In his first-ever interview with the LGBT press, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist explains why he switched parties, supports same-sex marriage and wants to be governor again
TOM DYER | Watermark Online
ORLANDO - A union hall was an unlikely venue for Charlie Crist’s first interview with the LGBT press, but the former Republican governor, now Democratic candidate for the same office, has a busy schedule these days. After meeting with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades on Saturday, Dec. 14, he made himself available for an exclusive conversation.
To the union members, Crist described his ambitious agenda if elected: creating jobs, boosting education, protecting the environment, expanding health care and voting rights, and even resurrecting high speed rail. And he acknowledged the tough race ahead against Republican incumbent multi-millionaire Rick Scott.
“I’m running against a $100 million meat-grinder,” Crist told them. “I need more than your support, I need your commitment.”
Some Democrats see Crist as an unwanted, undeserving interloper. His announcement all but extinguished the candidacy of South Florida’s Nan Rich, an experienced former Senate Minority Leader with liberal bona fides.
But many have cheered his arrival, seeing a real chance to regain the governor’s mansion for the first time in 15 years. Despite a confounding run for U.S. Senate in 2010, first as a Republican and then as an Independent, recent polls show that Floridians still like Charlie. He currently leads Scott by anywhere from four to 14 points, and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson by 13 points in a matchup of Democrats.
It was easy to see why he chose a union hall. Crist likes people and enjoys campaigning. He connected with many in the audience — remembering not only their names but those of their spouses and mothers — with a Clinton-like charisma that is both powerful and persuasive. He left with a check and a standing ovation.
But the LGBT community poses special challenges. Crist recently endorsed same-sex marriage rights and all the other components of full equality. But when the Amendment 2 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage appeared on the 2008 ballot, Crist announced his support just weeks before voting day. It passed by less than 2 percentage points, and many gays and lesbian still blame their former governor. And as recently as 2010, while running for U.S. Senate, he told CNN he believed marriage should be between a man and a woman.
I asked him about all that and more during an hour-long interview. A skeptic, I was surprised and even a little disarmed by his candor. I can’t wait to find out if you are, too.
WATERMARK: I’ve been looking forward to this dialogue. Many members of the LGBT community are enthusiastic about your candidacy, but just as many are skeptical and some are even hostile. I want to give you an opportunity to address their concerns head on.
CHARLIE CRIST: Thank you for the opportunity.