Charlie Crist selects Miami teachers union leader who criticized board meeting parents as Florida running mate

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Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist has selected the president of the Miami-Dade County teachers union to be his running mate, placing education at the forefront of his campaign as he seeks to defeat incumbent GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis in November.

United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats was announced as Crist’s running mate on Saturday during a campaign event held in Miami.

“This guy’s the opposite of freedom,” Crist said of Gov. DeSantis shortly after taking the stage to speak to supporters. “We are for real freedom. Freedom for all of you.”

“I’m excited to introduce to you a wonderful person,” Crist said. “Karla is an amazing person. She really is.” Describing her as a “loving” and “compassionate” teacher during his introduction of Hernandez-Mats, Crist said, “You know her, I love her, meet the next lieutenant governor of Florida, Karla Hernandez.”


Charlie Crist, Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Florida, speaks during a primary night party in Saint Petersburg, Florida, US, on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.
(Thomas Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Are you tired of the culture wars and the extremists that are dictating what we can’t say and do,” Hernandez-Mats asked the crowd upon taking the stage. “Are you sick of politicians who act like authoritarians trying to tear apart our democracy? … That’s why we are here today. To defeat Ron DeSantis and bring decency and respect back to the state of Florida.”

“I am so honored to be joining this team, the winning ticket,” she added. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to fight next to Charlie as your next lieutenant governor.”

Describing herself as a “proud union member,” Hernandez-Mats claimed, “It’s been dark, but we’re gonna bring the sunshine back” to Florida.

“Everything is on the ballot this November,” she said. “If you care about freedoms and you care about women’s freedom to choose and have autonomy over their body, I need you to vote. If you care about protecting people’s freedom and making sure they have access to vote, I need you to take a friend and go out and vote.”

Hernandez-Mats joined the leadership group for United Teachers of Dade in 2013 as the secretary-treasurer. Three years later, in 2016, she became the organization’s first Hispanic leader when she was elected as president.

Hernandez-Mats, a vocal critic of actions taken by DeSantis in recent years, pushed back on his attempt to re-open schools in the Sunshine State amid the COVID-19 pandemic and insisted schools should not be re-opened until “the safety of our community is secured.”
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., claimed he "is going to beat" DeSantis for the Florida governorship this November.

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., claimed he “is going to beat” DeSantis for the Florida governorship this November.
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


“The notion that reopening our schools is an option because ‘if you’re younger, it just hasn’t had an impact’ is not only completely contradictory to what we know to be the facts of this pandemic, it is dangerous for our communities at large,” Hernandez-Mats said in 2020 regarding DeSantis’ remarks, according to NBC 6 South Florida.

In a tweet issued last November, she acknowledged that school closures impacted the pace at which students learn, compared to previous years. “Pacing guides are arbitrary, you are the education professional that knows what your students need,” she wrote in response to a concerned teacher. “If you go too fast they may fall farther behind, get demoralized, & heighten their stress.”

Hernandez-Mats also drew criticism from residents in Florida last October when she shared a tweet comparing parents who attend school board meetings to prominent, fictional serial killers, including Freddy Krueger from the horror film franchise “Nightmare on Elm Street” and Jason Voorhees from the classic Friday the 13th films.

“For any of you following the school board meetings, you know that the craziness is real. God be with us,” she wrote.

Hernandez-Mats has also faced criticism for a 2016 tweet that claimed “many in Cuba” were mourning and “most in Miami” were rejoicing over the death of Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator who embraced communism and the former Soviet Union and whose economic policies created unrest and havoc in Cuba.

“A political figure dies at 90. Most in Miami rejoice, many in Cuba mourn #FidelCastro,” she wrote.

Hernandez-Mats — the daughter of two Honduran immigrants who came to America in the 1970s — has also been critical of what opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms.


Earlier this week, Crist, a former Republican who has represented Florida’s 13th Congressional District as a Democrat in the House since 2017, told CNN that he would “absolutely” welcome President Biden to campaign with him in Florida and insisted that Biden is the reason “gas prices are down.”

“Look at what he’s — President Biden — done for our country. He’s been exceptional,” Crist said. “Look what he’s done for the world… what’s happening in Ukraine, him bringing NATO together, new members to NATO – Finland, Sweden. It’s remarkable. What other president could’ve done what he’s done? He’s been phenomenal. Gas prices are down. Inflation is trending down. Democracy is trending up.”

Earlier this month, Crist claimed DeSantis is the “most arrogant” governor he had ever seen and called him a “wannabe dictator.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign stop on the Keep Florida Free Tour at the Horsepower Ranch in Geneva.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign stop on the Keep Florida Free Tour at the Horsepower Ranch in Geneva.
(Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“He’s the most arrogant governor I’ve ever seen in my life. It is shocking, it really is. Enough is enough,” Crist said, according to The Guardian. “He’s a barbaric, wannabe dictator.”


Crist, who defeated his primary challenger Nikki Fried in Tuesday’s election and served as Florida’s governor from 2007 to 2011, is slated to face off against DeSantis in the state when voters head to the polls on Nov. 8 for the general election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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