Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Fact-checking Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist will run for governor as a Democrat in 2014. (Tampa Bay Times photo)
Charlie Crist will run for governor as a Democrat in 2014. (Tampa Bay Times photo)

After months of dancing around the subject, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist finally made it official: He wants his old job back.

Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, will take on Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. Crist becomes the presumed frontrunner in the Democratic field, which includes former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston.

Crist made the announcement from Albert Whitted Park in St. Petersburg on Nov. 4, 2013.

Crist, 57, has been out of public office but not the public eye since leaving the governor’s mansion and losing his bid for the U.S. Senate to Republican Marco Rubio in 2010.

Crist was a self-described "Ronald Reagan Republican" before he left the party to become an independent as a last-ditch effort in the Senate race against Rubio. He later endorsed President Barack Obama for reelection in 2012 and got a high-profile slot at the Democratic National Convention. Months later, he changed his registration to Democrat, revealing the switch at a Christmas party at the White House.

PolitiFact Florida has evaluated 44 statements by Crist on the Truth-O-Meter. (We’ve fact-checked Scott 95 times, and we follow his promises on our Scott-O-Meter.)

Crist’s claims have addressed state finances, education, voting rights and Crist’s past positions -- and whether he has wavered on them.

The battle between Crist and Scott will likely focus on how Florida fared during Crist’s tenure as governor from 2007 to 2010, which included the Great Recession, and Scott’s leadership starting in 2011, which coincided with the national recovery.

Pants on Fire, Full Flops, other changes of position

He hit Pants on Fire! twice, including once for trying to explain during the GOP Senate primary that he didn’t endorse the stimulus package (um, remember the hug, Charlie?). Crist told a very different story when he campaigned for Obama in 2012, recounting how he stood up to other Republican governors to defend Obama’s stimulus package. His other Pants on Fire was for a campaign attack on Rubio, claiming that Rubio pushed for state money for a rowing institute. There was no evidence Rubio did that.

Crist’s opponents are already painting him as a flip-flopper. Along with switching parties, we documented his change of heart on gay marriage on our Flip-O-Meter, where he earned a Full Flop. He also earned a Full Flop for saying he wouldn’t run as an independent in the 2010 Senate race.

Crist also seems to be in the process of modifying his positions on guns. In 2010, he said he "never wavered in his support of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms." At that time, we rated his claim True.  After the Newtown elementary school shootings in 2012, Crist came out in support of some gun control measures, including a renewed assault weapons ban, a size limit on ammunition clips and tougher background checks.

Another subject where Crist has taken both sides is abortion. We looked at Crist’s views on the issue in our fact-check of Lenny Curry, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Curry tweeted in 2012 "Todd Akin & @charliecristfl hold same abortion views. No exception except the life of the mother. Google it. Its all there." (Akin was the Missouri Senate candidate who said "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy.)

We rated Curry’s claim Mostly False. Crist's exceptions go beyond the life of the mother to include rape and incest.

And Crist appears to be moderating his past postion further. In 2012, Crist told PolitiFact Florida, "I am pro-life, but I would not impose my will on others." He also referenced a bill he vetoed in 2010 that would have required women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion.

Education, voting rights

More recently, we fact-checked a claim by Crist about teacher pay: "Today many Florida teachers are at risk of having their pay impacted by the performance of children who are not even in their classrooms or subject areas."

Some teachers, particularly in non-core classes or in grades without assessments, will continue to be evaluated not based on the subjects they teach but on overall student scores in FCAT reading and math. Crist’s point is largely accurate given the first round of evaluations, but a new law aims to reduce the problem. We rated this claim Mostly True

In a speech to Louisiana Democrats in August, Crist made a claim about the state’s next round of searching for non-citizen voters: "They tried it last year. The secretary of state put together a list of over 100,000 people that they thought were ineligible to vote. Came out there were less than 10. I mean, what a joke. It’s unconscionable what they will do to win these elections."

If Crist’s point was that only a tiny fraction of noncitizens were found on the voter rolls, that’s certainly true. But he’s wrong that the number was less than 10. The best data we could nail down from the state was that there were about 85 noncitizens removed as of August 1, 2012. We rated that claim Mostly False.

Spot a claim by or about Crist, Scott or other politicians in need of fact-checking? Tweet us at #politifactthis or email us at truthometer@politifact.com.