Times, Herald malign Bill Nelson for practicing politics

A couple of big-deal Florida political writers seem to be typing through Democratic insider goggles lately. In the last few days Adam Smith of The Tampa Bay Times and Marc Caputo of The Miami Herald have both chastised Bill Nelson for possibly harboring the intention of running for governor.

Wrote Caputo in Sunday’s Herald:

After months of ebbing and flowing, the story of Nelson running in 2014 seemed settled in October. Nelson had all but said he wouldn’t do it — and potentially endanger the very Senate seat he won last year.

Now the story of his candidacy has again resurfaced amid new undertones of intrigue, envy, ambition and miscalculation that could even embarrass even the White House.

It also damages Nelson’s brand as a plain-spoken pol. There’s a reason The Tampa Bay Times dubbed him this week’s “loser of the week” in Florida politics.

There must be a reason, but neither Smith’s piece referenced above nor Caputo’s explains it very well.

Nelson putting out feelers to gauge the feasibility of a run next year undermines his reputation for honesty? That’s a bit much, I’d say. Adam Smith played a similar note when he wrote:

Florida’s senior senator and senior Democrat is playing it cute with the governor’s race: On the one hand, he’s publicly saying he has no plans to run for governor. On the other, his chief of staff, Pete Mitchell, is signalling to some top fundraisers that they should keep their powder dry in case Charlie Crist struggles and Nelson decides at the last minute to jump in.

First of all, I’m not convinced the repetition of “senior” in the first sentence is not an ageist cheap shot. But “playing it cute”? Charlie has been playing it cute for about a quarter century now. It takes some fancy dancing to go from Reagan Republican to prospective “People’s Governor,” but that’s how it these things go sometimes. Don’t hate the player, etc.

Those of us who have voted for Nelson are not under the illusion that he got to the U.S. Senate by sheer force of earnestness. Florida’s local Yalie astronaut has been doing graduate-level political calculus his entire career, so spare us the line about Nelson betraying his aw-shucks image by playing a complex political scenario delicately. This is a decision over which he has earned the right to hem and haw.

It’s not Caputo’s best angle to attribute “intrigue, envy [and] ambition” to Senator Nelson, either. These motives could be said to be at play in any political contest — especially one involving Crist  — so it’s not a particularly useful remark. And I think the amateur psychoanalysis is best left to obscure hacks like me and utterly disgraced shills like Peter Schorsch. Just kidding, Mr. Schorsch; big fan.

Caputo also ventured the (a)historical claim (citing “legislators from both parties”) that as Republican governor, Charlie Crist “did more for Democrats than the last Democrat to hold the post: Lawton Chiles.”

Two major issues with this.

  1. We’ve detailed in recent posts how Crist stood in the way of Chiles’ thoroughly Democratic agenda as a State Senator and supported his bête noire Jeb Bush but above and apart from that: Crist’s vetoes of extreme legislation and his appointment of a few Democratic judges to local benches blanch by comparison to Lawton Chiles’ four decades of serving the public interest in the face of the unreconstructed bigots and backwater bosses who ran the Florida Democratic Party during the first half of his tenure. Both Nelson and Crist owe a great debt to Chiles and that is not to be trivialized. And,
  2. I give Crist a great deal of credit for expanding voting rights and advocating for the environment, but his left-most moves came as a lame duck already out of the GOP’s good graces. Charlie’s center-right record as a St. Pete Republican is hardly courageous and he did few favors for progressives until we were his last refuge.

Let’s be frank: if Crist goes on to win as a Dem, the Democratic Party will have done much more for him than he for it.

I love the Times and the Herald, especially the good work of Smith and Caputo, but Charlie can look out for himself. He does not possess a right to the Democratic nomination any more than Nan Rich does. Criticizing Nelson for considering his options in an arena where he has served so well for so long comes off as impudent.

Let things play out without regard for who’s stepping on whose toes and maybe we’ll actually end up with a People’s, not an Establishment’s, governor.


  1. Davie who's still in the Navy · ·

    NPR took on Caputo’s comments this morning by focusing on the likelihood of the State Legislature forcing Nelson’s hand. Caputo is convinced that if Nelson declares, the State Republicans will pass a resign to run law that would let Rick Scott appoint his replacement.

    I would like to hear Mr. Ray’s thoughts on how that changes the political calculus.


  2. Good question, better send-up of my completely unconscious “Piano Man” reference.

    It would be a damned sticky situation. Of course, Charlie Crist could veto that bill if he hadn’t ditched Tallahassee in a move we might call the ‘full Nelson in reverse’ but it’s pointless to speculate on counterfactuals.

    If it’s something the legislature really might do, he should announce next May.

    Either way, I don’t think it’s the place of political reporters to chide the dean of Florida Democratic politics for “endangering” Charlie’s campaign.


    1. Lenin damaging Stalin? Who cares.


  3. Patti Lynn · ·

    Bill Nelson would make an excellent governor, as would Nan Rich. Both have stood on their principles for years, with only slight modifications of positions, based on the changing mores of our society.. Senator Nelson, I believe, is much more valuable to Florida in the U.S.Senate, than he would be in the governor’s mansion, but that is just my opinion. I cannot get the vision out of my head of Crist abandoning the governor’s position again…if a more prominent race becomes available.


    1. Patti, your coolaide dispenser is on the way. Happy May Day komrad.


  4. Bill nelson, Florida’s Ivy League commie! Bill believes in killing baby’s, promoting sodomy and sexual perverts. Lying to reach your goal is totally acceptable. Supporting groups like the muslim brotherhood, allowing Iran to get atomic weapons is okay with Bill as long as Obama says so. What were his qualifications to become an astronaut from the political realm? can anyone say Despicable human being? Hooray for Bill !! Screw you! Words Bill lives by.


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