Political Hay

The Senator From Charlie

In appointing crony George LeMieux to a Senate seat he wants for himself, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist does the Emperor Caligula one better.

By 8.31.09

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TAMPA -- In a story with perhaps more charm than truth, the Roman emperor Caligula in about 40 A.D. was said to have gotten his horse, Incitatus, appointed to the Roman Senate. Pretty dodgy political move. But then Caligula was clinically insane.

Liberal Republican Florida governor Charlie Crist isn't insane. Insanely ambitious, perhaps. And he didn't appoint his horse to the U.S. Senate last Friday. Just his horse-holder, George LeMieux.

The forty-year-old LeMieux, now a Ft. Lauderdale attorney, has never held elected office. In his only election bid he ran for a seat in the Florida Legislature in 1998 and lost. Now he'll serve out the 16 months left of the U.S. Senate term of Republican Mel Martinez, who resigned August 7. LeMieux has pledged not to seek the seat in 2010, paving the way for his former boss and benefactor, Crist, who is running for the seat.

The appointment doesn't come close to passing the smell test, and is getting the raspberry it deserves across Florida from the media and from political types for being the grossest sort of political cronyism. During a protracted, tax-paid charade, Crist crisscrossed the state interviewing a host of Floridians with far better résumés than LeMieux's before announcing Friday he would send his former campaign manager, chief of staff, confidant, and best friend to Washington. He didn't say it in his announcement, but in honesty he should have added, "to keep the seat warm for me."

LeMieux and Crist are joined at the hip (politically speaking). When Crist was elected Florida Attorney General in 2002, he appointed LeMieux his deputy. LeMieux managed Crist's successful campaign for the governorship in 2006, earning the sobriquet "maestro" for orchestrating a W for Charlie. He then served as Crist's chief of staff for Crist's first year-plus as governor.

LeMieux has since moved on to a high-powered law firm in Ft. Lauderdale, but he and Crist have remained close. Florida Republican political consultant Chris Ingram said the two men are as close to being brothers as they could be without sharing the same DNA. A St. Petersburg Times columnist referred to LeMieux as the keeper of Crist's to-do list. And they're more than just friends: the Miami Herald reports that Crist's campaign records reveal that LeMieux's law firm and its clients have ponied up almost $150,000 for Crist's campaign war-chest.

I hold no brief for any of the other possible appointments. But Crist, taking a page from the Harriet Miers playbook, chose his faithful factotum over three well-regarded former U.S. House members; a former Florida governor and drug czar under George I; a former university president; a highly regarded, long-time conservative member of the Florida Senate; and a former U.S. Attorney. It wasn't like Charlie had to call someone up from AA ball because Florida's bench was weak.

Floridians could have had an experienced and accomplished politician they were both familiar and comfortable with. Instead, Edgar Bergen chose Charlie McCarthy. Apparently after all those promises to choose the best person for Florida, the only real standard was loyalty to Charlie and his political career. Floridians have every reason to ask whether LeMieux will be representing them in Washington or representing Charlie Crist. ("Chair recognizes the gentleman from Charlie.")

Crist was blasted right away for his choice both by Democrats and by conservative former Florida Speaker of the House Marco Rubio, who's running against Crist for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat. Florida editorial writers viewed the sorry business with alarm.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman said LeMieux's "only qualification is being Charlie Crist's crony." Rubio was humming the same tune, saying, "George LeMieux is a talented political operative and the governor's best friend, but that doesn't make him the right choice to represent Florida."

Ad hominem stuff aside, what kind of a senator is LeMieux likely to be? Hard to tell, as so few Floridians know anything about him. Locals are asking, LeWho? Those who don't complain of Crist's pick say LeMieux is a capable guy and will vote consistently with Charlie Crist's political philosophy. The only problem with this is that no one can say with any assurance what Charlie Crist's political philosophy is beyond keeping himself in office.

Crist likes to occasionally brag about holding the line on taxes in Florida. But at the same time he's supported President Obama's $787 billion "stimulus" orgy, going so far as to appear on stage with Obama in Florida while Obama was whooping the stimulus up. He's called for a state carbon cap and trade program to save Florida from global warming, which he's called "one of the most important issues that we will face this century." He's asked the Florida Legislature to oblige Florida utilities to produce 20 percent of their power with boutique, "renewable" fuels that exist in only small amounts and cost a packet. He's asked that expensive California auto fuel standards be imposed on Florida.

Florida media like to refer to Crist as a moderate. But if support for the elephantine government programs described above doesn't make a guy a liberal, what on earth does?

All these needless enviro-phantasms, if enacted, would cost Floridians a large multiple of any amount they may have been saving from Charlie holding the line on taxes, which Florida's conservative legislature is doing anyway without any help from Charlie. So it's difficult for conservatives to take any comfort when LeMieux says he will pursue "Charlie Crist-type Solutions" in Washington. (For Charlie, Charlie Crist is the solution -- it's just one of the things he has in common with Obama.) LeMieux has said he's concerned about the federal deficit, but supporting cap and trade is about the best way to super-size a deficit already on steroids.

So we don't know what this guy will be like in Washington, though there's reason for dreadful surmise. The only upside to this pathetic peccadillo is that this ham-handed, transparently self-interested appointment may well hurt Crist's chances of winning the Republican nomination and becoming the U.S. Senate's newest RINO.

When Martinez resigned, Crist promised that he would not appoint himself to the open seat. Crist kept that promise. But just barely.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.