Charlie Crist is touring the state in a school bus touting his stance on education. His kickoff event got hijacked by opponents on the right and the left.
Charlie Crist is attacking Gov. Rick Scott’s record on education, notably targeting budget cuts of more than $1 billion under Scott’s watch. Crist says this policy has crippled Florida’s schools.
“There’s no way you can do that and have a bright future for Florida,” Crist says. “It has caused many of our schools to have to cut back – teacher layoffs. It’s cut back on education programs, it’s cut back on sports programs throughout the state. Some elementary schools – Longwood has been closed in Seminole County – these things are happening all over Florida because of these cuts.”
But while cutting education spending was an early Scott policy, he has since restored that funding.
Crist is orchestrating his event around a big yellow school bus – a rolling metaphor he’ll be riding through the state. But on Wednesday in Tallahassee, he was upstaged somewhat by his opposition. Crist arrived to fanfare both positive and negative and delivered prepared statements flanked by supporters holding signs. They held them high so news cameras wouldn’t see the opponents’ signs right behind them.
Nan Rich supporters showed up in costume – one wearing a feather suit and a duck mask, holding a sign reading “Stop Ducking Nan Rich.” Crist has repeatedly refused to debate Rich, his challenger for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The feathered Rich supporter was joined by three others wearing prison stripes and inmate placards with the names of former Crist allies convicted of wrongdoing.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Ft. Walton Beach) also made an appearance to contradict Crist’s claims. But this was tricky, as Crist – a former Republican – worked with many of the same lawmakers still around today. For example, Scott’s lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, was speaker of the House during Crist’s administration, and Gaetz’s father, current Senate President Don Gaetz (R- Niceville), was a powerful member of the state Legislature.
Matt Gaetz, like Crist, stepped into the realm of hyperbole, questioning the idea of home rule popular with both parties to say Crist is bad for teachers.
“Teachers didn’t get a raise under Charlie Crist,” Gaetz says. “Charlie Crist allowed school districts to do what they wanted, and in many circumstances, they frittered away money that should’ve gone into the pockets of teachers, to be able to spend on administrivia. Governor Scott mandated that that money go to the pockets of teachers.”
Crist, before jumping the Republican ship, vetoed a controversial anti-tenure law despised by the state’s largest teachers union – something Scott later approved.
In the coming weeks, candidates will continue the attack, promising a further blurring of the line between reality and rhetoric.