by SC Reporter Reese Holiday
As a child, Charlie Crist visited the islands of Useppa and Gasparilla to fish their tarpon-filled waters with his father.
The chunks of land are part of a system of islands running up and down the coast of southwest Florida, the same system in which are Sanibel and Captiva. As a native of St. Petersburg, just an hour and a half away, Crist remembered just how special that area is.
“I have been going fishing in that part of the state with my father since I was about 9 years old,” Crist said. “It was just a great way to be brought up and have an opportunity to see a very special part of the Sunshine State.”
Now, as the Congressman of Florida’s 13 district, Crist serves the place from where his roots began in Pinellas County, an area running from Clearwater to St. Petersburg.
But with hopes of serving the entire Sunshine State, including that system of unique islands, Crist spoke with the Progressive Club of the Islands, a pro-Democrat club on Sanibel and Captiva, during a Zoom meeting on Thursday to discuss his campaign for governor. He will be running in 2022 as a Democrat.
Crist has experience in Florida politics, serving on the state senate, as well as becoming the state’s education commissioner and attorney general. He also has experience as a governor, becoming Florida’s 44th governor from 2007 to 2011.
At that time, Crist was part of the Republican Party, but has since switched to the Democratic side in 2012. Now, the congressman has his eyes set on the governor’s office in 2022 where one of his focuses will be on a clean environment, something the entire state, especially that system of islands, cannot go without.
“Our environment and our economy are inextricably linked in the Sunshine State,” Crist said. “People come to Florida because she is beautiful. We have to protect her and make sure it stays that way.”
Crist emphasized this to club members, explaining that a clean environment brings tourism, which in turn brings money to the state.
He also emphasized the use of renewable energy, especially solar and wind, as well as the removal of septic tanks, which can seep waste into the state’s groundwater and pollute water on the surface, according to the Long Island Sound Study.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, the current Republican governor of Florida, has worked on environmental issues like these throughout his time in office.
In June of 2020, DeSantis signed the Clean Waterways Act, which had bipartisan support and focused on water quality protection, minimizing the impact of nutrient pollution in waterways and making sure the state’s resources enhance the protection of the environment.
On May 12, DeSantis also signed Senate Bill 1954, which focuses on sea level rise resilience and the protection of Florida’s coasts.
The current governor’s office has passed other environmental protection policies, but Crist wants to do more for Florida’s environment. He described to club members that protecting the Sunshine State is the duty of both the state’s politicians and its citizens.
“We have a duty to be good stewards of the land and water, and I would take that very seriously,” Crist said.
The congressman also laid out his passion for the state’s education system and voting rights to attentive club members.
He said he believes in forgiveness and restoring the voting rights to non-violent felons, giving them another chance. He also said he believes in the state’s education system, describing his ties with Florida’s public schools where he attended, and where two of his three sisters taught.
“I know how important it is and vital,” Crist said about the state’s education system. “I view it as the equal opportunity provider in our country, because it is.”
Throughout the meeting, Crist described these plans as a potential governor of the state. But the congressman also took a step back and described the short comings of campaigning politicians, including himself.
He said those campaigning in Florida often focus their attention on the bigger cities of Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville, amongst others, ignoring the pockets of citizens scattered around south Florida.
One of those pockets is the unique system of islands running up and down the coast of southwest Florida, an area that Crist grew up in, and an area he hopes to gain the support of in his race to the governor’s office.
“When I got elected a Republican governor in 2006, I did not get elected the governor of the Republicans of Florida. I got elected the governor of the people of Florida,” Crist said. “I took it very seriously, and I’ll take it very seriously again if I have the honor to do that as a Florida Democrat.”