Charlie Crist on Principles & Values
What he stands for, he says, is "fairness and trying to treat people right." He thinks now that he never should have been a Republican, the sort of blithe declaration that makes Florida Republicans choke on their food. But it's true that Crist's actions annoyed plenty of Republicans even when he was one of them. As a state senator in the 1990s, education commissioner in the Jeb Bush gubernatorial administration, state attorney general, and governor beginning in 2007, Crist enjoyed bucking his party [on abortion, voting rights, education, and environmental issues]. Other than the party label, Crist says, "None of this is new. I haven't really changed."
When WWI broke out, earning an honorable discharge, he was eligible to become a citizen of the US--not so different from today's immigrant "Dreamers".
I guess you'd call my dad fiscally conservative and socially moderate. He liked low taxes. He wanted local businesses to thrive. But he was troubled by the racial segregation that lingered in Florida and elsewhere. He very much believed in equal opportunity and social programs that worked.
My dad had never shown the slightest interest in running for office. But as a family physician, he'd gotten involved with a new federal program called Head Start. He loved the idea of Head Start. But he didn't like the way the local Head Start office was being operated. He knew the school board was supposed to have oversight. So he decided to run.
"Let's get married," I said.
"Really?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said. "Why not?"
"Okay," she said.
Mandy called that night and asked, "Are you sure about what you said this afternoon? We're kind of young." We were both 21. "Yeah," I told her. "It's exactly what I want to do."
We had a big wedding that summer.
She moved to Birmingham, got a job as an urban planner, and we started arguing about silly stuff.
Nobody in my family had ever been divorced before. We cared for each other. She was a lovely person. She still is. It just didn't work out for us.
I do think the experience made me think long and hard before marrying again, and it made me a believer in living together before marriage.
She told me about growing up on Long Island. Her family was in the Halloween business, she said. I don't think I'd ever met anyone in that field before. She had a business degree from Georgetown University.
Then, we started dating. Dating a governor is not without complication. It's a little different from dating a regular guy. There are a few extra stares in restaurants. And you have these people with guns around you all the time, everywhere you go.
I was head-over-heels smitten. I thought to myself, "I'd like to marry that girl." I don't believe "First Fiancee" is an official title, but some people started using the phrase around Tallahassee.
In this new Republican view, you needed to bash Obama. You needed to attack his health care plan. You needed to oppose anything he stood for--really, anything the Democrats proposed. It didn't matter whether the idea was a good one or a bad one. The base was hungry for juicy red meat. The long-term strategy, as well I could discern one, went something like this: Republicans had to hurt the president. We had to cripple government. We had to make sure that nothing the Democrats tried would succeed. That way, people would get frustrated with the current administration, and our party would ultimately benefit.
It was as cynical a strategy as I had ever heard. It was the new Republican way. But it wasn't my way.
"The way to get results for Florida and improve the economy," I say, "is by putting aside our differences and putting people ahead of politics." All the while, I am rearranging the letters as I walk, "As an Independent, I will take the best ideas of Democrats and Republicans to get things done," I say. "Because at the end of the day, there's only one party I work for."
The camera pulls out to reveal the letters now spell out "AMERICANS."
And then: "I'm Charlie Crist, an Independent, and I approve this message."
I campaigned door-to-door. I had a slogan--"Crist: A Name You Can Trust"--which I printed on yard signs and leaflets.
In a tight 4-candidate field, I made it to the Republican primary runoff, then lost by about 200 votes.
The capital press corps considered Crist one of the more masterful politicians in Florida's history, a gifted retail politician who could charm anyone. And they especially enjoyed it when Crist took on GOP legislators, which he did quite often during his first 2 years in office. He was clearly trying to create the perception he was a courageous, fighting centrist who would take the party back from conservative ideologues.
I'm not proud of my initial reaction to the news. If Crist runs for the Senate, I thought to myself, I'll run for governor.
Crist introduced the president at the rally, and when the president made his way to the podium the two men embraced each other. In the months to come, we would use that image to devastating effect.
That embrace reminded Republicans of all the things Crist had done [against the GOP]. Had the embrace symbolized only Crist's self-interested political maneuvering, the entire episode wouldn't have amounted to much. But to many Republicans, and especially the Tea Party movement, it symbolized the Republican's Party's fear of the left and its acquiescence to the rise of big-government intervention in the private sphere as the answer to the nation's problems.
"This notion, Governor, that you switched to become an independent because you're some kind of centrist who's looking out for the betterment of the country, quite frankly, is a fairy tale that only you believe. You're running as an independent not because you took a principled stand on the issues; you're running as an independent because you took a poll."
If it had been a boxing match, the referee would have waved his arms and declared a Rubio victory right then and there, a win by technical knockout. There were months to go before the general elections, and there was still the matter of getting past the Democrats, who in August would nominate an African American US congressman named Kendrick Meek. But with Rubio's poll numbers so robust, and the prospect of Crist pulling votes away from Democrats rather than Republicans, the race was becoming a foregone conclusion.
Rubio shot back that Crist "changes positions on the issues because he wants to win the election."
Crist tried to present himself as an independent throughout the debate, at one point calling the conversation between Meek and Rubio over tax cuts an example of partisan "bickering" that voters dislike. "You are seeing it right now, right here," Crist said. "That is why I'm running as an independent."
Meek suggested differently: "The governor is running as an independent, because he couldn't beat Marco Rubio."
In a back-and-forth that defined their campaigns, Crist depicted Rubio as a conservative ideologue unable or unwilling to deviate from extreme views regardless of changing dynamics. "You know, facts change all the time," Crist said. "I think people want an open-minded senator rather than the opposite, a closed-minded senator."
Rubio "wouldn't accept tax cuts on 98% of the people in America because of his ideology," Crist said. "That's exactly the problem, that's what's not right with Washington today." While Crist advocated a compromise, Meek backed the Obama position.
RUBIO: Those allegations have been proven false. Here are the facts. This is not taxpayer money. It was raised for the purposes of political advancement, for advancing a political agenda. And that's what the money was spent on. All this money's been accounted for.
CRIST: I would work to make sure that I stand with people who will help the people of my state and my country. I am a pragmatic, common-sense conservative, always have been. I also understand that we're in a tough economy right now, and when you're in a tough economy, sometimes you have to do the kinds of things that make sense in order to be able to keep people employed. You can't just be off on some limb, rattling the cage and saying you're going to do great things and stand on principle above the people of your state that you're supposed to serve. You've got to do what's right. And this race comes down to doing what's right. That's what it's all about.
Charlie Crist has never forgotten his humble roots and remains committed to the values that have made America the envy of freedom-loving people for more than two centuries. His public service is defined by tireless devotion to the citizens of Florida, a fundamental belief in the goodness of people, and a rock-solid commitment to the core principles that have allowed his family to succeed--lower taxes, less government and more freedom.
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Retiring in 2014 election:
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