Flashback Friday: When Crist and Sheldon faced off in 2000

Disclaimer: Kartik Krishnaiyer is currently serving as the Deputy Campaign Manager for George Sheldon’s Attorney General Campaign and will not be discussing this campaign on TFS. This is a historical piece looking at Mr. Sheldon’s previous statewide campaign. 

Yesterday, as I attended the well executed “unity rallies” the Florida Democratic Party put together I could not help but talk about the memories of George Sheldon’s previous statewide General Election run. What I have tried to forget often is that the campaign for Sheldon that year was against Charlie Crist, for a post that was being abolished in two years.

Commissioner of Education was an elected office in Florida until 2002. A Constitutional Amendment passed by voters in 1998 which consolidated the cabinet to the Governor and just three elected cabinet positions.

In the 2000 election, I was busy working for the Palm Beach County Democratic Party (which famously found me in the middle of the recount for a month) among other entities, but I was also volunteering on George Sheldon’s campaign.

The Republicans had  just pushed the “A+” plan through the legislature which featured school vouchers, the FCAT and school grading. Florida was becoming a laboratory for the right-wing education agenda and when the office became open thanks to Tom Gallagher’s flirtation with running for US Senate, Crist and Sheldon both jumped in. State Rep. James Bush (D-Miami) who was term-limited also ran. Sheldon crushed Bush in the primary by a margin similar to Crist’s victory over Nan Rich  on Tuesday. Crist was unopposed in the GOP Primary and the General Election campaign began.

Down ballot races for cabinet do not get a whole lot of attention in normal circumstances, but running in a Presidential year in a 50-50 state meant Education Commissioner got less attention than ever. But it was an interesting campaign, as Sheldon put out several well-thought out white papers about educational issues while Crist echoed much of the GOP’s established talking points on education but did it in a more reasoned way then Governor Jeb Bush did.

Crist ended up winning by a comfortable margin by running far ahead of George W. Bush in the I-4 corridor carrying Pinellas, Osceola, Volusia and Orange Counties by comfortable margins though Bush lost all four on the same day. By contrast, Al Gore lost every rural North Florida county except Jefferson and Gadsden, while Sheldon carried every single county in the 2nd Congressional District. Sheldon carried 22 counties statewide, while Gore carried only 14. Yet Gore ran five points ahead Sheldon statewide because he ran so much stronger in the I-4 corridor and racked up much larger margins in Palm and Broward Counties.

This was one of the last races in Florida where ticket-splitting was so obvious. Many in North Florida voted Bush/Sheldon and many in Central and South voted Gore/Crist. By 2004, straight-ticket voting was more or less the norm in the state and elections became turnout wars.

The race may have been irrelevant in some ways.  This is because Crist, who was already beginning to make moves away from the GOP orthodoxy in 2001 was largely marginalized from July of that year onward by the governance legislation that was passed during the 2001 session. Jim Horne, a conservative State Senator from Jacksonville resigned from the Senate and was appointed to a position by Governor Bush to a position created by the legislation that was more or less analogous to Crist’s role. As a Bush appointee and loyalist with the elected position being phased out, Horne and his deputies eventually assumed most of the power in the Department of Education.

Crist instead launched a campaign for Attorney General and was elected in 2002. By the end of Crist’s first year as A.G. it became obvious Republicans did not have the partisan Attorney General they had long craved, but instead a populist, whose political instincts pushed him to the left at critical times. This began setting the stage for where we are now with Crist as the leading Florida Democrat.

4 comments

  1. OrlandoChris · · Reply

    Crist is a Republican in sheeps clothing, don’t be fooled. Why vote between 2 known liars? Florida, we are fortunate enough not to be stuck picking one liar or the other this time. We actually have an alternative. Take advantage of the opportunity. Adrian Wyllie deserves my vote. He is a honest average Floridian just as you and I , that is willing to stand up and do something for the interest of all of us here in Florida. The other candidates both Republican and Democrat are owned and controlled by special interest, like puppets and will lie to your face to gain your vote, then continue the same old agenda that we complain about year after year. Time to get off this merry-go-round, election after election, thinking it will be any different. Take a stand, vote for the candidate that loves this state and is willing to take time out of his life, effort and money to SERVE the people of Florida and stop voting for these ‘paid for’ career politicians that are only out for money and fame and have zero interest in us Floridians. Even if it’s just for honesty alone, vote for Adrian Wyllie instead of the other two (Scott/Crist) which are proven liars. The choice is yours and yours alone, if you want the same old corruption and slap in the face, go ahead and vote for one of the two puppets (Scott/Crist) OR do what is right for our (yours and your children’s) future and vote for Adrian Wyllie. Support him by donating to his campaign, spreading the word and contribute to the super brochure program which I think is very powerful. Visit his website today.

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  2. Mark Lynn · · Reply

    I had actually forgot that Crist & Sheldon once ran against each other … now they are ticket mates. Times change for certain, but then again Chiles & Nelson worked well together from 94 onward too.

    I’m very pleased by both Nan Rich & Perry Thurston showing such good sportsmanship at the “unity” rallies. Hopefully their former supporters will do likewise.

    A few other thoughts concerning Tuesday: I’m very pleased my old friend Joe Geller was elected to the Florida House. Joe once appointed me as Historian of the Dade Dem Party & both my Mom & I served under him on the Dade D.E.C. Joe did an excellent job as chair and am confident he will do likewise in the legislature.

    I was also very pleased that wing-nut commissioner Lynda Bell was ousted from the Miami-Dade County Commission by Daniella Levine Cava. It was a tight & expensive race, but in the end the good guys won this contest. Also am relieved that ex-State Rep. & two-time School Board Member Renier Diaz de la Portilla was defeated again in his latest comeback bid, this time for a Circuit Court Judgeship.

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  3. Great memories! Sheldon had the yellow school bus logo!!!

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  4. […] against Charlie Crist in 2000 for Education Commissioner before the post was abolished in 2002  (As Kartik pointed out in Flashback Friday piece).  Pam Bondi never held elected office before running for Attorney General in 2010. Her father had […]

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