Political Hay

Adios, Charlie

Lameduck Crist slams the Door on his political future.

By 12.10.10

The Charlie Crist era in Florida politics is stumbling to an end. And it's a pretty pathetic business. As his governorship has been and his political prospects are.

After losing a bizarre race for U.S. Senate in which Governor Crist abandoned the Republican Party to run as an independent, changed most of his positions on issues by 180-degrees, and enlisted a former Democratic President and serial groper to try to bully the Democratic Senate candidate into dropping out of the race, Crist gave a gracious concession speech where he promised to work hard for Florida's interests in the final two months of his term as governor.

Well, maybe not so hard. In his final cabinet meeting Tuesday, Crist and Florida's governing board approved a biomass energy plant to be constructed near Gainesville and honored a Labrador retriever named Ace on his retirement from the state fire marshal's office after a long and distinguished career sniffing out accelerants.

The biomass plant, like most boutique energy sources that environmentalists fancy, will almost certainly produce a trifling amount of energy at a very high price. But since he's been governor, Crist has catered to the organic tote-bag crowd and their quirky policies. At least our outgoing governor and associates did right by Ace, whose government service benefited the people of Florida more than Charlie's did.

Fortunately, Florida voters this year (after a lapse in 2008) were as good at sniffing out humbugs as Ace is at nailing accelerants. Fewer than 30 percent of Floridians voted to send the ideologically ambidextrous Crist to the U.S. Senate, opting by a wide margin for principled conservative Republican Marco Rubio. When Crist hands the keys of the governor's mansion over to Naples businessman and Republican Rick Scott on January 4, Crist's political career is over for the time being, very likely over for good.

Crist's final days as governor have not just been aimless, as much of his four-year term has been, but downright goofy as well. While doing less than nothing to help breath life into Florida's flaccid economy -- he called President Obama's reinstituting of his job-killing ban on offshore oil drilling "wonderful news" -- Crist's final days in office have taken on a quixotic tone. Crist has devoted a good deal of post-Nov. 2 time to agitating for a pardon for the late rocker Jim Morrison of the Doors who was convicted in 1969 of indecent exposure and profanity at a Miami concert in March of that year. This is the same Morrison, who while appealing his misdemeanor convictions and six-month sentence, died in a bathtub in Paris (France, not Texas) in 1971. 

The 1969 jury agreed that Morrison had shown the crowd, to use a contemporary term, his junk, at the concert (it is nowhere recorded what this rated on the applause meter). Crist says he doesn't think it happened that way, but doesn't say why his take, 41 years out, is superior to that of the 1969 jury's, or why the chief executive officer of  the nation's fourth largest state, which is struggling with all manner of real problems, should be frittering his time away on such a trifle.

Not even the ACLU is impressed with Crist's posthumous compassion. They say there are plenty of live, non-violent ex-cons who would like their civil rights restored. But then dealing with hum-drum, every day criminals doesn't get the national spotlight like running interference for a high-profile rocker.

Crist got his way Thursday when he and the three Florida cabinet members, sitting as the state clemency board, voted unanimously to erase this blot on Morrison's memory. The other blots that Morrison's outrageous behavior earned him are still operative.

None of this nonsense augers well for a return to public office for Crist. He made a complete and noisy break with the Republican Party last spring after it became obvious he had no chance against Rubio in the Republican primary. Republicans don't want him back. Former Republican Governor Jeb Bush was blunt when he was recently asked on Newsmax TV if Crist has any future as a Republican. "No. The answer is absolutely not," the still popular ex-governor said. "He rejected our philosophy, he abandoned the party, he's not welcome back." No ambiguity here.

While most Florida Republicans would rather short-sheet Charlie than welcome him back into their party, Democrats have no reason to trust him. Any politician who can change positions on major issues in the manner Crist did -- he just didn't fine-tune his positions, he totally reversed them -- can change them back again when it is in his political interest to do so. Other politicians and voters have about as much reason to trust Charlie Crist to hold firm on anything as Charlie Brown has to trust Lucy to hold the football while he tries to kick it.

So with neither political party having a reason to welcome Crist into its ranks, and with Charlie now aware how difficult it is to run as an independent, it may be time for him to re-acquaint himself with the private sector. Not that his pre-political résumé as a lawyer was impressive. And he's been a totally political animal since 1994.

Last summer and fall, as Crist sank in the polls, people who knew I was writing about the race asked me what I thought Charlie would do after he lost the Senate election and was no longer governor. Jokingly, I said I thought John Morgan would keep him as a pet. The joke may come true. News accounts say that attorney Morgan, of the large, state-wide personal injury law firm Morgan and Morgan, is talking with Crist about Crist affiliating with the firm.

Maybe Crist will, though it's hard to imagine how Crist could benefit a PI firm. Other kinds of firms might have use for a former governor as a rain-maker. But it's hard to see Charlie scaring up potential whip-lash candidates. And he probably doesn't remember how to try a case, or perhaps even how to file a suit. Morgan was a Crist contributor, supporter, and friend, so maybe there's nothing more than friendship at work here.

Barring a soft-landing at Morgan and Morgan, there's always a chance that Crist's bride, Carole, will put him to work at her family's novelty company. I understand there's an opening for vice-president for whoopee cushions.

So we take notice today of just two careers that are winding down in the Sunshine State. And I'm sure TAS readers join me in wishing Ace a long and happy retirement.          

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.