Yesterday, we discussed the need for Democrats to stay unified on the dangerous school voucher proposal making its way through the Florida House. With the potential of a few Democrats wavering on this fundamental issue, perhaps a statement by Charlie Crist would make all the difference. Multiple progressive activists throughout the state have told me in recent days they think a strong announcement by Governor Crist opposing the legislation could potentially move any questionable Democrats into the “NAY” column.
The Democrats have for many years suffered from a leadership void in the state of Florida. This has allowed House and Senate members to ad-lib issue positions and sell out progressive principles easily. The selection of Rep. Perry Thurston as Democratic Leader and Rep. Mark Pafford as Democratic Leader-Designee have been steps in the right direction towards establishing clear principles in the House Caucus on fundamental issues like school “choice.” Yet some Democrats who are less easy to corral by leadership need to hear from an authority on the outside, and progressives can think of no better person than Governor Crist on this score.
Governor Crist’s own record on school “choice” is a poor one, but of course he was a Republican in those days. As Governor Crist Signed the Marco Rubio-Pushed Expansion of Corporate Tax Backed Voucher Program. In 2008, Governor Crist signed a bill that implemented one of Marco Rubio’s “100 Ideas for Florida’s Future,” (also pushed by Jeb Bush) by increasing corporate tax credits for private school vouchers by $30 million ($88 million to $118 million).
On May 2, 2008 the Associated Press reported that, “The voucher bill would let an additional 6,000 students go to private school at public expense.” The AFL-CIO said removing the funds from public schools was “deplorable.” (Florida House, HB 653, Vote 1180, 5/2/2008; Marco Rubio, “100 Ideas for Florida’s Future,” 2007; Associated Press, 5/2/2008; Florida AFL-CIO 2008 Legislative Session Final Update)
Crist’s move to public-school defender and pragmatic Democrat on education issues will help him with the base of the party. This move could be a win-win for him as he would show his willingness to defend public schools and oppose voucher schemes and he could really help the party hold the line on the coming clash on the House floor.
Should Crist make the strong statement that is being suggested, his stock would increase dramatically with some activists who have been shunning his candidacy. But failure to step out on this issue will increase suspicions on the left as to genuine nature Crist’s conversion. Crist’s Democratic Primary opponent, former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich has already spoken out strongly against this legislation.
Senator Rich said
“My position on vouchers has always been crystal clear, I opposed them when Republican Governor Jeb Bush introduced them. I opposed them when Republican Governor Charlie Crist expanded them. I oppose expanding them now. “
The shameless attempts of corporate interests backing school “choice” legislation to force this issue down the throats of Floridians is among the biggest issues the state faces. Governor Crist can be a hero in his new party if he does the right thing. His past record is shameful on the matter but he has a real chance to begin to mend fences on this one.