Politics

Charlie Crist Gubernatorial Announcement Promotes DeSantis Conspiracies

Rep. Charlie Crist speaks to reporters on election day, in St. Petersburg, Florida, November 3, 2020. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Representative Charlie Crist (D., Fla.) announced Tuesday that he would be challenging Governor Ron DeSantis to reclaim Florida’s gubernatorial chair, and part of his pitch is that he will value scientific contributions as governor — unlike DeSantis, who he says “attacked doctors and scientists” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a video launching his campaign, Crist argued that “while COVID took the lives of 35,000 Floridians, DeSantis attacked doctors and scientists.” Accompanying his voice was a screenshot of a South Florida Sun Sentinel article detailing how Florida police had executed a search warrant at the home of disgraced former state employee Rebekah Jones.

Crist evidently subscribes to the view that Jones, who was fired from her position as a data worker at Florida’s Department of Health due to multiple performance issues, is a truth-telling “whistleblower.”

Jones claimed she was fired because she bravely stood up to the DeSantis administration’s efforts to conceal the state’s true COVID death toll. But according to multiple state officials, Jones actually objected to a routine state policy which required that death toll figures be thoroughly vetted before being added to the state’s COVID dashboard. The figures that Jones claimed were being hidden were added to the dashboard less than a day after she raised her concerns.

Florida’s emergency-management director Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat, has warned against believing the “conspiracy theories” that Jones has repeatedly pushed.

Police raided Jones’ home after they determined that someone in her home illicitly accessed a state government messaging system to tell government employees to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead.”

“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” Jones tweeted after police raided her home. But Florida Department of Law Enforcement Rick Swearingen commissioner said in a statement that “at no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home,” and that Jones had refused to allow police in for over 20 minutes, despite their having a warrant to search the premises.

Jones also accused DeSantis of orchestrating the raid, but a spokesperson for the governor said the governor’s office “had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation” and added that the investigation had been launched before the message had been connected to Jones.

Crist, whose current congressional district is likely to be redrawn following 2022 redistricting, has also pushed other uncorroborated or debunked COVID conspiracies against DeSantis.

He promoted a Yahoo article that misrepresented a study examining Florida’s “excess deaths” during the pandemic to suggest that DeSantis is “likely hiding thousands of positive COVID cases,” — a framing the study’s principal author says is incorrect.

And Crist promoted a now-infamous 60 Minutes story that suggested DeSantis had made a sweetheart deal with grocery store chain Publix for vaccine distribution.

Following the story’s publication, which selectively edited a DeSantis response, multiple Democrats — including the mayor of Palm Beach County, whom the story focused on — called it “absolute malarkey” and “intentionally false.”

In his campaign video, Crist also suggests that DeSantis “handed out vaccines to his wealthy contributors, while seniors were left waiting.” That narrative is disputed by DeSantis and Moskowitz, the emergency-management director, who point out that the demographic makeup of vaccine recipients is a natural consequence of Florida’s elderly population being disproportionately white.

“We’re trying to vaccinate as many seniors as possible,” Moskowitz told National Review. “Does a senior who lives in a housing project who might get COVID versus a senior that lives in Century Village or The Villages, if they get COVID, they both wind up in the hospital potentially in each of their communities. And that end of the day, we have to vaccinate everybody.”

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