Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor seeking the Democratic nomination to run for his old job, visited the Sun Sentinel on Tuesday, where he was interviewed by editorial writers and reporters.
As he has all through the campaign, Crist focused on Republican Gov. Rick Scott, ignoring Nan Rich, his opponent in the Democratic primary, except when he was directly questioned about her.
Crist said, as he has many times before, that the reason he didn’t agree to debate Rich before the Aug. 26 primary because he has to concentrate all his energy on Scott.
“I don’t have the time. I’m running against Rick Scott. It’s a Herculean effort,” he said. “Running against somebody like Rick Scott is not an easy undertaking.”
Though polls show the race is tighter than when Crist entered the race in November, he said he’s recently regained his momentum.
He repeatedly excoriated Scott. “This administration is incompetent. Incompetent. Whether it’s transportation, our environment, education, DOC, across the board. You know they’ve got changing heads of departments that are spinning around up there. Maybe it’s not fun to work with the guy. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not working, and I know we can do better.’
Here are several subjects that came up during the interview:
He was asked about the convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, who was a campaign contributor to Crist and was appointed by him to a commission that nominates judicial candidates. At a trial earlier this year, Rothstein suggested Crist was always available to do his bidding.
“It’s just patently false. People paint a picture of the delusion that they have in their own mind of what things may or may not have been. I’m an honest man. And people can’t pay me to appoint people. And never have and they never will. And that’s where that is. So it’s a non issue,” he said.
It came up again when he answered a questions about state incentives to Digital Domain, a failed effort to develop a film industry in Florida. Were you wrong your actions trying to get them here and giving them all the handouts they got?
“Not everything you do in life is going to be a success. I’ve not succeeded at everything I’ve tried. Certainly neither has Rick Scott I mean he was with a company where the board basically kicked him off, got rid of him. They got fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud. And I’ve had some missteps but that’s a whopper. I’ve never had anything like that in my life. And I may have known Rothstein, but Rick Scott’s the one that’s got the guilty thing here, with his company directly.
“So you make mistakes in life, but you don’t stop trying to do things because you may have failed at something in the past. We had hoped the film industry would come to Florida. I still am hopeful that that will happen. Not all of them are going to be winners, but if you keep trying and you keep going up to the plate, sooner or later you’re going to start getting on base. And sooner or later you’re going to hit some home runs.”
So did you do anything wrong when it came to digital domain?
“No. All I did was try.”
On high speed rail, something that Scott rejected federal funding for, and on All Aboard Florida, a plan to bring rail service from South Florida to Orlando.
“This All Aboard Florida thing. I’m not going to denounce it, but I have serious concerns about the whole thing. We have a governor who turned down the fast, clean rail and now seems to embrace wholeheartedly the slower, noisy – what is it 32 trips a day – rail down the East Coast. And it seems like a lot of people on the East Coast aren’t real interested and aren’t all aboard. And so it seems to me that investing in infrastructure … making good decisions, not bad ones. So what can I do differently? Everything. I would do everything different from this guy.”
So are you for or against All Aboard Florida?
“I have serious concerns about it. I haven’t reached a final conclusion. But I think high speed rail is much better for Florida than what this thing looks like. And especially the process by which it came about. I mean to have the chief of staff of the governor advocating for it before he becomes the chief of staff and then he becomes the chief of staff. I mean it’s a mess.”
On how he’ll convince people to vote for him.
“Remind people that I was a governor who was honest with them. Who tried to be fair. Who appointed people to the bench who were compassionate…Who respected a women’s right to choose. Who did the kind of things that protected our water, our springs, our environment, tried to save the Everglades. Those things are pretty good memories, and I don’t think you have to hold your nose to vote for that.”
He said he’d be “honored, of course” to have President Barack Obama campaign for him.
On same-sex marriage, Crist said “I don’t think the state or government has a role in telling people who to love or who to marry …. Our society has moved rapidly in this area. I have. The president of the United States has. And I think a lot of the credit in the change in society’s view of gay rights should go to President Obama, frankly….
He said he was wrong when he supported the 2008 referendum that enshrined a ban on same-sex marriage in the Florida Constitution.
“I’m not happy about it. It was a mistake. But I’m an older, wiser man now. And I’m willing to continue to listen and be open minded because I think it’s important for an intelligent person to do that. And you know there are those, some on the other side who say that you have to talk about your core beliefs and whatever they were back in the day. If you believe the same things today that you did when you were in high school, I don’t know if that’s a very bright human being, or a very enlightened person. I think you have to have the wisdom to understand that things change. Facts and circumstances change. And hopefully you gain more wisdom over time.”
He supports the medical marijuana referendum on the general election ballot but said he hasn’t thought about legalizing recreational marijuana use. He said he’d smoked pot when he was in college, an admission that came up when he ran for education commissioner in 2000.
He said Florida utility companies are wrong when they argue solar energy isn’t a good fit for Florida.
“Are they crazy? Are they crazy? They told me the same thing when I got elected governor before. I said you know I’d like to bring about solar energy. Well, you know we don’t have enough sun in Florida. I’m like what planet are you on? We’re the Sunshine State. Now they put that stuff out there because they like the profits they’re making on the stuff they’ve already built. They don’t want to change. I understand that. These utilities, some of them are like dinosaurs. And they rig the game. They don’t even have to compete. You can’t go to Joe’s Utility across the street. You have to send the check to FPL don’t you? They don’t have to compete. They don’t know what a marketplace is all about. They don’t have any idea about it.”