- Democrat Charlie Crist has named teachers’ union boss Karla Hernández-Mats as running mate.
- Crist is running against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made education one of his top issues.
- The fights will focus on curricula and school policies.
HIALEAH, Fla. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist has chosen a teachers’ union boss as his running mate to defeat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, a move that puts education issues front and center. one of the most watched races in the country.
Crist announced on Saturday that he had chosen Karla Hernández-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade since 2016, to run on his ticket. Hernández-Mats is a former middle school special education teacher who was named Florida’s “Teacher of the Year” in 2010 and is the daughter of Honduran immigrants.
As for DeSantis, he considers his education policies one of his strongest arguments for re-election. The governor challenged federal health officials and teachers’ unions in the fall of 2020 when he decided to reopen schools during the pandemic.
Despite facing backlash for months, many blue states eventually followed suit, concluding that school closures were doing more harm than good. Coverage of the school reopening dispute and DeSantis’ ability to regularly generate national headlines has plenty of people speculate he will be a candidate for the presidency in 2024.
Hernández-Mats has previously confronted DeSantis and challenged him by implementing mask mandates in schools. She resisted the reopening of schools and said schools should have remained virtual. Asked about her position on Saturday, Hernández-Mats told a press conference with reporters that she was not mistaken and took credit for the fact that the school reopenings were unrelated to an increase in deaths from COVID-19.
“We have always been in favor of opening our schools,” she said. “We just wanted to make sure our schools are opening with the right measures so that we can protect our children and protect the people who work with children every day.”
—Karla Hernandez (@KarlaforFlorida) October 8, 2020
In his Saturday speech, Crist described Hernández-Mats as “empathetic and compassionate,” qualities he said could not be found in his Republican opponent. Throughout his campaign, Crist presented himself as an experienced legislator and rallyer.
Anna Fusco, who heads the Broward Teacher’s Union, told Insider that Hernández-Mats “was the best choice he could have made”, calling her “a strong, strong woman for everyone’s rights”.
“It sends a message to DeSantis that you’re wrong and we’re going to rectify it again,” she said, “that you don’t know what you’re talking about. And that education is the foundation, the heart of our country and our Florida, so it’s a message of release. We’re going in and we’re winning, and we’re going to make Florida what it once was.
In a statement, the Republican National Committee compared Hernandez to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who lobbied to delay the reopening of schools.
Julia Friedland, spokeswoman for the RNC, called Hernández-Mats “the perfect fit for lockdown enthusiast Crist’s unpopular, anti-parent campaign.”
DeSantis is keeping his current lieutenant governor, Jeanette Nuñez, on his re-election ticket. Nuñez is a former state legislator bilingual in Spanish and English.
During his tenure, DeSantis stoked culture war issues by deciding to restrict school curricula or practices on race, gender, and sexual orientation. He touted the term “parental rights” as he argued for parents to have a better idea of how schools select textbooks and curricula.
“He’s focused on culture wars and banning books, it doesn’t do anything for our kids,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz told Insider in an interview.
But there are signs that DeSantis’ positions on education are supported. This year, DeSantis took the unprecedented step to support 30 school board candidates, and 25 of them were elected or advanced in Tuesday’s primary – a sign the campaign sees as proof that people are embracing the governor’s education program.
Hernández-Mats told reporters Saturday that voters who backed DeSantis’ school board nominees “need more information” about the real problems facing Florida schools.
Hernández-Mats promises to ‘bring back decency and respect’
If elected, Crist has pledged to make the post of education commissioner an elected position, raise teachers’ salaries, and declare an emergency teacher shortage at a time when the state is experiencing a teacher shortage of 9,000 people, among other promises.
Florida is #48 in the nation for average teacher salaries, according the National Education Association, even though state lawmakers and DeSantis raised salaries last year and gave bonuses to teachers.
During his acceptance speech on Saturday, Hernández-Mats wasted no time bashing DeSantis.
“Are you tired of culture wars and extremists dictating what we can say and do?” she asked her gathering of supporters, switching between English and Spanish. “Are you sick of politicians acting like authoritarians trying to tear our democracy apart? That’s why we’re here today: to defeat Ron DeSantis and bring decency and respect back to the state of Florida.”
Crist made the announcement of his running mate at Hialeah Middle School, the school where Hernández-Mats taught. Hialeah is a city in Miami-Dade County with a predominantly Hispanic population and has the highest percentage of Cuban and Cuban-American residents of any other US city.
Hernández-Mats, 42, has never held elected office before. She was criticized for a tweet 2016 in which she said that many people in Cuba mourned the death of Fidel Castro, the Cuban communist dictator.
Asked to explain the statement on Saturday, Hernández-Mats called Nuñez to recent comments she made on how Florida should send immigrants to Delaware.
“The reality is that when Fidel Castro died, I was on the street with pots and pans, banging them and partying with the rest of my colleagues and neighbors,” Hernández-Mats said.
Crist, a congressman whose district includes St. Petersburg, applies for his former position. He was previously Governor of Florida, as a Republican, from 2007 to 2011, and Florida Commissioner of Education in 2000.
“We want real freedom for the people of Florida because under DeSantis he talks about ‘We’re the freest state in the land,'” Crist said. choose, or an African American who wants access to the vote, or an elderly person who wants to be able to vote by mail.”
Hernández-Mats told reporters she was “proud” and “humbled” that Crist chose her, and was “ready to work.”
“It’s part of the American dream,” she said. “I’m a first-generation American. You know, my parents are immigrants and to think that these opportunities might be available to me, a college professor, that’s the United States.”