The Crist Files: Crist’s Tobacco and Medicaid History…Republican Partisanship and Flip Flopping


As I have discussed repeatedly on this website, much of the reason I distrust Charlie Crist is due to the hostility for partisan reasons he demonstrated towards Lawton Chiles and Bob Butterworth when the State of Florida was recouping taxpayer money spent on Medicaid by suing Big Tobacco.

For those who weren’t around in the 1990s, Tobacco was a HUGE state and national issue at the time. Liberals like myself saw reining in Big Tobacco both as a public health issue as well as a matter of corporate responsibility. The opposite was true of conservatives who saw it as a big government liberalism and defending the tobacco industry in both a degree of libertarianism and fiscal conservatism. Also possibly they had an ulterior motive. If tobacco related illnesses were contained, the cost of public health would go down and thus part of their argument about the costs of Health Care would be negated as taxpayers would save money on programs such a Medicaid.

President Clinton took on the tobacco industry and it cost the party both the Kentucky and North Carolina legislatures as well as other races. It also accounted for North Carolina being the state where Clinton’s 1992 margin of defeat grew the most in 1996. In fact Clinton performed better in Texas in 1996 then he did in North Carolina.

Against this backdrop in 1995 State Senator Charlie Crist strongly advocated a repeal of a law that allowed Governor Chiles to sue the tobacco industry, which was landmark lawsuit nationally.   In 1996, Crist helped lead the Republican efforts to override  Governor Chiles’ veto of the legislation the GOP along with tobacco lobbyists and Associated Industries of Florida had pushed through the legislature the previous year. The effort to override the veto fell a vote short when in the dying moments of the debate, when as the veto override was heading for a final vote, Rep. Senator Ginny Brown-Waite bizarrely announced on the floor she was flipping her vote and siding with the Democrats. This lead to a shambolic scene on the floor where the coalition of Republicans and Conservative, business-oriented Democrats who had challenged Chiles on this issue collapsed and the repeal failed. The reality that Medicaid was costing the State of Florida millions of dollars in tobacco related illness seemed to never impact the thinking of Crist and his GOP legislative cohorts.

Having been defeated and no doubt owing lots of political favors to the tobacco industry and business lobby, the GOP decided to use their Senate majority to investigate the lawsuit. They tapped none other than Crist to lead the effort and he worked shamelessly to conduct a partisan witch hunt, this time against the attorneys who bravely represented the state in the Tobacco Lawsuit. In a twist of irony, some of those same lawyers have become political allies of the newly minted Democratic version of Crist.

In these hearings Crist tried to paint the picture that the landmark Tobacco Lawsuit which brought millions of dollars into the state’s coffers for Children’s Healthcare was in fact a giveaway to Trial Lawyers by a Democratic administration. Of course we know nothing could be further from the truth.

By 2008 Crist flipped his position according to the Tampa Tribune:

Gov. Charlie Crist said “God bless Gov. Chiles” as the 2008 Legislature drew to a close last week, thankful for $2.4-billion in reserves made possible by the late Lawton Chiles.

“I’m very grateful to Gov. Chiles and Attorney General Bob Butterworth for the action they took. Those monies, and those funds, really gave us a bridge to the future in Florida,” Crist said.

This is in direct contrast to what Crist told the same paper in 1996:

 “He doesn’t like how the previous law slipped past them and also doesn’t think businesses should be held responsible for behavior that is a personal decision,”  – said Crist

While supporting the Tobacco lawsuit in 2008, Crist again flipped by 2009 when he was seeking the Republican nomination for US Senate as we have outlined in a previous piece.  Crist appeared to be doing the partisan bidding of Republicans who never supported the lawsuit or the state funding of children’s health care. This also coincided with Crist’s decision to rail against the Affordable Health Care law, something he now supports.

So Crist has in fact flipped and flopped all over this issue, multiple times in the last 18 years.


  1. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    Great retrospective!

    This is the best piece yet of your series.


  2. Facts matter….Thanks! Wow. Ginny Brown Waite flipped her vote…..Critical Thinking should
    trump party and donor loyalty…..


  3. Chiles was the messiah wasn’t he? Butterworth couldn’t even carry a Local State Senate race! These are the people left this in the state continue to look up to while Gov. Rick Scott produces jobs. I know Charlie Crist in his heart of hearts doesn’t agree with these people so obviously I still have a lot for him for all the good he did for our state in the past.


  4. Why would Dems oppose tobacco?

    It’s a matter of free expression.

    It is the Christian Right and the Tea Party that have pushed draconian anti-smoking laws.


  5. Patti Lynn · ·


    May I re-post the Crist tobacco story on Facebook???

    *Patti Lynn* *I Support Equality in Every Venue: Pay Equity, Opportunity, Education, and **Marriage*


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