WEST PALM BEACH -- Charlie Crist didn't hold anything back Monday, delivering an aggressive denunciation of Gov. Rick Scott personally and politically, depicting him as an ethically suspect chief executive who doles out favors to big campaign contributors and doesn't understand or care about the lives and needs of average Floridians.
"Governor Scott has led like this: embrace the ideological fringe, take care of his friends, bully his opponents, hide from the public and the press, and run from tough issues," said Crist, a former governor who's seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November.
"It shouldn't come as a surprise," Crist said, running through what he sees as transgressions by the Republican governor. "He's already run ads that independent fact-checkers are calling misleading and false. But what does Rick Scott do? He keeps on running them because the truth means little to Rick Scott."
Crist delivered the broadside before nearly 700 people gathered for a luncheon at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, a bipartisan group that attracts movers and shakers from the political, legal and business worlds in Palm Beach County. He received polite, but not extensive applause; at the end, less than half the audience stood to clap.
Besides the tone, Crist's speech was unusual in that he put on his glasses and read a prepared text for the first two-thirds of the 23-minute speech. It's only the second time since Crist announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor on Nov. 4 that he's read his remarks, something he said later he did because he had a lot to say about Scott and wanted to make sure he got it all correct.
Another unusual feature: The Scott campaign dispatched Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to sit in the audience so he'd be on hand to offer an immediate rebuttal to reporters.
Lopez-Cantera said he was there because people "deserve to hear the truth.
"His entire speech was attacking and insulting Governor Scott, peppered with platitudes about how great things would be if he was governor," Lopez-Cantera said. "Most of his speech was divisive attacks. And a lot of the things he said just aren't true."
Crist said Obamacare is a great achievement and the battering he's receiving over the issue from Scott TV ads isn't going to hurt him the way Republicans believe. "I don't shy away from it. I don't back away from it. I don't apologize for it. It's the right thing to do."
He contrasted the health care law with Scott's background. When Scott was chief executive of Columbia/HCA, the company was found guilty of inflating Medicare bills and paid a $1.7 billion fine. Crist said Scott's wealth comes from "hundreds of millions of dollars of money you stole from poor, sick people."
During the speech and 18 minutes in which he answered a dozen questions, Crist said:
--Scott is giving away tax money to special interests who are funding his campaign. "Right now, Florida doesn't have an economic plan -- unless you count flying around in your private plane and holding press conferences and giving away taxpayer money to your buddies a plan. That may be a great way to take care of your friends and raise campaign dollars, but that's no way to create an economy that's built to last."
--Scott doesn't care about education. "Sadly, while our teachers work hard to make our schools great, the support they receive from this governor is pitiful. Four education commissioners in four years, budget cuts, constantly moving the ball on accountability and a governor who cares so little that he didn't even come to his own education summit -- though he did find the time to go to the tea party conventions that same week."
--Lifting the trade embargo on Cuba would help bring freedom to that country's people and open an important market to Florida.
--He believes in "a better way" to govern. "We can go in a new direction that embraces common sense and optimism -- and one that rejects the nasty tone of today's politics."
--He left the Republican Party to be "true to my core principles" after it was "taken over by the tea party."
--In response to questions from students at Santaluces High School in Lantana that he favors raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and supports legalization of same-sex marriage,
--His governing style wouldn't be much different than it was when he was the Republican governor from 2007 to2011. He said he'd reach out to both parties and independents. And he said he could work with a Republican-controlled Legislature "by being straightforward and honest and looking them in the eye."
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