As DeSantis campaigns for education, Crist picks a teacher as his running mate

MIAMI — In choosing the head of the Southeast’s largest teachers’ union as his running mate, Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, said he had found a partner to embody caring and empathy that he says Governor Ron DeSantis sorely lacks.

Crist named Karla Hernández-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade, as his chosen lieutenant governor on Saturday, making the former college special education science professor — who is unknown to the vast majority of Florida voters. – a passionate parent and a lawyer ready to govern at his side, despite his lack of experience in elective office.

Hernández-Mats has “a good heart”, Crist said in a brief interview, the first after making his decision. “It moves me more than anything, always.”

The daughter of Honduran immigrants, Hernández-Mats taught for a decade in Hialeah, a heavily Cuban-American and Republican-heavy working class northwest of Miami. In 2010, she was named Florida Teacher of the Year. Her mother was a secretary, she said, and her father a farmhand who cut sugar cane and picked tomatoes until he landed a union job as a carpenter.

“It embodies the American dream,” Hernández-Mats said of her life in a separate interview, her first since becoming Crist’s running mate.

Crist said he will continue to highlight how unaffordable the state has become under DeSantis and how the governor has restricted people’s rights, including opposing abortion, which is now illegal in Florida after 15 weeks. of pregnancy.

But by choosing a teacher’s union leader, Crist has ensured, for better or worse, that the race for governor will remain focused at least in part on education issues, a topic that DeSantis, a Republican, seized as an electoral force in the wake. of the coronavirus pandemic.

DeSantis, who won a national following for standing up to public health experts and reopening businesses and schools in Florida earlier than other states, made “parents’ rights” a centerpiece of his message. He led cultural battles against the teaching of gender identity and racism in schools. And he campaigned for 30 school board candidates, nearly all of whom won or qualified for Tuesday’s primary election. Two of the winners were in Miami-Dade County.

The Florida Republican Party wasted no time in criticizing Crist’s choice, saying ahead of the officially named Hernández-Mats campaign that she represented “another slap in the face for parents in Florida.”

“This confirms how out of touch Crist is with Florida families,” the party said in a statement Friday.

Crist dismissed the idea that voters would agree with the criticism that sharing the ticket with a head of the teachers’ union would somehow put him at odds with the parents.

“I think parent involvement is extremely important and teachers should also be respected for their expertise,” he said. “They are not mutually exclusive.”

Democrats argued that Hernández-Mats could identify with voters as a working mom who understands the challenges inside the classrooms. And, as a Spanish speaker, she can reach Hispanic voters the party has struggled to win over.

“Hispanic voters are obviously extremely critical in building a winning coalition for the Democrats,” said Christian Ulvert, a Democratic political consultant in Miami who is Nicaraguan American. “The best way forward is to have someone in the community to fight back.”

In the interview, the energetic Hernández-Mats seemed eager to fill the frequent role of a running mate by attacking the opposing candidate.

“The state is stripping freedoms,” she said. “Governor. DeSantis doesn’t want women to choose or have autonomy over their bodies or their health care. They take away one freedom and then they take away more freedom.

“Just a few months ago people were saying, ‘Teachers are amazing!’” she added, recalling how teachers were praised for teaching online at the start of the pandemic. “And now we have a governor attacking teachers and public education. To what end? That’s what dictators do.

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