Archive for the ‘Charlie Crist’ Category

Kerry Endorses Obama– Quick Thoughts
January 10, 2008

John Kerry backs Barack Obama, declaring “Who better than Barack Obama to turn a new page in American politics?” History gives one pause in describing it as a big boost for Obama.
Think back, four years ago. The immediate past Democratic nominee, Al Gore, endorsed the insurgent campaign of that year– Howard Dean’s, which imploded just a few days later.
This announcement would also seem to confirm the widely-reported tensions within the Kerry-Edwards ticket, four years ago.
Meanwhile, I note that Al Gore’s running mate of ’00, Joe Lieberman, is said to be headed to Florida to campaign for– not Obama, not Clinton, not Edwards– but John McCain.
Lieberman, of course, is now an independent. He was put on the ticket in ’00, at least in part, on the theory he could galvanize Jewish voters, and visited FL often, trying to do that (a little more galvanization, and Lieberman might be finishing up his 2d term as VP). He may well return to some of the same FL condos he worked 8 years ago, trying to do a little galvanizing this time for Republican McCain.
Meanwhile, the FL endorsement all Republican contenders are panting for MAY be forthcoming. Gov. Charlie Crist now says he might endorse someone before the primary on the 29th. Or maybe not– the Gov’s still being coy about it.
They’ve all courted Crist and his 60%+ approval rating. Just today, Rudy Giuliani endorsed the concept of a National Catastrophe Fund, which could help spread the risk from national disasters like hurricanse among several states. The National CAT Fund is high on Crist’s list of priorities.

Crist’s Right Hand Man a Future Candidate?
December 7, 2007

“The Maestro”, as the Governor dubbed him, is leaving state government. George Lemieux, Charlie Crist’s chief of staff in the Governor’s office and, before that, the Attorney General’s office, is going back to private practice of law.
Just after reading about it on-line, some “snail mail” arrived that made me think– George Lemieux may want to get elected to something, himself. On a notecard embossed with a golden state seal, George Lemieux had sent me a two-sentence handwritten note, thanking me for the “nice piece” I had done on him– a profile of arguably the state’s most-powerful unelected official I had done a few weeks back (at the bottom of the note, it said “Not Printed at Government Expense”)
Reading it made me flash back to another “out of the blue” note I received a few years ago– from Charlie Crist. The then-Atty. Genl. had come to NBC 6 to do an interview with Willard Shepard. I chatted with him while cameras were being set up. If doubt we’d ever exchanged more than two words before, and our chat, while pleasant, was brief and insubstantial. Yet, weeks later, here’s my new-old friend Charlie saying how swell it was, palavering with me.
It was my first glimpse of the relentless, tireless politician that is Charlie Crist— a man who really puts the “glad” in “glad-handing“.
George Lemieux lacks the tan, the silver mane, and the preternatural ease with the public that Crist has at his command. But his acumen is well-regarded by folks on both sides of the aisle in Tallahassee (“good on politics and good on policy” is one prominent Democrat’s assessment), and I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t think he’s a “mensch”. A former Broward Republican chair, Lemieux could be a formidable future candidate for something (he did run once, unsuccessfully, for a state House seat). That note suggests he’s thinking the same thing.
Meanwhile, his soon-to-be ex-boss got lots of VP mentions, after sitting in the front row of the CNN/YouTube debate in St. Pete. Now, he’s in New York, doing a grip & grin with Donald Trump, apparently to raise money for ads supporting the property tax amendment. His national profile, sure to rise some more, given what I see on his schedule for today– 8:30 AM, interview at the New Yorker Magazine. After a tour of financial giant Goldman Sachs, the Gov is due to drop by for another interview with Time magazine. I’m sure he’ll send them a thank-you note later.

Legislative Lovefests Lost
October 31, 2007

Just back from Tallahassee where, once again, Gov. Charlie Crist got to proclaim victory at the close of another special session, saying his throat was raw from phone calls to lawmakers in support of a tax-cutting Constitutional Amendment. Not surprising that a Gov with approval ratings tickling 80% has some pull with other politicians, but this special session ended without one of the Crist-led lovefests of sessions past.
When lawmakers “cured” insurance and tackled prop tax reform (unsuccessfully) in June, the Gov gathered leaders from both chambers and both parties and praised their can-do spirit and cooperation. Muted strains of “Kumbaya” were only in my imagination, I think, but that was the tone Crist took.
This time, the Governor’s tone was the same, but it was jarringly out of sync with the mood of the day. He strode into his briefing room to meet the press and deliver hugs and backslaps with a small group of lawmakers– all Republicans, and all Senators, save for one Rep.
The Lauder-in-Chief did make sure to compliment Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller of Cooper City for casting a vote in support of the tax-cut plan.
But his remarks about House leaders were more restrained. Crist acknowledged the “passion” House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami brought to the issue of tax cuts, neglecting to mention that Rubio had spent the day blasting the tax-cut plan as a “missed opportunity” to jump-start Florida’s economy with real and meaningful tax cuts. Rubio wound up supporting the tax amendment the Governor was celebrating, and did not criticize him directly.
The ever-effusive Governor even came close to actually saying something negative about House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, questioning some of Gelber’s claims in floor debate. The Gov quickly added, “but I love him”.
And Crist couldn’t help but try to hug the House of Representatives a little, though its leaders were absent and most of its members had blasted the tax-cut plan as weak tea, passed it while holding their noses, and left the capitol quickly and in disgust. The Gov called a startled freshman Rep. who’d wandered in, Hialeah’s Eddy Gonzalez, to the mike.
Gonzalez mumbled something about the amendment being a “great start for Florida”, though when I’d talked to him in Tally’s airport that morning, he’d said pretty clearly he wasn’t wild about what the Senate was forcing him to vote on.
The big question for the future– is the Legislature done with tax-cutting now? Leaders in the House certainly hope not, but there are indications that Senate leaders have no stomach for further hand-to-hand combat over tax cuts.
And the Governor who recently said, as a former college football QB he understood the value of moving down the field 10 yards at a time, implied he might be ready to punt.
A reporter asked whether the Gov felt property taxes had “dropped like a rock”, as he’d pledged they would. Crist said, taxes had been cut $15 billion (over 5 years) in June, with voters able to deliver another $12-billion cut in January. “$27-billion sounds like a rock to me”, said the Gov.
A lot of House members complain– it still feels pretty much like a pebble. The strains of “Kumbaya” may be fading on this subject.

Crist’s BSO Pick
October 16, 2007

Gov. Charlie Crist will soon fill the vacant Broward Sheriff’s Office job, and his choice may offer some insight on how far off the Republican reservation this maverick Governor is willing to roam.
Crist, of course, is already outraging many in his party by his consistent “governing from the middle”. I grabbed a few quotes about the Gov off the St. Pete Times political blog just this evening:

“I knew he wouldn’t be as conservative as Jeb. I just didn’t think he would be more liberal than Debbie Wasserman Schulz (sic).”
“Crist is a joke.”
“Don’t blame me I voted for Tom.” (Gallagher, Crist’s more conservative primary opponent last year).

These critiques are fairly typical of what conservative Republicans have been blogging for months now. They see Crist as a turncoat, championing “liberal” subjects like global warming and restoration of felons’ civil rights, but all-too-ready to compromise his tough talk on tax cuts in this rubber-meets-the-road special session.
So will Crist cross party lines in filling the top elected job in Florida’s most Democratic county?
By my count, he’s interviewed 7 Democrats and just 3 Republicans, so far.
His first choice may well have been a Democrat who wasn’t interested– St. Rep. Jack Seiler of Wilton Manors, who says Crist sounded him out about the job, early on. Seiler, however, wants to run for Ft. Lauderdale mayor next year, and shot down the idea of taking the sheriff’s job as anything but a temp gig.
Seiler has offered advice to Crist about his Broward choices, and another prominent South Fla Dem is also weighing in. House (D) leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach has reportedly put an old friend and colleague from the U.S. Attorney’s Office into the running for the Sheriff’s job.
Jeff Sloman’s quoted in the Herald as saying: “I never thought of applying for the position until Gelber came up to me…” He applied Saturday, and was interviewed by the Gov Monday, according to the Herald.
There seems to be a lot of Democratic input in this Republican Gov’s choice, though I don’t pretend to know the whole roster of pols that Crist or his Chief of Staff, George Lemieux (a former Broward GOP Chair) are contacting on this pick.
The 3 Republicans reportedly interviewed so far– acting Sheriff Al Lamberti, former Sheriff Nick Navarro, and the Chief Legal Counsel at the Miami-Dade Police, Glenn Theobald.
One Crist confidante told me– keeping Lamberti in the job in an interim capacity (until the elections in November ’08) is the most likely option if the Gov wants to pick someone from his own party, though this assessment preceded Crist’s interviews with the candidates. Crist has said Lamberti’s doing a good job so far. The 29-year BSO vet clearly knows the department. If appointed Interim Sheriff, Lamberti might run again next year, on the GOP line.
Why would Crist choose a Democrat? The reading I get from both parties is, it would be a recognition that Republicans, now down to just 26% of Broward’s registered voters, have no shot at winning a countywide election, even with a relatively apolitical police pro like Lamberti as their standard-bearer.
It was 15 years ago that Republican Navarro occupied the post. Back then, Democrats actually had a bigger chunk of the Broward electorate (over 55%, as opposed to 51% now), but Republicans were in the game, with a little better than a third of the electorate. Now, Broward may be “Mission Impossible” for the GOP in a Sheriff’s election.
So Crist may want to install a Democrat he has some relationship with, perhaps someone who would ward off a bid by a more partisan Dem (ex-State Sen. Skip Campbell’s interested in running for the job next year, but did not apply to be considered for appointment by Crist).
This week, the tax-cutting agenda of the special session may dominate the Governor’s attention, but he was saying last week he was ready to act “soon” on the Broward vacancy. It will be a fascinating choice that will shed light on the relative weight this Gov gives political vs. personal vs. professional factors.

Back to Tally Again
October 2, 2007

Another special session begins 9AM Wednesday, as lawmakers try to cut a billion-dollar hole in the state budget, created by Floridians like you and me spending less than expected. That’s cut into sales tax receipts.
A billion sounds like a lot, but no one here in Tallahassee seems to think it’s a big deal. Speaker Marco Rubio points out, last year’s budget was $72-billion. Lawmakers bumped it up to $74-billion, and now must cut back a billion. Bottom line, he says, is that even a trimmed-back budet represents an increase over last year.
St. Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera says– he’s heard virtually nothing from nervous constituents about imoending cuts, save for a few inquiries from senior citizens, concerned that their subsidized meal money might be cut (it won’t be, according to Lopez-Cantera).
The Miami Republican also says– his constituents aren’t weighing in on the session’s other big item— reviving no-fault insurance. Special interest groups, though, are all over this subject. Insurance companies are lobbying furiously against any revival of no-fault, saying it breeds huge fraud. Clinic owners and lawyers want no-fault to be resuscitated.
Even negotiators who crafted the compromise no-fault plan that will be considered don’t seem very confident it’ll pass. Sen. Bill Posey says– until the final vote’s taken– he won’t feel confident that whatg he calls a “completely consumer-friendly” bill wikll pass.
Most south Florida lawmakers will probably support reviving no-fault. Our part of the state has the most uninsured drivers. Without no-fault, public hospitals are likely to get hit with the costs of treating their accident-related injuries– meaning local taxpayers would pay.
One final lighter note– Florida’s Governor, having been to two Jewish services in South FL in the last few weeks, has apparently picked up some Yiddish at temple. Today, he called Broward St. Sen. Steve Geller a “mensch” (loosely, a nice guy).
While the Gov. is always quick with to stroke lawmakers, it’s the first time I’ve heard it in Yiddish.

GOP Family Feud?
May 23, 2006

Two competitive races. Less than 14 weeks to go. And if you’re looking for one of the primary contests for governor to turn ugly, my bet’s on the Republicans. That guess is based on what I saw while moderating a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce forum that attracted all four of the major candidates — Republicans Tom Gallagher and Charlie Crist and Democrats Jim Davis and Rod Smith.

Right from the start, there was a little edge to the Republicans’ exchanges. When Attorney General Crist got momentarily confused by lights designed to warn candidates when their time was up, Gallagher broke in, “Red’s for stop, green’s for go, Charlie.”

Crist responded, “He’s helping me all along.” Gallagher, the state’s Chief Financial Officer, replied, “That’s because he needs it.”

The Democrats got a little mileage out of that exchange. State Senator Rod Smith quipped, “We are not going to debate what the green light means. We know it, and we are firmly standing behind it.”

Later, Gallagher went after Crist on a more substantive point; Crist’s assertion about Citizens Insurance, the state-run “insuror of last resort” for hurricanes.

“It’s been under a grand jury investigation … some of the people in it have,” said Crist.

Gallagher ignored a question about his plans for education to give an outraged response: “I want you to know what the Attorney General just said about Citizens being under grand jury investigation is absolutely untrue. He should know it’s untrue for two reasons. One, he’s part of the investigation; he’s the Attorney General. And number two, he was sent a letter by the chairman, which I got a copy of, explaining to him that it was never, and is not now, under any grand jury investigation.”

I said one of the members was,” Crist said.

Gallagher, looked around as if annoyed and said, “An ex-employee, and you did not say that, you said the company was. That’s the third time you’ve said that, that’s why I straightened you out”

“We’ll check the transcript,” Crist replied.

Well, the transcript shows Crist used loose phrasing, and that Gallagher called him on it — forcefully.

It happened again later, when Crist suggested that companies who write auto insurance in Florida ought to be required to offer coverage for storms, to bring more competition back into the marketplace. This time, Gallagher didn’t call him on it by name, but did say: “We’d have done that a long time ago if it was constitutional, and they shouldn’t use one-liners when they know it’s not constitutional.”

Gallagher’s aggressive approach, not altogether surprising, considering how far behind he appears to be (17-points down in Quinnipiac, 19-points behind ahead in the Mason-Dixon survey NBC 6 does). The Gallagher line: That Charlie Crist is not a true conservative, but rather an amiable centrist trying to “be all things to all people”. That’s the phrasing Gallagher’s communications director used when he sent me an e-mail entitled “Background”, discussing how some of Crist’s statements in debate were at odds with other things he’s said over the years.

On the Democratic side, Congressman Jim Davis has an even bigger lead over Smith. But neither Democrat is well-known statewide, and Smith has been making a lot of headway in the endorsement game (teachers unions in Miami-Dade and Broward, and Congressman Kendrick Meek among recent endorsers ). And Smith, who was a prosecutor before being elected to the State Senate, is good in debate. The political columnist from Davis’ hometown paper– the St. Pete Times– wrote “Smith repeatedly outshines Davis in joint appearances.”

So, for the Democratic race to tighten up. That could make things nastier on that side of the aisle — Democrats are always telling the old joke about the party forming its firing squads in a circle. For right now, though, it’s Republicans who fear that a bruising primary battle might cripple them for the general election war to come.