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Charlie Crist, Bob Lotane talk Voting Rights, Criminal Justice Reform

"It's no accident that I talked about my plans to protect voting rights the first week I announced I was running for governor," Crist says, in an interview with Our Tallahassee publisher Bob Lotane.

// March 29, 2022,

2:07 pm

Updated:March 29, 2022

Lotane: Tell us a bit of your history on voting rights

Crist: When I was governor, I fought to expand access to the ballot box, not restrict it. In 2008, despite the protests from my then-Republican colleagues, I expanded early voting hours so that working folks could make sure they had enough time to get to the polls. 

Charlie Crist poses with former Mayor Dot Inman-Johnson and her husband Pastor Lee Johnson with Jeremy Matlow, City Seat 3 and Jack Porter, City Seat 1 at the home of Tabitha and Seann Frazier. | OurTallahassee.com

Without a doubt, my proudest accomplishment during my time in public office has been restoring the voting rights of over 155,000 of our fellow Floridians who paid their debt to society and were returning to our communities for a second chance at life. To this day, I still have folks who stop me on the street to share their stories and let me know that I was the one who restored their right to vote. It’s humbling to see firsthand how compassionate leadership can change someone’s life and if I’m elected to serve as governor, I’ll do it again.

Lotane: In your previous term as Governor, you pardoned an unprecedented number of people. Will you commit today to commute sentencing years due to state-level non-violent marijuana possession charges?

Crist: Yes. As part of my “Justice for All” policy plan we announced last October to reform the criminal justice system,

Charlie Crist meets with Tallahassee residents at the home of Tabitha and Seann Frazier. | OurTallahassee.com

I vowed to seek legislation to expunge all existing charges and sentences for misdemeanors and third-degree felonies for marijuana possession, which covers up to thirty grams of marijuana or one ounce.

Lotane: In the past, a bipartisan coalition of groups and politicians, including Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, the ACLU, and others, have worked to eliminate civil asset forfeiture laws. Will you commit to signing a bill that removes civil asset forfeiture in Florida for unconvinced felons?

Crist: Yes. Under current law, law enforcement can seize assets such as cash and cars without even bringing charges against the owner. That is fundamentally unfair. As governor, I would support bipartisan legislation that would modify civil forfeiture laws so a person would have to be charged with a crime before their assets could be seized by law enforcement. The seized assets could be kept by law enforcement only if the person is convicted of a crime.

Chief Lawrence Revell at Tallahassee City Commission Meeting
Chief Lawrence Revell watches before he takes questions after his controversial paid speaking engagement at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association | OurTallahassee.com

Lotane: Recently, HB-1 was passed, which prohibited local government agencies from altering their prioritization of local funding allocations of city departments, including banning police department budgets. Would you support a bill that removed this provision?

Crist: I don’t support defunding the police. I support good officers who work each and every day to uphold the duty of their post. And importantly, I support offering all the necessary funding and resources needed to ensure police officers undergo the proper training and screenings that will weed out bad actors who aren’t worthy of protecting their communities. 

Charlie Crist meets with Tallahassee residents at the home of Tabitha and Seann Frazier. | OurTallahassee.com

Lotane: The Tallahassee Police Department is involved with a lawsuit from the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which exempts victims of crime from public disclosure; the police unions have fought in courts for this to include police officers. Would you sign a bill that clarified that public records exemption to exempt police officers that are direct victims of crimes?

Crist: The 2018 amendment to the Florida Constitution, known as Marsy’s Law, gives crime victims the right “to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family.’’ I support those protections. 

Unfortunately, some police departments and the courts are citing that amendment to create secrecy around law enforcement – and that erodes transparency and public confidence in our police. In the Tallahassee case, a Florida appeals court has ruled that the identities of officers can be withheld in use-of-force cases if the officers themselves were threatened. Unfortunately, that is often the case in police shootings. Responsible law enforcement officials recognize that court decisions like the one in the Tallahassee case result in a lack of transparency that breeds suspicion and leads to more problems. I would support legislation that makes clear that law enforcement officers who are acting in their official capacity should not have the same privacy protections as members of the public who are victims of crime.

Former DCNF Chairwoman Teresa Wells talks with Charlie Crist, Jack Porter and Jeremy Matlow at the home of Tabitha Frazier. | OurTallahassee.com
Charlie Crist meets with Tallahassee residents at the home of Tabitha and Seann Frazier. | OurTallahassee.com
Charlie Crist meets with a local Tallahassee Starbucks worker who is organizing his workplace to unionize to fight for better working conditions. | OurTallahassee.com

Lotane: Conservative propaganda networks have pushed a narrative of “defund the police” that tries to galvanize a hateful fringe base of the Republican base against that opposition; how can Democrats support progressive reforms like mental health intervention and community policing? 

Crist: There can’t be winners and losers when it comes to supporting our police and ensuring we expand access to mental health intervention and community-based solutions. Our police officers play an important role in keeping our communities safe, and we recognize that the overwhelming majority of those in uniform carry out their duty to protect and serve honorably and without prejudice. It’s also important we recognize that police departments are often not the best suited to handle situations where folks are suffering from a mental health crisis, and are in need of counselors and medical professionals more than anything. That’s where the need for additional funding and resources to these community-based organizations comes in. 

Lotane: In Florida, in cases like Rachel Hoffman where families have to fight for financial compensation for years to approve funding, would you support legislation that changes the minimum payouts for families of settlements of crime to $1,000,000 from the current limit of $250,000?

Crist: As governor, I signed Rachel’s Law, the first in the nation to provide more protection to confidential informants. Too many victims’ families like Rachel have to wait for years for the Legislature to approve reasonable settlements. I would support raising the statutory cap for claims against the state and local governments to $1 million per person.

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