The Crist Files: When Republican Charlie Crist took on Jeb Bush and the GOP

As we continue our look at former Governor Charlie Crist it is important to note that while a partisan Republican for much of his time in office, he did take on his party on some issues.

The GOP finally gained the Attorney General’s office for the first time post reconstruction in 2002. That year a three way Republican Primary had been won by Charlie Crist, who proved to be anything but a reliable conservative except on issues of women’s reproductive rights and guns, where he adhered to the conservative position as religiously as possible . Many establishment Republicans and Tallahassee insiders backed Locke Burt for the Attorney General’s post feeling that Burt, who was an insurance man, would be sufficiently partisan despite a less than conservative record on some social issues. The other candidate, former Martin County Rep. Tom Warner, served as Bob Butterworth’s Solicitor General and was always considered a moderate. Warner had also staked out a strong position in favor of Everglades Restoration and taxing the sugar companies which angered many corporate donors to the GOP.

As the Republicans solidified their hegemony over the state during the late 1990s, they badly wanted a partisan Attorney General who would implement a doctrinaire conservative interpretation of the law. In many cases conservatives misinterpret the law, manipulate its intent while misrepresenting the debate and discussions behind the passages of these laws. This should not come as a shock considering we are discussing a political party that has actively promoted anti-intellectualism as a part of its appeal to voters. While Crist wasn’t the most intellectual politician he also wasn’t ideological enough. 

Once in office,  Crist much to the chagrin of many Republicans took on the oil companies, some of Jeb and George W. Bush’s biggest allies. Ironically enough progressive groups has urged Bob Butterworth, Crist’s predecessor as Attorney General to take on these issues but he refused. Crist’s attacks on Big Oil began a process where he would challenge Bush’s thinking on a number important points.

While both the state and national Republican Party went crazy in trying to keep Terry Schiavo alive, Crist himself as the state’s highest ranking law enforcement official wisely stayed out of the fray. While conservative felt betrayed by Crist he showed a willingness to buck party orthodoxy that served him well as he sought the Governorship in 2006. Crist’s non-action on the Schiavo matter fueled activists disdain for him and it was no surprise when many of Jeb Bush’s top operatives popped up in the camp of Tom Gallagher, Crist’s 2006 Republican Primary opponent.

On civil rights Crist bucked the party line often, though it should be noted Florida Republicans tended to be to the left of the national Republican Party on Civil Rights issues throughout the 1990s. However, Jeb Bush was no liberal on Civil Rights and while he did some symbolic things like remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the Capital ground (something that was done with minimal fuss by Bush) Crist was much more active and aggressive on Civil Rights issues.

As a legislator, Crist was a leading Senate voice in 1998 to provide state compensation for Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts two African-American men accused of murder in a 1963 Port St Joe killing who were pardoned by Governor Askew in 1975 while on death row. The case continued to be divisive in the panhandle which is why many Democrats from the area voted against compensation regularly including in 1998.As a Republican, Crist was able to exercise his conscience on the case as a Republican since the racial divisions and scars politically were almost entirely on the Democratic side. The 1998 session was the first session after incoming Democratic leader Willie Logan was dumped by a coup led by Broward County Democrats. The removal of Logan, who would have been the first African-American Speaker Designee was seen as motivated by race. While Democrats eventually came around to another African-American Les Miller of Tampa as the leader designee, that was not the plan when Logan was dumped. In fact, when Logan was dumped, power appeared to be against consolidated by white Broward County Democrats. Miller’s eventual appointment was about damage control after Speaker Dan Webster, John Thrasher and other Republican legislative leaders began aggressively courting African-American members to become Republicans.

The Pitts and Lee case was an issue in the 2006 Gubernatorial Campaign as Jim Davis, the Democratic nominee had repeatedly opposed compensation for the two African-American men when he was a State Legislator, siding with much of the state’s Democratic establishment of the time. The Pitts and Lee issue had divided African-American and liberal southeast Florida Democrats on one side against Democrats from other parts of the state. Republicans who had little racial baggage in Florida of their own were free agents on this matter, and Crist became a strong advocate for compensation. Davis’ explained and then reversed his longstanding position on the matter and picked an African-American running mate, but he could not prevent substantial leakage of black votes to Crist, the Republican nominee.

Prior to this concerns had existed about Crist because of his role in re-instituting chain-gangs in Florida as well has his stonewalling of Harry Singletary’s nomination by Governor Chiles as Head of the Department of Corrections in 1995. Singletary, an African-American was eventually confirmed by the Senate on the last day of session but many Democratic activists at the time felt Crist’s line of questioning in the committee had some degree of racial motivation. But over time Crist proved to be color blind on the issues related to race.

No doubt throughout his career Crist has been more conservative than liberal. But it would be unfair to label Crist as a partisan Republican ideologue as some have done and as we continue to bring you the Crist Files we’ll give a balanced look at his record and those around Crist who have influenced his thinking.

14 comments

  1. Sharon Sjokvist Isern · · Reply

    I just became active in Florida Democratic politics and am a supporter of Nan Rich for governor. However, reading these posts I have a bit of hope that if Crist wins a primary and we Democrats must support him….he may be better than Scott. The best I can say about Crist is that he would be better than Scott.
    Until the primary, I support Nan Rich, a true progressive Democratic candidate, our best choice if we want change. To date … the only faults I have heard is she has little name recognition. Well her FB “likes” went from in the 300s to over 18000 in a few days. If we get her the money, she will get us the name recognition and the votes. Don’t forget…a year before his nomination as Democratic candidate…many Americans did not even know who Obama was. We have a year to let Floridians know what a great candidate for governor we have in Nan Rich!

    Like

    1. demdaysi · · Reply

      Who knew Rick Scott before he ran for governor? No one! And he ran against a candidate who had name recognition. Lets stop with the name recognition issue. Its mute.

      Like

      1. Absolutely not mute!!! Rick Scott spent $60 million of his own money to GET NAME RECOGNITION!! Any candidate without name recognition MUST have very deep financial backing in order to have a chance at winning. I don’t see Nan Rich having anything close to that kind of financial support.

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      2. Republican and Incumbent Florida Gov Rick Scott was also co-owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush. Since Governor Lawton M. Chiles the last Governor of Florida who was a Democrat died in the Governors mansion all Fla Governors have been Republican and have had connections to Jeb or George W. Bush. Everyone who wants a better Florida needs to support Nan Rich by donating whatever monies you are able to her campaign and vote for her in the August primary & again in November.

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  2. Maggie Davidson · · Reply

    I am an ardent supporter of Senator Nan Rich. I believe she will be one of the best governors Florida ever had. In addition, this is the Year of the Woman Governor, and it’s way past time for us to have a woman governor. Senator Rich is well qualified in all respects. If anyone is so sure that Crist can win and Nan can’t, I urge them to remember that’s what Democrats thought when they supported Crist over Kendrick Meek, and we got Marco Rubio. Ask all your family, friends, email and Facebook contacts to go to Senator Rich’s website and check her out. Also like her on her Facebook page. I also ask that you send a donation to Senator Rich’s campaign. 2014 is an enormously important election year. No one should sit this one out. Ours and Florida’s future depend on electing Senator Nan Rich.

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    1. Sharon Sjokvist Isern · · Reply

      I have donated and support Nan Rich. Talked to my very conservative Republican sister today and she will vote for Nan Rich. She said that If Crist was our Democratic candidate she would vote for Scott. Another sister said she would not vote for anyone if it was a Scott/Crist ticket. I did convince her to write in my dog Oliver as a “lack of confidence” vote rather than not voting at all. BYW, if Oliver wins he will make Nan Rich vice-governor and then resign leaving her as governor. Maybe a better solution is to write in Nan Rich if we have a Scott/Crist ticket.

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  3. You’re correct, Nan Rich is a solid progressive and I’ll be working for her should she be our party nominee for Governor in 2014.

    But let’s be realistic, we are now less than 10 months from the primary election (August 26, 2014) and after more than a year of her active campaigning neither the serious funds nor the necessary name recognition have been generated.

    I want to send Rick Scott back to Naples as a former Governor! My heart likes Nan Rich, but my head sees Charlie Crist as having a much better shot at making that happen.

    A fair summary of Charlie Crist’s history/positions on Civil Rights, Kartik…….thanks!

    Like

  4. Concerned Democrat · · Reply

    Kartik is being fair…for those who accuse him of being in the tank for the anti Crist people.

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  5. This proves Crist was always independent minded, a liberal Republican.

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  6. Florida Voter · · Reply

    Nan Rich’s candidacy is a joke. She’s too old, too ethnic, too regional and too liberal to be elected Governor of Florida. Sorry but it is the cold hard truth.

    However, Charlie Crist is a deeply flawed candidate with so many potential problems if he gets the nomination it is too lengthy to spell out here. Let’s just put it this way: The GOP cannot wait to face him next Fall.

    Again our party has FAILED in its biggest test – candidate recruitment.

    Hello, Allison Tant, what exactly do you do on the job?

    Florida Voter

    Like

    1. Sharon Sjokvist Isern · · Reply

      I don’t consider Nan Rich a joke. The joke is that we run a recently “born again” Republican/Democrat. Even conservative Republicans in my family don’t like Scott and would vote for Nan Rich but never for Crist.

      Like

  7. […] at the same time upsetting voters and party luminaries.  As Florida Attorney General, Crist often disappointed Republicans by doing such things as going after big oil companies, by not interceding to help Governor Jeb […]

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  8. Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic
    but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment
    form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having
    difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot!

    Like

  9. […] was an active bystander during much of this period. When it suited him he identified with Bush. When it didn’t suit him he played populist. That Crist would want to identify with Bush now as a Democrat, and many Florida Democrats I have […]

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