Campaign Crawlers

Charlie Drills for Votes

An oily hustle from an oily hustler.

By 7.19.10

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Serious subjects -- energy for Florida's and America's future, national security, and protection of Florida's shorelines -- will stand little chance this week in Tallahassee against a profoundly unserious matter, the continuation of Governor Charlie Crist's (I-Charlie) political career.

Crist, Florida's former RINO governor who made the obvious official in April when he left the Republican Party to run for a U.S. Senate seat as an independent, last week ordered up a special session of the Florida Legislature to begin Tuesday to consider a constitutional amendment banning near-shore oil drilling in Florida waters.

The ban, which there's serious doubt the heavily Republican Florida Legislature will vote to put on the November ballot, would be redundant. Florida law has banned drilling in Florida waters within 10 miles of the coast since 1990. In any case, had the ban Crist is calling for been in place in April it would not have prevented the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, which took place far from shore in federal waters.

The only purpose of the expensive session and the pointless amendment would be to make it appear that Crist, who has visited every beach in the state to appear concerned before television cameras but beyond this has exercised no leadership in the current Gulf oil crisis, appear to be doing something to protect Florida (read Florida voters).

Crist has put no pressure on the federals to mobilize more skimmers or other equipment to protect the beaches and littorals he claims to care about. In fact, he's the only Gulf governor to describe the Obama administration's flaccid response to the oil spill as "a good job." He's recommended no economic policies to assist Floridians damaged by the spill. His only response to BP's Deepwater Horizon spill has been a near continuous photo-op. The special session promises to be more of the same. At least one Republican Florida legislator has filed a resolution to censure Crist for calling the useless session.    

The call came a day after a poll (Rasmussen) showed Crist trailing conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio by two points in the Senate contest. Those of you who think this sequence is a coincidence really need to get out more. (Crist leads Rubio by a few points in other polls.)  Florida Republican legislative leaders have called Crist's move a political stunt and may well adjourn shortly after the session begins without taking any action.      

Florida legislative leaders as well as a fair fraction of Florida's print and broadcast media have gigged Crist for this transparent grandstanding. For most politicians it would be easy to predict that a ham-handed move of this sort would do them more damage than good. But the mercurial Crist, who has flip-flopped on so many issues (including drilling in the Gulf) he makes John Kerry seem a study in consistency by comparison, has gotten away with countless cynical political acts in a long and achievement-free career.  

Crist doubtless hopes that this scam is one in which he wins either way. If legislators adopt his pointless and inappropriate amendment (state constitutions should be broad, general frameworks for government, not a hodge-podge of rules on specific matters that should be dealt with as legislation), then they've followed Crist's leadership. If they reject it they are in the pocket of Big Oil and don't care about Florida's environment.

Indications are most Floridians are smarter than this. While Crist doubtless owns no BP stock, he's making every effort to collect political dividends from BP's spill. As Rahm Emanuel has taught the political opportunists of the world, among whose number close political observers have long numbered Charlie Crist, one should never let a crisis go to waste.

Politically, the BP spill is probably the luckiest thing to happen to Crist this year. In the absence of it his final lame-duck months as governor would be pointless and media-free. He would have had to spend a lot of campaign cash to get his face on the tube. As it is he's on television every day, looking concerned, and telling Floridians how much he loves them and how he's determined to save them from an evil, polluting oil industry.

For now the cap on BP's offending wellhead is holding and no more oil is gushing into the Gulf for the first time in 12 weeks. No one has yet found a way to cap Charlie Crist's ambition, cynicism, and opportunism. It continues to pollute Florida politics, and takes attention away from real challenges Florida government should be trying to deal with. Like how to clean up all that oil and how to ensure that Floridians who've been damaged by this disaster are helped. 

While the photo-ops were going on, Crist managed to collect $1.8 million in campaign contributions for the quarter ending June 30, mostly from Democrats who hold out little hope for the two sad-sack candidates competing for that party's Senate nomination. This is more than the $1.1 million Crist collected in Q1, his last quarter masquerading as a Republican. But it's way less than half of the record-setting $4.5 million that Marco Rubio, campaigning on a consistently conservative platform, pulled in during Q2, mostly in small amounts from individuals. 

Considering Rubio's grass-roots support, as demonstrated by his campaign haul, it's no wonder Crist worries about how long his slender lead in this race will last. He's counting on this week to help his cause. He may be disappointed. He should be.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.