Former Gov. Charlie Crist vowed Tuesday that if he is elected, he will his executive powers to target discrimination against gay and transgender employees and force state-hired contractors to pay employees at least $10.10 an hour.
The proposals from Crist, who is the top Democratic rival to incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott, echo several steps taken at the federal level by President Barack Obama. They represent another effort by the former Republican to boost his credentials with Democratic voters.
"I'm talking about things we could do day one," Crist said during a campaign event in his hometown. He was flanked by Watson Haynes, president of the Pinellas County Urban League, and Darden Rice, a St. Petersburg city councilwoman who is gay.
Crist promised that on his first day in office, he would sign five executive orders, including mandates for state agencies to require contractors to pay employees more.
Other executive orders would deal with public records, equal pay for women and discrimination. One would require state agencies, where legally possible, to use Florida-based businesses in contracts. The state has already has a law that requires some, but not all, contracts to go to state-based businesses.
"Fundamental fairness to everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation," Crist said. "If you're Floridian ... you get preference."
John Thrasher, a state senator and chairman of Scott's re-election, said in a statement that Crist "thinks he can win this election by doing his best Barack Obama impersonation - all talk and no action."
Crist is already taking aim at Scott even though the former governor has not yet won the Democratic nomination. State Sen. Nan Rich is Crist's main opponent in the Aug. 26 primary.
Some of Crist's proposals would not reach across all state government. That's because several agencies are under the control of other Republican-elected officials or are in joint control with the governor.
There's also the question of the legality of Crist's executive orders. State government in many instances is limited in what it can do unless the actions are authorized by state law. Contractors could challenge Crist's actions by saying they exceed his authority. Florida's governor does not have the same extent of powers as the president.
GOP legislative leaders — including both the incoming House speaker and incoming Senate president — suggested that they would sue to block Crist's actions. The joint statement issued by five legislators said Crist was proposing an "end run" around elected representatives.
"Charlie Crist is not above the constitution and the law," reads the statement. "Florida needs a governor who will work with the Legislature and not force his personal agenda on Floridians with the stroke of a pen."
The Crist campaign, however, maintains that the executive orders would withstand legal muster.