Charlie Crist maintains centrist persona at Clearwater town hall - Florida Politics

Charlie Crist maintains centrist persona at Clearwater town hall

Congressman Charlie Crist isn’t likely to join the growing group of Democrats signing on to legislation to bring a single-payer health care system to America, nor is he prone to changing his mind regarding his opposition to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.

Those were a couple of revelations the St. Petersburg Democrat dropped during a town-hall meeting Friday at the St. Petersburg Florida Clearwater Arts Auditorium on Friday.

While some Republicans throughout the country and in Florida have eschewed such meetings this August because of the intense hostility they encountered at such forums earlier this year, Crist’s town halls have been almost like rallies for the Democratic anti-Trump base.

Friday’s event was in Northern Pinellas County, where the crowd appeared to be mostly liberal, over 50 and white (though there were a number of younger of Democratic Socialists of America members in the audience). They were unfailingly polite, applauding frequently to statements made by the congressman or by other audience members. Like a previous town hall earlier this year, Crist displayed his stamina, as the event lasted four hours.

Clearwater psychiatrist Mark Simko generated the loudest reaction of the day with this: “I believe our current president is the greatest danger to the safety and civility…” — the crowd started bursting into applause — “…that we’ve seen in some time. Every utterance, tweetwise or personally, shows evidence of emotion and intellectual instability…” before he was interrupted again by applause.

Simko paraphrased Tennessee’s GOP U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s recent admission that Trump has not shown the “stability” or competence to be “successful,” and asked if Crist shared that same concern about his competence. (Trump responded in kind to Corker via Twitter on Friday.)

“I voiced that sentiment last year on Election Day, because of who I voted for,” said Crist, which meant he did not say anything close to what Corker has said. Crist then added that if the president does something good for the country, he’d support him as well.

Later on, a self-described former Democrat-turned-Republican angrily responded by saying that Trump didn’t become a billionaire by being mentally deficient. “I wanted to make sure that you’re not toe-ing the party line to the ‘Resistance’ people,” she said with disdain.

William Rodgers, 73, and a self proclaimed “proud gay man,” asked Crist if he could do anything to “stop this insanity” when it came to the Trump administration’s plans to banning transgender people from entering the U.S. military.

The White House will send guidance to the Pentagon regarding the ban within the next few days, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday night, citing unnamed officials familiar with the matter.

“To me, its discrimination,” Crist responded. “It breaks my heart.”

Crist earned some boos when he said he wouldn’t likely reconsider his support for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720, H.R.1697), a bill designed to suppress the BDS movement for Palestinian rights. The movement calls for economic pressure to force Israel to ends what its critics say are human rights abuses against the Palestinians.

“I’ll take a look at it,” Crist said after the pro-Palestinian speaker had talked about the movement for several minutes. After hearing the boos, Crist said, “You asked me to review it, and I said I will.”

A member in the audience asked him why would he support it? “Because I believe in it,” he said. “But I’m willing to keep an open mind.”

A few minutes later, another Palestinian supporter criticized the Israel military after reading a news report that they had demolished a Palestinian school built by the European Union.

Crist responded by saying that it “was more than saddening to me,” but then bypassed any further discussion about the politics of the Middle East and segued into discussing his time as Education Commissioner in Florida and the fact that his father served on the Pinellas County School Board.

“And I am a proud product of the public school system in Pinellas County,” he added, generating applause.

On health care, at least six Democratic members of the Florida congressional delegation have signed on to supporting Michigan Democrat John Conyers’ “Medicare for All” bill for a single-payer healthcare system, but Crist isn’t ready to join them anytime soon.

“I don’t know,” he said when asked directly if he would sign on to the bill. “I have to look at it first, to be fair, but I’m happy to look at it and review it, since you asked.”

Crist also said he supported the removal of Confederate monuments, with local government making the call in all cases.

Congress takes another full week off before returning back to Washington after Labor Day.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.
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