect, ... please don’t hold me to that standard. And I’m sincerely sorry. I understand when it’s necessary to say I was wrong. That’s the journey I’m on ... and I’m still on it.
As a Republican, on social issues, I always felt I was a round peg in a square hole. I just didn’t fit. But I tried, until I couldn’t do it any more, ... until I had to say, “Enough is enough.”
My mom and dad raised us to love everyone, to be nice to everyone, to be kind to everyone for as long as you possibly can. So telling women what to do with their bodies, telling people who to love or who to marry ... it’s not for me. It’s not for government. It shouldn’t be for anybody. It’s between them and their god. I’ve always really felt that way, and I’m glad I don’t have to pretend anymore. As a Democrat, I don’t have to, and that’s why I’m so happy to be home ... where I belong.
WATERMARK: I want to follow up, because I think this is where many LGBT voters need reassurance. You’re a Democrat now. The positions you now hold on LGBT issues are those held by most Democrats, and likely necessary for you have credibility within the party. Can you convince us that your present views aren’t once again driven by political expediency? Can you convince us that the positions you’ve recently expressed are heartfelt, and something we can count on in the future?
CRIST: I just did. There will be doubters, and they have a right to that. But I ask that they have a little faith.
Faith is one thing, and politics is the art of the possible. All things considered, what does publisher Dyer make of his sit-down, face-to-face time with Crist?
“People have a right to be skeptical, absolutely,” said Dyer, “because he has been all over the place and not that long ago.”
Nonetheless, “Based on my time with him and my read, I think this is an accurate reflection of the way he feels. You can judge his journey, getting there all you want. But this is an accurate reflection of the way he feels, and I believe, as a Democrat or governor in the state of Florida, he will support LGBT equality, so I am supporting him.”
Asked what convinced him of Crist’s political and personal evolution, Dyer responded, “It was a combination of a couple of things.” Yes, on the one hand, Crist “evolved” in “the most politically palatable” way much like “what Obama said, ‘I’ve evolved, change.’ But what [Crist] said that was kind of surprising was, ‘I always really felt this way, but I was playing the Republican game. I was doing what I needed to do to be a good Republican’ and then that’s when he said, ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.'"
The full Watermark interview with Charlie Crist is available at http://www.watermarkonline.com/2013/12/31/in-his-first-ever-interview-with-the-lgbt-press-charlie-crist-explains-why-he-switched-parties-supports-same-sex-marriage-and-wants-to-be-governor-again/.