Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist officially announced on Saturday that Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the teachers’ union in Florida’s largest school district, will be his running mate in the November election.
Crist described the Miami native and daughter of Honduran immigrants as “caring, loving, empathetic, compassionate.”
“That’s what we don’t have in the governor’s office right now. And that’s what you deserve to have in the governor’s office,” Crist said at Hialeah High School, where Hernandez-Mats spent a decade teaching students with special needs.
After asking his supporters if they were “tired of culture wars and extremists dictating what we can say and do,” Hernandez-Mats said, “it’s all on the November ballot.”
“If you care about freedoms and you care about the freedom of women to choose to have autonomy over their bodies, I need you to vote,” Hernandez-Mats said. “If you care about protecting people’s freedoms and making sure they have access to vote, I need you to bring a friend to vote. We are here because also on the ballot is our opportunity to bring sunshine back to the state.
While abortion was a key issue in the Democratic primary campaign, Hernandez-Mats’ selection ensures that education will remain a top priority as Democrats attempt to defeat Gov. Ron DeSantis in the general election. The Republican incumbent has also made education issues a priority, including taking the unusual step this year to help elect county school board nominees who share his conservative stances.
Hernandez-Mats, 42, has served as president of the United Teachers of Dade since 2016 but has never held public office.
Republicans quickly took on Hernandez-Mats, whose selection was first reported on Friday by CBS Miami reporter Jim DeFede.
The Republican National Committee called Hernandez-Mats “the perfect fit for lockdown enthusiast Crist’s unpopular, anti-parent campaign.” DeSantis’ campaign tweeted Saturday that Crist’s pick is a “sympathizer” with the Castro regime in Cuba.
On Friday night, the Florida Republican Party called Hernandez-Mats an “extremist” and a “slap in the face to Florida parents.” He also took aim at her on COVID-19 issues, saying she supports “school closures, forced masking and, given the chance, would allow the indoctrination of Florida students.”
The state GOP also highlighted Tuesday’s primary victories of two DeSantis-backed candidates for the Miami-Dade County School Board, Monica Colucci and Roberto Alonso. Of the 30 candidates DeSantis endorsed statewide, 19 won races and six qualified for November’s general election.
“(Hernandez-Mats) must be perplexed that Charlie chose her given that she, as president of the Miami-Dade teachers’ union, inflicted a great defeat on the Democrats in her own Miami County court- Dade, where candidates approved by the governor. DeSantis flipped the school board to put students and parents first,” the state GOP said.
Teachers’ unions have long been a key support for Florida Democrats in gubernatorial elections and other races. The state’s Florida Education Association endorsed Crist before he defeated state agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried in Tuesday’s primary.
The FEA said in a press release that Crist’s selection of Hernandez-Mats shows he “appreciates Florida students and respects our educators.”
“Karla Hernandez-Mats will be a great Lieutenant Governor to all the people of Florida,” FEA President Andrew Spar said in a prepared statement. “She is a mother of two in our public schools, a teacher who focuses on students with special needs and cares deeply about children, families and communities.”
Candidates and parties have a chasm of differences on education issues, including more than two decades of battles over vouchers and school choice.
DeSantis has fought school boards he’s accused of not respecting parental rights on issues like mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic and book content. He and the Republican-controlled legislature have also, for example, restricted what can be taught in schools about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Democrats countered that classroom education suffered as Republicans made schools political battlegrounds.
If Crist, a congressman from St. Petersburg, defeats DeSantis in November, Hernandez-Mats would become Florida’s second Hispanic female lieutenant governor. The first is current Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, a former Miami-Dade legislator who was elected with DeSantis in 2018.
Hernandez-Mats was on a list of 18 potential running mates launched by the Crist campaign in June. The majority of those on the list were elected officials. When Crist unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2014 against the then governor. Rick Scott, his running mate was a Hispanic woman from Miami-Dade, now Senator Annette Taddeo.
Hernandez-Mats credited his father with teaching him the importance of defending workers’ rights as he took jobs on South Florida farms after immigrating from Honduras, where he had been an accountant.
“Every day he would go to the Everglades to cut sugar cane and pick tomatoes,” Hernandez-Mats said. “He later became a carpenter. A skilled worker. And a proud member of the union. You see, my mom and dad taught me the value of hard work and the opportunity it brings. He worked hard all his life and taught me to do the same. And I’m his example, it’s called the American dream.”
Hernandez-Mats attended public schools in Miami-Dade before earning a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and a master’s degree in business administration from St. Thomas University.
Hernandez-Mats described the goals of teaching as a microcosm of community.
“That’s the beauty of public education,” Hernandez-Mats said. “Every teacher and every student in our class comes from the community. So we have children who are children of electricians, bus drivers sitting next to children of parents who are lawyers or engineers.