Crist pivots to abortion rights as DeSantis defends flights to Martha’s Vineyard

‘It was all a fraud; it was all a stunt. And it was cruel’

By: - September 16, 2022 3:41 pm

Democrat Charlie Crist speaks in Tallahassee on Sept. 16, 2022, as Gov. Ron DeSantis defended flying migrants from Texas to Massachusetts. Credit: Michael Moline

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist came to Tallahassee Friday to highlight a political issue that he suspects Gov. Ron DeSantis has been trying to play down: abortion rights.

And he took a swipe at Attorney General Ashley Moody while he was at it.

At the same time, the former congressman from Pinellas County hit the Republican governor at what DeSantis would consider a strong point — his shipment of about 50 asylum seekers from Texas to the liberal enclave of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Specifically, Crist issued a Sunshine Law demand for documents related to the two flights that delivered the mostly Venezuelan newcomers to the coastal resort with no advance notice.

“We need to know what the facts are about what happened. I mean, this thing went down and it was strange,” he said.

He insisted he wasn’t worried that paying attention to the airlift would distract from abortion rights.

“No way. There’s no way that’s going to happen,” Crist said. “The women of Florida understand that their right to choose is on this ballot.”

Basking in the outrage

For his part, DeSantis appeared during an event in Daytona Beach Friday to bask in the outrage his maneuver on Wednesday sparked.

Gov. Ron DeSantis defends his migrant flights to Massachusetts on Sept. 16, 2022. Source: Screenshot/DeSantis Facebook

“Instead of scrambling and worrying about a bunch of rich people … why not actually look at what’s going on” at the border, DeSantis said.

“There were more Acela corporate journalists in Martha’s Vineyard today than have ever gone down to the southern border to look at what’s going on,” he continued.

“I think what we’re continuing to do is use every tool at our disposal to insulate the state of Florida from all the negative ramifications of his reckless border policies. And, yes, that involves helping with transport.”

“His” meant President Joe Biden, who has been attempting to overturn a Trump administration policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases get sorted.

Crist is among the political figures who have called upon the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the episode, which reportedly involved a woman named “Perla” inducing migrants to board the flights with promises of immigration assistance.

“Apparently, he admits to chartering two planes, going over to Texas, taking these migrants to Massachusetts. They really didn’t know where they were going; they thought they were going to Boston with a promise of jobs and help and have them get their papers done, to get their citizenship,” Crist said.

“It was all a fraud; it was all a stunt. And it was cruel, and it was unusual, and it was awful. And taking children on that plane too? I mean, I’ve seen the pictures from Martha’s Vineyard and it shocks the conscience of any decent human being.”

Proviso language

DeSantis and his supporters argue the flights were justified by the Biden administration’s alleged “open borders” policy, but they’ve plainly been pleased by the outrage they’ve inspired among progressives.

The Legislature provided the DeSantis administration with $12 million to transport “unauthorized aliens” out of state. Republicans have attempted to argue that legislative Democrats voted for the money, but in fact it was contained in proviso language in the $112 billion annual state budget.

“We’re going to spend every penny of that to make sure that we’re protecting the people of the state of Florida,” the governor said.

The proviso language specifies relocation from Florida, but DeSantis described the program as a way to round up migrants at the border instead of trying to interdict them as they travel to the state by car in small groups.

He positioned representatives in Texas to try to identify potentially Florida-bound migrants there and “offering them free transportation to sanctuary jurisdictions,” he said. “You gotta deal with it at the source.”

Meanwhile, authorities in Massachusetts moved the migrants to a nearby National Guard Base, according to reports in the Miami Herald and elsewhere.

DeSantis claimed the migrants signed consent forms, but Rachel Self, an immigration attorney, who’s consulted with the migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, said they were tricked with false promises of assistance when they arrived up north, as the Herald reported.

Targeting Moody

Back in Tallahassee, addressing a small crowd of supporters from the steps of Florida’s Old Capitol, Crist noted that A.G. Moody, a Republican seeking reelection like DeSantis, is litigating before the Florida Supreme Court in defense of the state’s new 15-week abortion ban. She wants the justices to strike down its 1989 precedent establishing a privacy right to abortion under the Florida Constitution and allow continued enforcement of the ban, which took effect on July 1.

“Ron DeSantis and Ashley Moody are anti-woman and anti-freedom,” Crist said.

“If Ron DeSantis wins in November — and he will not — he would ban abortion completely in our state. He’s already signed an unconstitutional abortion ban — and let me emphasize this — with no exception for rape or incest. It is barbaric and unconscionable.”

Crist had suggested on Thursday that DeSantis intended the Martha’s Vineyard episode to switch the subject from abortion and the backlash against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

He pressed the point again on Friday but warned DeSantis and other anti-abortion politicians: “You have awakened a sleeping giant in the Sunshine State.”

“The women of this state and the men who love and respect women in this state, like me, are going to vote this November like you’ve never seen. And when we win in November, I will sign an executive order on Day One protecting a woman’s right to choose.”

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.