By Frank DiFiore, The Daily Sun, Sept 14, 2022.
SARASOTA — Karla Hernandez-Mats, running with Charlie Crist as lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket, cited her family as an inspiration to her career at a Tuesday night campaign stop in Sarasota.
Hernandez-Mats told a packed room of supporters that her running mate, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist who is seeking to unseat Gov. Ron DeSantis, is aiming to tackle issues like rising insurance costs, bodily autonomy for women, and housing.
“These are the real issues that people want to talk about,” Hernandez-Mats said, earning a round of cheers from the room.
Crist is a former Florida governor — and a former Republican.
Hernandez-Mats was the headliner for the Sarasota County Democrats, holding a meet-and- greet with several of their candidates at the Latin Quarters on Main in downtown Sarasota.
Other nominees who spoke at the event included Aramis Ayala for attorney general, Adam Hattersley for chief financial officer and Fredd Atkins – former Sarasota city mayor – for the Sarasota County Commission.
During her speech, Hernandez-Mats told supporters that she drew inspiration from her family in her career both as a teacher and later as president of the United Teachers of Dade.
Her family came to Miami from Honduras. As a child, she shared a room with her grandmother, who helped raise her.
Her parents worked as agricultural laborers, until her father got an offer to work as a construction worker in Miami’s booming trade. That job meant union benefits that went toward improving their lives.
Hernandez-Mats recounted how her grandmother was involved in helping her get ready for school, yet couldn’t read or write herself — the result of a lack of opportunities in Honduras where she had to start working in a kitchen at the age of 9.
Hernandez-Mats was the first of her family to graduate college. She chose to become a teacher, focusing on special education.
That life experience, she said, makes her a solid choice to oppose an incumbent governor that she says has targeted education.
“What’s happening in this state when you have a governor that attacks teachers and students?” she asked the crowd.
Hernandez-Mats referred to DeSantis as a “bully” who has helped extremists infiltrate school boards and politicize what students are taught in school, despite claiming to oppose injecting politics into education.
“We want to be able to tell the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that we don’t make the same mistakes over and over again,” Hernandez-Mats said.
She also criticized DeSantis on supporting a 14-week abortion ban – claiming that he and state Republicans will not stop there – and for refusing to join debates with Crist.
Hernandez-Mats praised local Democrats for quickly organizing the meetup on Tuesday, urging them to continue their efforts to knock on doors and get out the vote.
“Thank you for having me,” she said. “God bless all of you.”
Other candidates who spoke at the event hit on similar issues as she did, hammering their incumbent opponents for cooperating with DeSantis’ agenda.
“There has been an attack on our democracy,” Ayala said. “I understand what is at stake.”
Derek Reich, the Democratic candidate for State House District 73, vowed to protect both environmental interests and a woman’s right to choose.
“We won’t have a society where my mother had more rights than they did,” Reich said.
After the meetup concluded, several attendees said that Hernandez-Mats and the other candidates are bringing a positive energy to the race.
Faith Fippinger, a retired teacher, said that the candidates were “exciting” and raised her hopes for Democrats in November. Her friend Fran Peterman agreed.
“It’s great to hear someone talk about issues like teaching and housing,” Peterman said.
Alex Wagenaar, a Nokomis resident, drove up to Sarasota after hearing about the event online. He said that he is hopeful that new state officials will address issues like pollution, COVID-19 management, and housing development in a way that he says DeSantis has not.
“We need leadership that will do that,” Wagenaar said.
The Sarasota visit by Hernandez-Mats represents the first appearance by gubernatorial candidates in Southwestern Florida this election cycle.
Image Credits: SUN PHOTO BY FRANK DIFIORE