A case for Crist: Why Charlie Crist for Governor makes sense for Florida’s citizens (but maybe not for Democratic partisans)

Charlie Crist has announced he’s running for Governor for a third time – he was elected to the office as a Republican in 2006, becaming an independent during the last weeks of his final legislative session in 2010, and ran as a Democrat, winning the nomination but losing a close General Election in 2014.

National Democrats seem to believe that Ron DeSantis is vulnerable but they don’t live here and have had a long track record of being wrong about this state, so quite frankly I don’t care what they think anymore. From my vantage point, DeSantis is more popular than ever and I don’t see the push-back against Republican legislative overreach from the general public that I was hoping for. In fact it seems most of the critiques of DeSantis power grabs and the legislature’s socially divisive session are completely lost on the electorate, at least thus far.

DeSantis seems unbeatable from where I sit inspite of his nearly criminal handing of the COVID pandemic and continued abuses of power. Voters just do not seem to really care about this and his ideology fits the biases of most Florida citizens at this point in time – the state having undergone demographic shifts in the last 6-8 years that have made it less hospitable for Democrats.

The same national Democrats that see DeSantis as vunerable also seem to be indicating Charlie Crist is a spent force and younger “more attractive” or “more electable” candidates might be in order. They might be right from a partisan and party-building perspective but would remind everyone Joe Biden was in 2019 thought of in very much the same way as Charlie Crist is now and he is of course is now in 2021, sitting in the White House.

By freddthompson – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9431014

Crist may not be the ideal Democratic nominee but he’d be the ideal Governor

Florida is badly off track. Most of the elements that made this state the most desirable place to start a business, settle down and raise a family on the planet from the 1970s to the 2000’s have now been lost. Many younger Democrats or newer officeholders I have found don’t quite grasp how great Florida once was, or how to fix it. Even if they are progressives or classic partisans who for ideological leftists like me might fit our personal preferences but I am not sure they are actually ready to govern and turn this state around – they would stop the continued damage but would they really be able to go on the offensive and fix things? Even worse, in some cases, potential candidates make me fear they may simply be Democratic versions of Governor DeSantis or President Trump.

Floridians have suffered badly from one-party Republican rule of this state. But at the same time the incompetence of the Democratic Party is why we are here, with a permanent GOP majority and the feeling among Republican elected officials they will never face the accountability of the electorate so they can do what they want. After the 2020 Election debacle in Florida, which felt like 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2016 on steroids, I vowed to put the state first instead of my flailing party – and therefore see the benefits of a Crist candidacy that I may not have advocated a year or two ago.

We need someone who has a broad perspective and statewide understanding to govern. As I get later in life, I am looking less for ideologues and more for technocrats and problem-solvers. The GOP has effectively raped, plundered and pillaged this state especially in the second Rick Scott term and under DeSantis. We need someone competent, experienced and temperamentally prepared to go on day one.

Democratic activists might be looking for something different

Since Crist last ran statewide since 2014 a lot has changed. The state has become demographically trended heavily toward the Republicans as exubran areas have grown and Florida’s urban areas (except Duval County) have not trended as quickly toward the Democrats as similar-sized counties have in other states. In fact, Charlie Crist’s home county, Pinellas is now among the most GOP-friendly counties in the country with over 800,000 residents.

So Democrats have in the period since 2014 become more identity driven and millennial influenced. It’s probable that the majority of Democratic activists want to nominate a person of color or a woman. I totally respect that. If I were still a partisan I’d be there, after all I did openly support and vote for Nan Rich in 2014 against Crist in the Democratic primary.

Eight years on my personal priority is the welfare of the state over the Democratic Party or my progressive ideology. So my view is Crist is prepared to lead immediately and will do so competently. This might be our very last chance to fix the state and I don’t want to wage an ideological or political crusade at this point- my preference is to have someone who will do the job well. Not nominating Gwen Graham for Governor was a colossal error by the Democrats in 2018 and has had far-reaching consequences for the state and beyond. I don’t want Democrats to make a similar mistake in 2022, not because I am concerned about the party, that’s not my fight anymore – it’s because I am concerned about our state.

Democratic Attacks on Crist’s history do not hold water with me as someone who has been around

I wrote two months ago about why I felt the lazy stereotypes about Crist were no longer valid. Let me repeat those arguments once again here. To remind our readers I have been around Florida politics since the 1990’s and even watched Crist in his State Senate days.

Crist first ran for the State Senate in 1986, was first elected in 1992. Since leaving the State Senate has run statewide six times and elected three times to Congress. In the 1990’s he was a conventional conservative Republican of that era but had a definitive moderate streak on environmental and education issues. But someone like him with a career of public service looks a safer pair of hands in these polarizing times. than he did when he last ran statewide in 2014.

President Biden’s model of experience was more an asset in 2020 than it was in 2008 when he was the most experienced Democrat running for President and could not even get out of the gate. People’s views of career politicians are probably different at this moment than they have been at any time in the recent past.

False claim: Charlie Crist is a non-ideological opportunist who switched parties

This media narrative is particularly amusing since Crist won THREE STATEWIDE ELECTIONS as a Republican and has lost twice statewide since leaving the GOP.

Crist is a former Wake Forest Quarterback so let’s use a college football analogy. Crist leaving the GOP as a sitting Governor and eventually joining the Democrats is like being the starting QB at Alabama and a Heisman front-runner but deciding to transfer to Vanderbilt for your Senior season (I’ll admit I don’t watch sports outside soccer anymore so this analogy of viewing Vanderbilt in a dismissive way might be dated, if it is I apologize).

What I am trying to say with my not-so-colorful metaphor is that you don’t switch from the perennial winning team to the perennial losing one without some degree of conviction being involved in the move. Charlie Crist left the GOP because he had convictions – plain and simple.

The reality is this. Crist operated as a conventional partisan from 1992 to 2001 (when he was Commissioner of Education), but began showing real signs of moderation when he was running for Attorney General. It was well known in 2002, that many GOP donors preferred either of his primary opponents. When he was Attorney General, he continued some of the more liberal investigations and ideas inherited from his predecessor, Democrat Bob Butterworth and did not in any way shape or form, march in lock-step with partisan GOP Governor, Jeb Bush.

In 2006, he ran for Governor, was attacked from the right by Tom Gallagher in the primary but was nominated and elected anyway. As Governor, he started out as a moderate, emphasizing environmental issues and taking on the insurance industry. It was only in early 2009, when he felt he needed to win a GOP Primary for US Senate in 2010 and had just hugged President Obama that he tacked right. And that as we know didn’t last long – it was phony, disingenuous and ill-fated. Ultimately Crist was terrible at faking being a Tea Party conservative and by May 2010 he had quit the GOP, following his convictions after a weak attempt to fake being a circa-2010 GOPer.

Rebuffing the DeSantis threat to Democracy

As I have written over and over, unlike Rick Scott who was clumsy in his use of power and ideological in his language, DeSantis has managed to become the heir apparent to the authoritarian Soviet-style wing of the GOP currently led by Donald Trump AND yet appear to many Floridians to be more moderate than Scott.

The recently completed legislative session and recent executive orders on COVID remind us DeSantis is unbound by conventional norms and unrestrained in his use of power. The best way I see to counter to this is to respond with someone who knows power and has used it responsibly in the past.

Democratic partisan candidates can jump up and down about DeSantis and try and make this election a personality contest. I believe those candidates will lose. I am not sure Crist will win either, but he can give a clear contrast in governing style to DeSantis and would be ready to take the wheel on day 1 to fix the state.

8 comments

  1. Tim Smyth · · Reply

    After listening to several episodes of your Florida history podcast I couldn’t help but making a comparison to what has been happening in Virginia in the past few years to what you called the “Golden Era” of Florida politics in the 1970s and early 80s. Something that stuck in my head is the Ralph Northam while at a personal level might be a very dubious politician especially in terms of his past views on race Northam is probably the most progressive governor Virginia has ever had when looking at the huge policy changes enacted by the Virginia legislature in the past few years. My own is this is particularly ironic as Crist as Dem member of Congress is probably much closer to the mainstream of the Democratic party than Ralph Northam is.

    The other comparison to Virginia I think Florida Democrats need to keep in mind is both states are actually kind of similar. Going North to South, “the South” begins roughly someplace between Washington, DC and Richmond and “ends” to some degree around the I-4 corridor or perhaps in the Treasure Coast. Yet Northern Virginia has grown a lot faster than Southeast Florida in the last 20 years(or perhaps even since Hurricane Andrew) while Southern Virginia has stagnated much more sharply than Northern Florida(look at neighboring West Virginia losing a Congressional seat). Virginia Democrats would have a lot more problems if they had someplace like The Villages sprouting about on the NC-VA line or in the Southwest corner of VA.

    Not to say their aren’t liberal patches between the Old Dominion and the Sunshine State such as Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill or even parts of Charleston and Savannah but I don’t think you have quite the same in-migration of Trump voters into Virginia that you do into Florida. However, the Virginia experience just of the last few years like the golden age of Florida in the 70s and 80s I do think shows political winds can change quite fast

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve · · Reply

    Charlie is a master of retail politics, from what I’ve seen.

    Like

  3. S W McCabe · · Reply

    This article makes a compelling argument for Charlie Crist for Governor. If I hadn’t been encouraged by the early Biden presidency, I might not feel so positive about Crist but there is no more experienced Democrat with convictions than him to run in the primary, in my opinion. I’m not a fan of Gwen Graham after her performance as my US House representative.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. S W McCabe · · Reply

    Please remove my first post as I misspelled Crist the second time I used his name in my post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes have deleted that. Thanks for the comments!

      Like

  5. CHARLES MCCARTHY · · Reply

    Charlie stood up to the Republicans when they tried to harm Florida’s teachers. I forget the details of the dastardly attempt but remember the courage he showed when he walked away from a bright future to do the right thing. He will have my vote and any support I can give.
    DeSantis siding with the insurrection is an embarrassment.

    Like

  6. […] of a wanna be reality TV or YouTube star than a serious Gubernatorial candidate. Charlie Crist, from my vantage point as a concerned Floridian is very attractive but I have no idea if he’s politically viable or not – but I am […]

    Like

  7. Joe Kreps · · Reply

    Crist is like a windmill. He will do and say anything for power. His good buddy Harry Sargeant needs more political favorites. It’s time for young energy and ideas to lead Florida out of it’s Republican morass. Nikki Fried is my choice.

    Like

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