Charlie Crist And His Departure From The GOP – Under Duress

charlie-cristTonight there was a live televised debate between current Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida and former Florida Governor, Democrat Charlie Crist. Both are candidates for the governorship of Florida in this election cycle. Crist served as governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican. And it was during those four years as governor, along with his bid for another office in 2010, that Crist realized the GOP had abandoned their core beliefs in favor of the crazed tea party agenda; in essence, and in Crist’s own words, abandoning him.

It was during the latter campaign that Crist was hit the hardest by the rapidly-changing GOP. Having been a devote Republican since his early teens, he could not believe how mean, hateful and unaccepting the Party was quickly becoming under the spell of the minority tea party crowd. To him, it was as though the Party already felt that way and was just waiting for some sort of leadership which the tea party provided. This realization was the most hurtful of all to him.

Crist decided he just could not accept the GOP’s extreme far-right agenda any longer. They now stood for almost everything he had been against all his life and against everything he had always believed in. In addition, with his insider knowledge, he knew the tea party was controlled not by the so-called self-appointed ‘patriots’ of America, but by the mega-donors with their own personal agenda such as the Koch brothers. That’s when he officially left the Party and became an Independent. Later, his ‘slogan’, if you will, would be “how the extreme right hijacked the GOP and I became a Democrat”. You will find that on the cover of his book “The Party’s Over”.

Crist became a Democrat when he realized he needed the backing of a major political Party to be successful. So after serious consideration – along with a lot of internal debate and conference with many of his true friends – he became convinced that the Democratic Party’s core beliefs were now more aligned with his – which had never changed – than the tea party-controlled GOP. Therefore he decided to leave his Independent status and join the Democratic Party.

I finished reading Crist’s book a couple of weeks ago. Yes, the book is in his words, but there’s ample evidence to support his assertions that anyone can obtain should they be interested. And to tell you the honest truth, the book left me more fearful of where the GOP wants to lead my country than before. The extent of the hate, meanness and unacceptance is enough to scare anyone in their right mind.

Crist was first elected as a Florida state Senator in 1992. He had run and won on a pro-education, pro-environment (smart given Florida’s main industry is tourism), and anti-crime agenda. But he first tackled crime and criminals since he had personally lived with the runaway crime during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. One of the first things he did was sponsor a bill to ensure convicted criminals such as murderers served at least 85% of their sentence. Before they were being set free after serving only 20 – 25 percent of their sentence. The bill flew through the Senate and Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles immediately signed the bill into law.

As Senator, Crist also pushed through a bill to reinstate the chain gang in Florida with the help of Democrat Senator Robert Wexler. These two acts brought him great praise from the GOP, with some saying “Your political career is set, son”.

Maybe the only thing Crist was against that his party seemed to be for was the issue of abortion. As Senator, he opposed a bill requiring a mandatory, 24-hour waiting period for an abortion. He saw no medical or practical justification for it, so he voted against his Republican colleagues. While he was personally against abortion, he did not believe it was the governments place to become involved in such a personal medical issue. He said “I believe in individual rights and freedoms. That’s why I’m a Republican”. It was because of this issue that he became acquainted with “the look” from the GOP, which he got anytime he did something that wasn’t from the “Republican playbook”.

Some other things Crist championed as state Senator (that Republicans opposed):

  • Teacher salary increase.
  • Helped raise funds for the conservation of the Everglades.
  • Challenged the abrupt and excessively high electric rate increase.

It was the latter that got him in the most trouble with the GOP. Crist actually sued Florida Power over the increase but not as a Senator. He did so as a private citizen. Some Republicans actually challenged him saying “What are you doing? These are our friends!” Crist responded by saying “They’re being unfair to the people who elected me, and I can’t let that stand”.

After losing a bid in 1997 for US Senator, Crist later held a couple of appointments under newly-elected Governor Jeb Bush, and elections to lower-status jobs, where he learned a lot more about what was going on in Florida. Maybe the biggest lesson was the 2000 Presidential Election fiasco where after 35 days the US Supreme Court awarded George W. Bush the win, even though the majority of the popular vote went to Al Gore. Crist saw a real Democracy problem with the way the voting went and how the winner was eventually settled.

In 2003 Crist ran for and won the job as state Attorney General. His first act as AG kind of pissed off many of his Republican friends. Crist refused to immediately fire everyone in the AG office simply because they were Democrats. He did let some go, but he kept others after getting to know them and what their qualifications were. As AG, not everything Crist did was to the delight of the GOP. But he followed his heart on what he knew was right and wrong for the people of Florida.

More things Crist did as state Attorney General:

  • Sued a major Florida hotel because they refused to let African-American guest use the hotel pool.
  • Sued phone companies in Florida for all the add-ons they were slipping into consumer’s bills that did nothing for the consumer. (Again, he was reminded by other Republicans that “These are our friends”.)

It was during his time as AG that the Terri Schiavo case came up in Florida that lasted for 15 years – a case that threw the entire country’s GOP, including President George W. Bush, into a temper tantrum. Crist could not believe, even in his wildest dream, the entire Republican Party became so involved, eventually bringing in the US Supreme Court. As Florida AG, Crist refused to involve the Attorney General’s office in the case.

After serving as a state Senator, education commissioner and Attorney General, Crist decided it was time to run for Governor in 2006. It was during this campaign that Crist would have his biggest falling out to date with the GOP.

George W. Bush was President. He wanted to come to Florida on the day before Election Day for a campaign rally; a trip that was obviously planned a day or two before. But Crist had already locked-in a rally which was scheduled with Republican Senator John McCain, a big Crist supporter. Other appearances around Florida were also scheduled, so Crist could not be there with the two Bush’s. Although it was not ‘a mistake’ on his part, Crist was crucified by his Party.

Karl Rove, who was President Bush’s senior advisor, called Crist the next day – Election Day – just as Crist was about to go out and vote. What Rove said to Crist was unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

“You chickensshit! I can’t believe you didn’t show up last night to be with the President! What a chickenshit thing to do! You were going to get elected anyway! I can’t believe you did that! Who do you think you are?”

Although he didn’t realize it until later, this was Crist’s first revelation that the Grand Old Party was destined for irrelevance.

Crist did indeed win the election. He governed with the people of Florida in mind, just as he had done in his other public jobs. In his later reflections, he would remember several of “the look’s” from some GOP members over a few things, but didn’t give it a lot of serious thought at the time.

Some of his accomplishments as governor were:

  • With the Florida economy in the tanks and sinking further, homes being foreclosed on and thousands of jobs being lost, Crist decided that it simply would not be the right thing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on an Inaugural Ball. So it was canceled, but not without overwhelming criticism from his Party members.
  • He worked with several Democrats along with Republicans in the legislature to get his agenda passed.
  • With Florida – a state highly dependent on their beaches to draw tourism – being greatly affected by the changing climate, Crist held a climate change conference in his state.
  • After the conference, Crist signed executive orders limiting greenhouse-gas emissions, stricter limits for cars sold in Florida and insisting utilities generate at least 20% of their electricity from renewable sources.
  • Made a deal with United States Sugar Corporation, one of the biggest land owners in Florida, to purchase nearly 200,000 acres of farmland from them in order to keep them from killing the Everglades, negotiating the price down from $2.5 billion to $1.75 billion.
  • Cut property taxes by doubling the homestead exemption.
  • Pushed back insurance rates for his state which had the highest in the country.
  • He worked with Democrats and created an aire of civility.
  • He brought teachers, minorities, union members, women and Democrats back into game of government.
  • By accepting the stimulus from Washington, tens of thousands of jobs were saved, mostly teachers, policemen, and firefighters. Unemployment had dropped to 9.7 percent.
  • Vetoed a teacher’s bill that he first supported but by the time it got through the Republican-controlled legislature, it had turned into a windfall bill for special interest, stripping most all the pluses for teachers.

In the 2008 Presidential election, Crist eventually endorsed Senator John McCain. Lots of other candidates were very unhappy with Crist, but it was Rudy Giuliani who was the most upset even though Giuliani knew he never had a chance with or without Crist’s endorsement. But even McCain eventually let Crist down.

After becoming the presumptive nominee, McCain has so much pressure placed on him by the extreme right – Rush Limbaugh, Shaun Hannity, Glen Beck, and the likes – that he too turned to extremes. (On a personal note here, I too was leaning heavily toward John McCain. But in May of 2008 I dismissed him entirely due to leap to the dark side.)

Crist got a good taste of where the Republican Party was heading during the 2008 Presidential campaign. As Vice-President nominee, Sarah Palin came to Florida to campaign. Palin’s campaign asked Crist to travel and work with her, which Crist gladly did. He was fighting for a win for his Party. But by the time the tour was over, Crist realized that Palin held completely different views. Everything Crist and John believed in, Palin was against and vice versa.

“She was a member of the same Party John and I were, but our world views couldn’t be further apart. Here’s the scary thing I hadn’t fully grasp yet: Hers was the future of the Republican Party. Ours would soon enough be looking at the past.”

It was later, while watching a McCain campaign tour on TV, that he found out just how much the hatred and pungent, vile venom being spewed out by Fox News and other extreme-right conservatives had been seeded into conservative voters across the country.

Before the 2008 election, Crist had taken steps as Governor to try to ensure that what happened in Florida on Election Day in 2000 would not happen again. But there were too many Republicans who had seen the fiasco as an asset to the GOP, so they fought Crist vigorously when he tried to make things better for everyone during the voting process in 2008. The long voting lines and early precinct closings was not of how a Democracy was supposed to work. So, using an executive order, he expanded the voting time by three hours in one precinct that was really bad. He caught holy-hell from conservatives in Florida and across the country, and even by some of his own staff.

Here’s where the GOP drove the final nail in Crist’s coffin.

As everyone in the civilized world knows, the economy of the country went to hell in a hand basket just three months before President Obama took office. Millions of jobs were lost. It was the worst recession in 75 years (many call it a depression). As a result, Obama attempted to do what every other President in history had done during a recession – Democrat and Republican. Just a week into office he asked for a sizable stimulus package to jump-start the economy. And, as everyone knows, he was fought tooth and nail by conservatives and the conservative media.

During a tour in Florida to campaign for support of the stimulus package, Obama invited Crist to join him at one rally. Crist knew the $13 billion the stimulus package would provide Florida was badly needed. During the last two years under George W. Bush Florida’s unemployment had jumped from 3.5 to 10 percent, and Florida had a higher foreclosure rate than any other state. So Crist accepted Obama’s invitation.

Crist was criticized heavily by his Party for accepting the invitation. But he felt that since he had been elected by the Florida voters, that was where his allegiance lay — not with the national Party. But it was a single innocent, normal, ordinary incident that did Crist in with the GOP. crist-obama-hug It was a ‘reach, pull, release’ hug that the two men gave each other when Crist introduced Obama. That scene, and the picture taken of them hugging, was the last straw for the crazed-bound GOP. It surely had to be that moment when they turned against Crist and made the decision to make the remainder of his political life a living hell. Crist: “That simple gesture ended my career as a viable Republican”.

It was all uphill for Crist from that moment on. But he was still supported by Florida voters by more than 60 percent.

With a Florida US Senate seat vacated by Republican Mel Martinez, Crist decided to run for that office in 2010 instead of a second term as Governor – although he was certain to be reelected as Governor by Florida voters. Crist had appointed George LeMieux, his campaign manager and chief of staff, to finish out Martinez’s term in the Senate. Initially the GOP supported him, but that was about to change.

Marco Rubio decided to run for the same Senate seat. Crist knew him well, and, although they had had some disagreements, they had a very cordial relationship. But, as Crist put it, “that was before [Rubio] was being called ‘the crown prince of the tea party movement’” Rubio turned on Crist like a starving lion during the campaign — as did the rest of the GOP.

When the campaign first to roll out, Crist had a double-digit lead over Rubio; 53 to 18. Florida voters knew what they wanted, and it was Crist. But voters eventually succumbed to the campaign launched against Crist.

  • “Getting behind Crist in the Florida Primary is totally unacceptable”.
  • “Charlie Crist, just what we need, a ‘soft’, ‘friendly’, moderate GOP member”.
  • “I won’t be hugging Obama, I’ll be standing up to him—adamantly”.
  • “We already have a Democratic Party in America. We don’t need two Democratic Parties in America”.
  • “Why don’t you go hug Obama again”.
  • “A top priority is to defeat Crist”.
  • About Rubio: “The first Senator from the tea party. 2010 will be the year of Republican civil war, and Florida is where the fighting is now fiercest”.
  • About Crist: “Enemy of liberty”.

Republicans in the state legislature started crafting bills that they knew Crist would veto. They allowed no debate, discussion or testimony on the bills. The sole intent was to make Crist look even worse, and give Rubio the lead in the Senate race.

It soon became obvious to Crist that he was not going to win as a Republican. Besides, he had already come to the conclusion that the current Republican Party no longer represented his values. It was then that he decided to leave the GOP and run for the US Senate as an Independent. His entire campaign staff left when he made the announcement. Republicans who had made large campaign donations to Crist asked for their money back. It wasn’t going to be easy. But even as an Independent, he was still leading over Rubio, albeit only slightly.

Crist lost the Senate election to Marco Rubio in spite of the fact that Crist pulled Republican, Democrat and Independent votes; but it wasn’t enough. Sadly, Crist would have won had it not been for Kendrick Meek who was running on the Democratic ticket with no chance of winning what so ever. Several high-profile Democrats came to Florida to try to convince Meek’s to drop out including former President Bill Clinton, which would have given Crist his votes. At one point, he agreed to drop out because he knew he was not going to win. But the very next day he changed his mind and denied any rumors of that. The final vote was Rubio 49%, Crist 30% and Meeks 20%. Both Democrats and Independents lost because Meek’s stayed in.

In his book, Crist recalled one incident when a high-profile Republican told him that he wasn’t working for the people of Florida; he was working for corporate America and wealthy campaign donors, and he’d be smart to remember that. That tells one an awful lot about the GOP.

It was this same election cycle that Rick Scott, with all his personal wealth, won the governorship. Scott had spent $70 million of his own money on his campaign. He wasted no time reversing everything Crist had done for Floridians, in essence, turning over the entire state to corporate America. Now Crist would like to reverse as many of Scott’s policies as possible. God willing, he’ll have the chance.


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