Florida’s voters must choose between two candidates who were once members of the same party, which complicates their records. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.
Florida’s gubernatorial race is one of the highest-profile elections in the country this year, with incumbent Rick Scott (R) running against former Florida governor – and former Republican – Charlie Crist (D). The race has been incredibly close, with most recent projections showing Scott just a single point ahead of Crist. Female voters could certainly turn the tide for either candidate. Women make up approximately 50 percent of Florida’s population and their needs and concerns – and consequently their vote – play an integral role in determining not only the upcoming gubernatorial election, but also the well-being and prosperity of Florida’s overall population. But the question remains: Where do women in Florida truly stand, and what does the future of women’s rights look like for the state?
Where Do Women in Florida Stand?
• Nearly 1 in 5 women in Florida do not have health insurance. According to the Alliance for a Just Society’s recently released report card on women’s health, Florida ranks 47 out of 50 states in terms of women’s health coverage.
• In 2011, 21 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 were living in a county without an abortion provider.
• As of 2012, over a million women between the ages of 13 and 44 were in need of publicly funded contraceptive services and supplies, but only 21 percent of this need was met.
• The poverty rate for women is 16.4 percent, and significantly higher for women of color: 26.4 percent for black women, and 21.6 percent for Hispanic women. The poverty rate among female-headed households is 40 percent.
• Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers. Raising the minimum wage would increase earnings for more than 500,000 women in the state. And raising the wage to $10.10 an hour would reduce food-stamp enrollment by as many as 195,813 individuals.
• The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that the rate of forcible rape has increased from 2012 by 1.7 percent. Today, 1 in 6 women in Florida have been raped at some point in their lives.
Where Do the Candidates Stand?
Affordable Care Act/Medicaid Expansion
Although Crist currently embraces the Affordable Care Act (ACA), over time he has vacillated on President Obama’s signature health law. During his 2010 Senate campaign he promised to repeal the law, then later said he wanted to modify it, and now he claims to completely support it. During a 2010 debate with his opponent Marco Rubio, Crist said that he thought we needed to “go ahead and repeal this thing.” Yet during an interview with CNN this past March, Crist said he thought “it’s been great,” and that Scott should have implemented Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Scott does not support the ACA. “Our health care system needs to be improved – there is no doubt, but we cannot say that Obamacare is the answer.” He has also called Obamacare a “bad law that just seems to be getting worse.” Scott initially opposed Medicaid expansion, but then changed his mind in 2013. He has supported the idea of expanding Medicaid, but has not advanced the issue, claiming that he is only committed to expanding the program in the first three years, during which time the federal government foots the entire bill. Beyond that, the state would be responsible for no more than 10 percent of the cost.
Crist has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, has come out in support of family planning access, and recently spoke out against the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. “Today’s Supreme Court decision inserts an employer into a decision that women should be able to make without interference. And it will make health care more expensive and less available for Florida women.”
Scott was supportive of the Hobby Lobby ruling, stating that the Supreme Court “upheld our freedom of religion.” His feelings about this ruling are characteristic of his previous positions on the issue. In 2011, Scott signed into law “a landmark Medicaid overhaul” allowing Medicaid providers to opt out of providing family planning services, including birth control, on “moral or religious grounds.”
When Crist was governor in 2010, he vetoed an ultrasound bill similar to the bill that Scott signed into law in 2011, claiming the bill was “almost mean-spirited.” Throughout his political career, dating back to his days as a state legislator, Crist has claimed that he is personally pro-life, but that he also believes in respecting the right of women to make decisions with their doctors. When Crist was running for the Senate for the first time in 1998, he stated that he believed abortion was a decision that “a woman should make and have the right to make after consulting with her family, her physician, and her clergy, but not the government.” Nonetheless, Crist’s stances on particular abortion laws have varied, ranging from supporting a bill requiring a waiting period for minors to rejecting the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.
Scott’s record on abortion has been consistent. In 2011, he signed four abortion-related bills, one of which mandated women to receive an ultrasound before undergoing the procedure. Earlier this year, Scott signed into law a new bill that completely redefined when women are legally able to obtain an abortion. Today, abortions in Florida are illegal at whatever point a woman’s doctor determines the fetus is viable. The current law does make an exception when a woman’s life or physical health is in danger, but makes no exception for mental health concerns.
Violence Against Women
Crist has long record of supporting domestic violence protection and prevention efforts. As attorney general, he established the Cut Out Domestic Violence Program and as governor he signed several bills strengthening penalties for those who commit domestic violence and increasing protective injunctions in domestic and sexual violence cases.
Two years ago, Scott vetoed $1.5 million in funding for 30 rape crisis centers, money that state lawmakers had allotted to meet the increased demand for victim services. According to one of Scott’s spokespersons, “this new funding … would have been duplicative, since, as a state, [Florida] already fund[s] sexual violence programs. There was no information suggesting any needs in this area weren’t already being met.”
During the gubernatorial debates over the past few weeks, Crist has supported raising the minimum wage from $7.93 an hour to $10.10 an hour. “You deserve a governor who will fight for you, fight for a minimum-wage increase,” Crist said during a debate in October.
Read the rest of this series here.
Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.
Ariel Smilowitz is a senior at Cornell University majoring in Government and the Northeast Regional Policy Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. She is from Aventura, Florida.
Cross-posted from the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog.
The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.