Meek Slams Crist: ‘I Don’t Need Talking Points’ to Talk Union Issues
Saying that Gov. Charlie Crist’s speech to one of the state’s largest labor unions was not enough to make the newly independent U.S. Senate candidate a friend of the group, Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek said Saturday morning that he should receive the group’s endorsement, not the newly-independent governor.
Meek drew sharp contrasts with Crist, saying that he had a 95 percent lifetime record of supporting positions favored by the AFL-CIO, which is gathered in Jacksonville this week to make general election endorsements. Crist spoke to the union Friday, which would have been rare had he remained a Republican politician. A decision is expected Sunday from the union.
Meanwhile, another large union in the state, the Florida Education Association, on Saturday morning chose both Crist and Meek to recommend. The FEA cited Meek’s long support of education issues, noting that if it weren’t for Meek, there likely wouldn’t be a class size limit in the constitution. But it also noted the governor’s veto earlier this year of a controversial teacher merit pay bill. “We know Kendrick would be a welcome addition to the U.S. Senate,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “We think an independent Charlie Crist working for Floridians would also be a great asset in the Senate.”Crist on Friday asked the AFL-CIO to support him because he was reaching out to them. Meek said Saturday morning that Crist showing up once was not enough.
“For somebody like me, it’s not 80 percent, 70 percent, 50 percent,” Meek said during a raucous speech to union delegates at the Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront Hotel. “It’s 100 percent. (I have) a 95 percent lifetime record with AFL-CIO. If you can’t stand with me now, when can you stand with me?”
The fact that Meek even had to campaign for the support of one of the state’s most reliably-Democratic groups was stunning. The AFL-CIO endorsed Meek for the Democratic nomination early and its roster of speakers this weekend closely resembles what the state Democratic ticket will look like on ballots this fall, with the notable exception of Crist.
However, most polls show Meek trailing both Crist and presumptive Republican nominee Marco Rubio, which Meek alluded to in his speech. Neither Crist nor Rubio’s campaigns publicly responded to Meek’s comments Saturday, though the camps have long trained their fire on each other.
Meek tried to prevent the union from thinking its choice was between Crist and Rubio, saying that the governor’s NPA switch made the race more winnable for him.
“I play the David role well,” he said, referred to the biblical tale of David and Goliath. “We don’t need 50 percent plus to one to make Kendrick Meek the next United States senator. We can do it with 38 percent, 40 percent.”
But Meek said that he needed the AFL-CIO to do that.
“I need your full support,” he said. “When you came to me in the Legislature and said, ‘Kendrick I need you to run this amendment,’ I didn’t say ‘I’d send a staffer.’ I said ‘I’d be there. I wasn’t a co-friend, I was a full friend.’ No one should be able to come in at the last moment to serve his or her politics and say that I’m your friend. If anybody understands that, organized labor understands that.”
Meek contrasted his long record of supporting union issues with Crist, who told the union Friday that he would be open to some of their biggest priorities now that he is no longer a Republican. Crist said he would consider supporting the federal Employee Free Choice Act, which supporters say would guarantee employees the right to unionize and opponents - including the Republican establishment - say will threaten workers' right to a secret ballot. Crist also said that he would look for ways to have state lawmakers extend unemployment benefits if federal money is approved, as expected.
Meek said that the union did not have to ask where he was on those issues.
“When it came to the Employee Free Choice Act…it wasn’t a question of where I was or where I was going to be,” he said. “I wasn’t going to be a co-sponsor. I was going to be a prime sponsor. I’m not going to think about voting for. I’ve already voted for it.”
AFL-CIO president Mike Williams heaped praise on Meek as he introduced him, calling him “a friend of organized labor.”
“If you want an example of standing up for working families, this next person reflected everything we stand for,” Williams said of Meek.
After his speech, Meek said he was not bothered by having to campaign for the AFL-CIO’s endorsement.
“I wasn’t taken by having a family meeting with the family,” he said. “I think it was important that we share that I’m the best candidate for this race.”
The AFL-CIO is expected to make its thoughts known on who the best candidate in the race is Sunday at the conclusion of the convention.