TAMPA -- Thanks to two events yesterday, the question of whether Florida's RINO governor Charlie Crist will run for the U.S. Senate as an independent has gone from a long-running and mildly-diverting speculation to a likelihood.
The exercise was always pointless. Crist already is an independent, regardless of where he appears on the ballot. He has about as much chance of defeating conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary in August as I have of being selected Miss America. All polls show him way behind Rubio. The most recent Rasmussen has him losing to Rubio by slightly more than two to one.
Crist put an exclamation point to his lonesome end position Thursday when he vetoed a bill passed by the heavily-Republican Florida Legislature that would have eliminated tenure for new public school teachers in Florida, based teacher pay on student performance rather than on seniority and number of degrees in education attained, and made it easier to fire incompetent teachers. (See RiShawn Biddle's fine analysis of the bill in Wednesday's TAS….)
Most of the Florida Republican leadership and the business community backed the bill, which they saw as a serious attempt to achieve some accountability in public education in Florida, a $20+ billion industry that is far better at providing jobs and security for teachers and bureaucrats, as well as dues for teachers unions, than in teaching Florida's children to read and write. It's a costly, underperforming, and over-staffed system that badly needs to be shaken up. This bill could have been a start in that direction.
Florida's Democratic leadership, teachers, and teachers union officials had a hissy-fit about the bill, as they always do when attempts are made to pay teachers for performance or to get rid of incompetent ones. Thousands of Miami-Dade County teachers took the day off Monday to protest the bill. Students across South Florida walked out of class to show solidarity with their teachers (and to miss whatever work was on hand for the day). Democratic candidates hammed it up.
As has become his pattern, Crist went with the Democrats, and with where he thought (rightly or wrongly) the votes are.
It's not hard to follow Crist's calculation on this one. Before finally taking the veto decision -- about which he had been dithering for weeks, milking the last ounce of free publicity from the issue -- Crist had no doubt already read a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday showing that in a three-way Senate race, with Crist running as in independent, he leads with 32 percent over Rubio's 30 percent and 24 percent for the likely Democratic nominee, Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek. With this as his only chance for political life after August 24, Crist no longer has to even try to keep the Florida Republican Party happy, or to stay in the fold.
I know, I know, Crist has said countless times that he would stay in the race as a Republican. But Crist has never let the fact that he's said he would do one thing stop him from doing something else if he thought it would benefit his undistinguished, opportunistic, and ideologically androgynous political career. It's more than passing odd that a man who has held four elected positions as a Republican, three of them state-wide offices, should now consider running as an outsider. But Crist has been more than a passing odd Republican.
There's every reason to be skeptical of the new Quinnipiac results. Other polls show Crist coming in last in the three-way race and Rubio first. But it's something for Crist to clutch at after seeing his huge lead over Rubio disappear and then turn into an embarrassing deficit.
Regardless of what the Quinnipiac numbers show today, it seems likely Crist will not have the goods either side of the political spectrum will be looking for in a U. S. Senator in November. Florida Republican primary voters this year are looking for a real conservative. A majority think they have found one in Rubio. And Democrats will go for the real liberal deal this November, which is Meek, an off-the-rack lefty who has voted the straight Obama line.
Charlie-watchers have no trouble understanding why Crist finds himself without a political team that really wants him. By his own actions Crist has destroyed his credibility as a Republican and a conservative, and there's probably no way to reclaim it now.
Though Crist occasionally trots out some conservative rhetoric on the stump, Florida Republicans have noticed he has not actually done anything conservative within easy memory. Au the contraire. Since becoming governor in 2007 Crist has whooped up expensive environmental schemes to require Florida utilities to generate power using "renewable" fuels, urged that Florida adopt California's expensive auto fuel standards, and actually issued an executive order establishing a carbon cap and trade system in Florida to save us from global warming. Fortunately, the Florida Legislature put an end to this fool's errand. All of these measures would have driven the cost of living up and expanded government.
Most famously, Crist incurred the wrath of Florida conservatives by supporting President Obama's $787 billion "stimulus" slush fund before it was adopted, undercutting the efforts of other Republicans attempting to take on our economic woes with tax cuts and less federal spending. Jeb Bush, Crist's predecessor as governor and still popular, called Crist's apostasy on this item of conservative faith "unforgivable."
There's more. Crist last year appointed a liberal judge to the Florida Supreme Court. In the spending area he's not learned his lesson. He's put faith in such big-spending boondoggles as high-speed rail, one of the most expensive way to travel on a per passenger mile basis, to produce jobs and prosperity in Florida. He's chased after billions in federal education grants to study new ways to teach Florida's students, who learned more under the old ways. Clearly Crist has no clue what the concept of limited government means.
With the Florida Legislature looking for $3 billion to balance the state's budget this year, Crist sent a DOA proposed budget to the Florida Legislature calling for hundreds of millions in new spending for K-12 education, universities, and environmental projects. Crist's budget was rejected with the horse laugh it deserved, and Republican legislators will have the pleasure of explaining to Floridians looking forward to the new boodle Crist proposed that the money isn't there, as Crist knew it wasn't when he put together his sham budget.
Some Conservative. Some Republican. Crist's 2010 campaign claims to be a true conservative have about them the ring of Joe Biden's 1988 campaign claims to be a former coal miner. Biden at least had the grace to step out of the race in '88 when his fantasy was caught out. Crist should do the same this year but almost certainly won't. If he bowed out now and supported Rubio against Meek he might have a slim chance of saving his political career, of being able to run for another office another year.
It appears now that Crist is going bare and hoping there will be a big market for the mushy middle this year in Florida so a cuddly but unfocused guy like himself can succeed as a party of one. But listening to the loud and polarized political discourse this year, it seems more likely that in November the only thing to be found in the middle of the road in Florida will be yellow-lines, dead armadillos, and Charlie Crist.
If Crist decides to run as an independent he will have to declare himself by the April 30 filing deadline. None of your two chances at grabbing the ring such as Joe Lieberman enjoyed in Connecticut in 2006. It will be interesting to see what strategy Crist adopts if he finds himself in a three-way.
Voters viewing the several series of Crist ads that have hit Florida's small screens can have no idea what Charlie Crist would like to accomplish as a U.S. Senator and how he plans to do it, because there's nothing about this in these ads. The ads so far have all been part of a scorched-earth, negative campaign based on an attempt to convince Florida voters, with insinuation rather than evidence, that Rubio is a villain who is enriching himself through public office. Even liberal newspapers with no love for Rubio (or any other conservative) have said Crist has gone over the top in his charges against Rubio.
If Crist now has to start running against Meek as well as Rubio, will he go after Meek's ankles with as much gusto as he's gone after Rubio? And on the basis of what? Will we soon be hearing dark suggestions that Kendrick Meek was on the grassy knoll that day in Dallas?
Stay tuned. This one will be a doozy, whatever team, or no team, Charlie Crist decides to be on.
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