LAKEWOOD RANCH — Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist left open another run for Florida governor — this time as a Democrat — in front of a packed audience at the annual Manatee County Democratic Awards banquet March 15, in Lakewood Ranch.
Crist, the Republican governor of Florida from 2006 to 2010, told the audience of 305 at Polo Grill’s Fête Ballroom: “We’re going to make Manatee blue.”
Crist lost a race for the U.S Senate as an Independent in 2010, before campaigning for President Barack Obama in 2012 and later switching to the Democratic Party.
In a wide-ranging speech, Crist said the Democratic Party values diversity and education more than the “Grand Old Party” does.
He referenced the story of when, during a 2008 campaign stop for the president in Fort Myers, he hugged President Obama on stage. Republicans bashed Crist for it.
“You are a party that welcomes people,” Crist said. “No matter what color, what agenda, everyone is welcome. That is why the president won.”
Crist criticized Florida Gov. Rick Scott for his stances on public education and for moving too slowly to expand early-voting hours during the November election.
He referenced the governor’s plan to give teachers a one-time $2,500 raise this year — two years after he pushed for them to contribute toward their retirement plans and cut education funding by more than $1 billion.
“It’s nice to give people bonuses,” Crist said. “It’s even nicer to be good to them every year.”
He also said Scott should have signed an executive order in November to keep early-voting sites open longer as a way to speed the process.
“I love Florida,” Crist said. “And I know you do, too. This is an important time in the state’s history.