Charlie Crist: ‘I’m sorry I did that. It was a mistake…. Please forgive me.’
The following are excerpts from an interview of Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, conducted in Orlando December 17 by Tom Dyer, publisher of the Florida-based LGBT website Watermark. To read the full interview, visit watermarkonline.com.
WATERMARK: I’ve been looking forward to this dialogue. Many members of the LGBT community are enthusiastic about your candidacy, but just as many are skeptical and some are even hostile. I want to give you an opportunity to address their concerns head on.
CHARLIE CRIST: Thank you for the opportunity.
WATERMARK: When you initially ran for Senate you were still a Republican. Then during the campaign, you left the party and became an Independent. And now, just four years later, you’re a Democrat.
CRIST: Thank god.
WATERMARK: But now here you are. In addition to convincing a majority of voters that you’re in alignment with their beliefs, you have to explain to them how you could maintain those beliefs while switching parties twice in four years. From a distance those changes appear more opportunistic than ideological.
CRIST: It was about being honest and being truthful to myself and my soul. I’ve always believed that it’s important to treat people decently, to be kind to other people, to have compassion for those who may be suffering. And I found myself in a party that was doing less and less of that and even discriminating against people. I’m talking about the leadership… there are still many, many good Republicans. Jeb Bush even acknowledged it. The Republican leadership is now perceived as being anti-women, anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-environment, anti-public education. With that many antis, the room empties out. I didn’t want to be in that room anymore, and I’m delighted to be where I am.
It’s always been important to me to be inclusive, to protect the environment, to fight for education, to do what’s right for working middle-class people. I did it as Attorney General, and I did it as a state senator. As a Republican governor, I vetoed a bill that would have shortchanged women in their ability to make their own decisions. And I vetoed a bill that would have punished public school teachers. I did those things—as a Republican—to remain true to my core, and to the values and principles that my mother and father instilled in me.
I haven’t changed. I’ve stayed the same. The Republican Party, on the other hand, went nuts. I’m not there anymore, and I’ve never felt more comfortable, politically, than I do now as a Democrat. I wrote a book about all this; it comes out in February. The title is The Party’s Over… and I’m not talking about Democrats.
WATERMARK: You’ve recently articulated support for marriage equality, adoption rights, employment non-discrimination protections… pretty much all the acknowledged ingredients of full LGBT equality. At the same time, I think it’s legitimate for members of the LGBT community to be skeptical. When you first ran for governor in 2006, you said that a ban on same-sex marriage was unnecessary, but then you signed a petition to place Amendment 2 [banning same-sex marriage] on the ballot…
CRIST: ?…and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did that. It was a mistake. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
WATERMARK: I appreciate that, but I want to make sure I spell this out in full. After you signed the petition you said Amendment 2 wasn’t an issue that moved you, but then you ended up voting for it, saying you believed in it. Just three years ago, when you were running for the Senate as a Republican, you told CNN that you believed that “marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.” And just three years ago, when talking about gay adoption, you expressed a belief that traditional families are best…
CRIST: Tom… I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
WATERMARK: Well, again, I appreciate that. But I think it’s important for you to address this. When you look back at the circumstances, one could come to the conclusion that your shifts in opinion were either politically expedient…
CRIST: They were. They were. And it was wrong. That’s what I’m telling you. And I’m sorry.
WATERMARK: … or that you were just trying to make everyone happy and had no real convictions on these matters. I appreciate the apology…
CRIST: I’m not sure you do.
WATERMARK: Well, I’m trying. But more importantly I want you to have the opportunity to address this in full; to explain where you’ve been and where you are right now.
CRIST: I was a Republican. You know why I was a Republican? Because my mom and dad were Republicans. I’ve told many people this. It’s the same reason I’m a Methodist. So I grew up as a Republican. I joined the Young Republicans, College Republicans… all that stuff. And as I got older, I got interested in politics, and I ran for office as a Republican and I tried to be a good team player. But it was an awkward fit, and on social issues it was especially awkward. I have three sisters. My mom and dad raised my three sisters and me to be decent to other people, to be kind to other people, to have compassion, empathy, sympathy when necessary…. And it became harder and harder for me to toe the Republican Party line. I tried, and I tried, and I tried… until I couldn’t any more.
The examples you cited were examples of me trying to be a good Republican. I couldn’t do it anymore, and I’m sorry I did. I made a mistake. I’m not perfect… please don’t hold me to that standard. And I’m sincerely sorry. I understand when it’s necessary to say I was wrong. That’s the journey I’m on… and I’m still on it.
As a Republican, on social issues, I always felt I was a round peg in a square hole. I just didn’t fit. But I tried, until I couldn’t do it any more… until I had to say, ‘Enough is enough.’
My mom and dad raised us to love everyone, to be nice to everyone, to be kind to everyone for as long as you possibly can. So telling women what to do with their bodies, telling people who to love or who to marry… it’s not for me. It’s not for government. It shouldn’t be for anybody. It’s between them and their god. I’ve always really felt that way, and I’m glad I don’t have to pretend anymore. As a Democrat, I don’t have to, and that’s why I’m so happy to be home… where I belong.
WATERMARK: I want to follow up, because I think this is where many LGBT voters need reassurance. You’re a Democrat now. The positions you now hold on LGBT issues are those held by most Democrats, and likely necessary for you have credibility within the party. Can you convince us that your present views aren’t once again driven by political expediency? Can you convince us that the positions you’ve recently expressed are heartfelt, and something we can count on in the future?
CRIST: I just did. There will be doubters, and they have a right to that. But I ask that they have a little faith.
WATERMARK: You’ve said that you were inspired by President Obama’s expression of support for same-sex marriage earlier this year. How so?
CRIST: The President and I had the same view: we supported civil unions. I saw the interview he did with Robin Roberts last spring [in which he expressed support for same sex marriage]. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s powerful, because you can tell he’s speaking from the heart.
I can’t speak for the President, but I suspect that to some degree, like me, he felt his support for civil unions was political. And so he’s finally saying, ‘Enough is enough. I’m over this. I’m not going to play the political angle anymore. I’m tired of it.’ Which is just the way I feel. You get to a point in your life where you say, ‘I’m just going to tell it.’ And here I am… I’m telling it. And I don’t care what anyone thinks.
I love everyone. [Laughs.] That probably makes me odd, but I do… until I get a reason not to. I’m one of these people… I think like the President… who wants to give everyone not only a fair shot, but the best shot… the best chance at happiness. Everybody deserves to love who they want to. Everybody deserves to marry who they want to. Even the Pope has said, ‘Who am I to judge.’
I believe, in my heart and in my soul, that we’re entering an age of enlightenment like nothing we’ve ever seen. It’s happening. And I’m delighted to confront that… it’s wonderful.
WATERMARK: What you would do to advance LGBT equality as governor? Rep. Linda Stewart just introduced a bill to create a statewide Domestic Partner Registry. Given the progress made in other states it seems like a small thing, but even that faces many hurdles in the Republican-controlled State Legislature. The Competitive Workforce Act—an employment non-discrimination bill—can’t get out of committee. Marriage Equality seems a long way off, unless through some sort of court action. What can you do?
CRIST: I want to do all those things. It’s not complicated. It comes down to one word: fairness. Everybody deserves to be treated fairly.
WATERMARK: It must be liberating to be able to speak from your heart, instead of through some political calculus…
CRIST: It’s wonderful! I wish I’d done it 20 years ago! Can’t you feel it?
WATERMARK: CharlieCrist.com makes no mention of LGBT equality right now. Will that change??
WATERMARK: It won’t be sort of a subterranean thing that you trot out for appropriate groups?
CRIST: Do I look like I’m holding back? We’re not underwater with this… we’re riding the wave!
And to your point about Linda’s legislation, she called me a month ago to tell me what she was doing in case I was asked about it. And I said, ‘Can I ask you a favor? Go for marriage. Why go half way?’ She explained that she didn’t think it was politically possible at this time, and I said, ‘You don’t know unless you try. You’ve gotta push it to make it happen. Plus,’ I said, ‘I think it could help us win the governor’s race. It might not pass right now, but if marriage equality is out there as an option we can say that Rick Scott won’t sign it and Charlie will.’ And I will! It’s my heart. It’s what I believe.