The clash between Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and challenger Charlie Crist is turning vicious — with the Democrat’s controversial choice of running mate only cranking up the ugliness.
On Saturday, Crist tapped Karla Hernandez-Mats, the head of the Miami-Dade teachers union and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, to run alongside him as a candidate for lieutenant governor.
The choice signals Crist’s intent to highlight education policy — a key culture-war battlefront in the Sunshine State — in his underdog campaign to unseat DeSantis.
The Republican has drawn both praise and criticism for several fractious education initiatives — including a ban on discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade.
Arguing that public schools should emphasize education rather than indoctrination, DeSantis also has prohibited the teaching of critical-race theory to Florida students.
Hernandez-Mats — a close ally of AFT chief Randi Weingarten – has been a vocal critic of DeSantis’s education stances and vowed to help Crist topple his administration.
“Are you tired of the culture wars and the extremists that are dictating what we can and cannot say and do?” the former middle-school teacher asked at a press conference announcing her bid for office.
Hernandez-Mats also vehemently opposed DeSantis’s push to reopen schools amid COVID-19 worries, even driving a hearse to a board meeting to warn of its potential consequences.
Her critics wasted no time in assailing her as a progressive extremist with a fondness for Fidel Castro.
A mobile electronic billboard popped up in Hialeah over the weekend that flashed her picture alongside a hammer and sickle and a tweet she posted in 2019 after the Cuban strongman’s passing.
“A political figure dies at 80. Most in Miami rejoice, many in Cuba mourn,” her post read.
Christina Pushaw, who is handling DeSantis’s media “rapid response” team, referred to Crist’s new partner as “Karla Marx” on Twitter.
Pushaw and others also quickly noted her ties to Wendell Nibbs, a Miami teacher and influential union figure who pled guilty to sexual activity with a child in 2020.
Hernandez-Mats returned fire on that point, arguing that Florida Republicans should be concerned with Congressman Matt Gaetz, who is facing a federal probe involving sex-trafficking allegations.
DeSantis warned his backers to brace for a contentious campaign over the weekend.
“Buckle up,” he said at a rally. “Put on the full armor of God. Take a stand against the Left’s schemes, and we will win.”