Nan Rich's relentless campaign for the Florida Democratic Party's nomination for governor touches down in welcoming territory tomorrow, the gay-friendly, multi-ethnic confines of Lake Worth, AKA "South Florida's Coolest City." See also: - Can Nan Rich Lead Democrats to Victory Over Rick Scott ?
The former state senator from Weston arrives riding a wave of good press, even from political enemies like Sunshine State News, who would like nothing more than a knock-down, drag-out fight leading up to the August 26 Democratic primary. Most observers consider Rich a long shot and Charlie Crist a lock, but in an interview early this week, she told New Timeswhat sets her apart and why she fights on.
New Times: You officially qualified for the primary last week. But that wasn't unexpected, right?
Rich: [laughs] There are people who would rather there were no primary and left it to Charlie. I got in this before Charlie became a Democrat. I'm a lifelong Democrat with the credentials and the bona fides to run.
New Times: The history is clear. But what are the big differences between you two right now?
Rich: One would be public education, with regard to vouchers. He was asked recently on the Michael Putney show if he would support expansion of vouchers, and his answer was that he "didn't know if it was the right time." To me, it's never the right time to use public dollars for private, very often religious schools. If he's changed his opinion on that, as he has on many things... That was the last statement I heard him make [on that topic].
New Times: He's still refused to debate you.
Rich: I've pushed hard for that. He's a newly minted Democrat, and I think it's the best way to get the issues out so everyone can see where we both are. That's part of the democratic process. His refusal to debate doesn't respect the process or what the voters want. Polls show 89 percent of Democrats want a debate. If you're going to call yourself "a people's governor," as he has, you need to listen to the people.
New Times: You were an early supporter of a higher minimum wage.
Rich: The day Sen. [Dwight] Bullard came out with his bill for an increase to $10.10, I supported it. Charlie had been opposed to minimum-wage increases in the past. He finally went to $10.10 later on. Same with in-state tuition. He opposed it when he ran for governor, just like Rick Scott. I was there. I was there from the beginning. Same thing with LGBT rights, with the Affordable Care Act, whole range of issues. I'm the only pro-choice candidate.
New Times: Wouldn't Charlie dispute that?
Rich: Really? Well then, he needs to change all the tapes and videos where he says, "I'm pro-gun, pro-life, a Ronald Reagan Republican." That's not pro-choice, which means complete support for the woman's rights over her body and reproductive choices. It's not enough to say you're pro-life but you're not going to get in the way... If you can't say you're pro-choice, it's not just me who's questioning your commitment. There's a trust factor there.
New Times: So much of the press coverage now describes you as a noble fight but a lost cause. How do you keep your spirit up when you hear that?
Rich: I'm energized by the people I meet on the campaign trail. I just had my third swing through the Panhandle. It's all volunteers up there who organize my trips, my events, and I meet wonderful people who want to change direction. They want different priorities: strong public education, health care for all people. They're excited about my candidacy, so that energizes me. I'm a lifelong Democrat, and they see something in me. I see the momentum shifting, moving in the right direction. People want someone who shares their core ideas and values.
New Times: Not to put words in your mouth, but are you saying Charlie has no political center? That he's just a weathervane?
Rich: [laughs] I don't say that. I say that I have core values. Your actions -- what you have done -- are an indicator of what you will do in the future. I'm very proud of my record as a progressive Democrat. That's why Charlie needs to debate. Get on a stage and explain where he's been and where he's going, and I can talk about what my actions have been over the years.
Nan Rich Friday, June 27 6 to 8 p.m. St. Andrews Episcopal Church 100 N. Palmway, Lake Worth
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.