Gov. Charlie Crist (R)
Elected: 2006, term expires Jan. 2011, 1st term.
Born: July 24, 1956, Altoona, PA .
Home: St. Petersburg.
Education: Attended Wake Forest U., FL St. U., B.A. 1978, Samford U. Cumberland Schl. of Law, J.D. 1981.
Family: Married (Carole).
Elected office: FL Senate, 1992-98; FL commissioner of educ., 2000-02; FL atty. gen., 2002-06.
Professional Career: Gen. counsel, Minor League Baseball, 1982-88; Practicing atty., 1988-89; State dir., U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, 1989-91; Dep. sec., FL Dept. of Bus. and Prof. Regulation, 1998-2000.
Republican Charlie Crist was elected governor of Florida in 2006. He was born in Altoona, Pa., where his grandfather, a Greek immigrant from Cyprus who arrived in America in 1912, ran a shoe-shine parlor. He moved to Atlanta before his first birthday, when his father, who shortened the family name from Christodoulos to Crist, was accepted to medical school at Emory University. In 1960, the Crists settled in sleepy St. Petersburg. A nearby Greek community and a rising population of retirees made the location a nice fit for a young doctor hoping to build a practice. By the time Charlie was 10, he was campaigning for his father, who was seeking—and won—a seat on the Pinellas County School Board. In high school, he was the starting football quarterback and class president. He was a walk-on player at Wake Forest University, where he studied for two years. He transferred after his sophomore year to Florida State, where he was student body vice president and homecoming king before graduating in 1978. He earned his law degree at Cumberland School of Law in Alabama in 1982 and then worked as general counsel for the minor-league division of Major League Baseball.
|Charlie Crist (R)||2,519,845||(52%)|
|Jim Davis (D)||2,178,289||(45%)|
|Charlie Crist (R)||630,816||(64%)|
|Tom Gallagher (R)||330,165||(33%)|
Crist’s first run for the state Senate in 1986 was unsuccessful. Afterward, he served a stint as state director for U.S. GOP Sen. Connie Mack; he again ran for the state Senate, and this time he won. In the Legislature, he acquired the nickname “Chain Gang Charlie” for taking tough stances on crime. Over the years, he also gained a reputation as an ambitious, media-savvy pol, always sporting a healthy tan and blessed with retail campaigning skills. He has been on the statewide ballot in four of five elections between 1998 and 2006. In 1998, he challenged Democratic Sen. Bob Graham but lost 62%-38%. Two years later, he was elected state education commissioner by a vote of 54%-44%. And in 2002, he won the race for Florida attorney general 53%-47%. Four years later, Crist was elected governor 52%-45%.
As attorney general, Crist surprised some with his attention to civil-rights issues, including landmark civil-rights legislation that Florida enacted in 2003. The legislation enabled the attorney general’s office to go after businesses that engage in a pattern or practice of discrimination based on race, sex, or disability. In 2004, he reopened the murder probe into the deaths of Harry and Harriette Moore, Florida civil-rights pioneers killed when their home was bombed in 1951. At a 2006 press conference, Crist declared that four Ku Klux Klansmen (all deceased by that time) had been responsible, although some scholars have raised questions about the findings.
In 2006, with GOP Gov. Jeb Bush term-limited and ineligible to run for re-election, the battle for the Republican nomination was between Crist and Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer. A former state legislator from Miami, Gallagher was making his fourth try for governor. He had dropped out of the 1982 race, and lost in the 1986 and 1994 primaries. He positioned himself as a social conservative and referred to Crist as a liberal. Gallagher supported adding a gay marriage ban to the state constitution and opposed gay adoption. Crist highlighted his school-reform work as education commissioner and his accomplishments as attorney general, and said gay marriage and adoption are “not a major focus in my campaign.” He took another position that did not endear him to religious conservatives, saying he disagreed with President Bush’s veto of a bill to expand funding for embryonic-stem-cell research. The contest turned highly negative. When documents from Gallagher’s 1979 divorce were leaked to a newspaper, he was forced to admit he had used drugs and committed adultery in the 1970s. Other records leaked to the press revealed that Crist was the subject of an 18-year-old paternity suit. He had denied the claim and had relinquished any parental rights to the child, who had been put up for adoption. The results were not close. Crist won the primary 64%-33%, carrying all but a handful of small counties, mainly in the Panhandle.
The Democratic nominee for governor was Tampa-area Rep. Jim Davis, who started with little statewide name recognition. Crist ran as a fiscal conservative and portrayed Davis as a liberal, “do-nothing congressman” who raised taxes. He pointed out that Davis had attended private schools, contrasting that background with his own and describing himself as a “proud product of Florida’s public school system.” He also called for doubling homestead tax exemptions. Davis promised $1 billion in property-tax relief and increased salaries for teachers. He criticized Crist’s record as attorney general by highlighting Florida’s rising murder rate and sought to tie Crist to by-then-unpopular President Bush. Crist outspent Davis $20 million to $7 million and won 52%-45%. It was the fourth time in the last six elections that a Republican had won the Florida governorship. He carried 59 of 67 counties, winning by large margins in the western Panhandle and in the Jacksonville area and carrying central Florida and the I-4 corridor. He lost the Gold Coast (Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties) 59%-40%, the University of Florida’s Alachua County, and four counties around Tallahassee. He won 59%-38% among white voters, ran evenly with Latino voters (70%-29% among Cubans; 33%-66% among other Hispanic groups), and got the votes of 18% of blacks, an unusually high figure for a Republican.
Crist brought to the governorship a folksy style and a bipartisan perspective that contrasted with the more cerebral and ideological approach of predecessor Jeb Bush. The first issue he tackled was insurance. Seven hurricanes had slammed Florida in 2004 and 2005, and property-insurance rates had skyrocketed. Crist denounced insurance companies for being stingy about paying claims and expanded the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance until it became the largest wind insurer in Florida. In a special session of the Legislature, he won approval of a bill that made the state the insurer of last resort in natural disasters. Rates did not immediately come down as much as he had predicted, and conservatives charged that a major hurricane could bankrupt the state, but the plan was widely popular.
Fiscally, Crist proved to be as conservative as Jeb Bush had been. He used the line-item veto to cut $459 million from the $70 billion state budget in 2007. He sought no tax increases and froze state salaries. In January 2008, as revenues dropped, he proposed a budget $869 million below the previous year’s, taking $1 billion out of the rainy day fund. He cut property taxes, an idea that Florida voters approved 64%-36% in early 2008. In early 2009, Crist used the line-item veto to restore some of the Legislature’s budget cuts, including funds for his own version of teacher merit pay and his land-preservation fund. He enthusiastically supported the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus bill and proposed using $12 billion in stimulus money for education, transportation projects, and economic development.
Crist’s policies appealed to liberals as well as conservatives. He kept a 2006 campaign promise by pushing through a law restoring voting rights to released felons. “I believe in forgiveness and atonement,” he told the National Review. He sought to reduce automotive emissions by 22% by 2012, and he made a $68 million commitment to combating global warming. He replaced Florida’s touch-screen voting machines with devices that provided a paper trail. He appointed a moderate as well as two conservatives to the state Supreme Court. In June 2008, he announced a plan to buy out U.S. Sugar Corp. for $1.75 billion and use its lands to accelerate restoration of the Everglades. The plan was to allow waters from Lake Okeechobee to flow directly over the land into the Everglades. Negotiations continued for months, and it was approved by the South Florida Water Management District, but the plan was significantly scaled back in April 2009, with the state slated to buy 72,500 acres for $533 million and getting a 10-year option to purchase the remaining land.
On cultural issues, Crist struck a moderate course as well. Once “pro-choice” on abortion, by 2008 he was “pro-life,” though he did not favor overturning the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. He supported civil unions but backed the November 2008 state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The issue is “not top-tier for me,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. The ban passed 62%-38%.
Crist made frequent appearances throughout the state, visiting small businesses and unemployment offices, exuding optimism even as Florida’s economy worsened. “Somebody has to say we’re going to get out of this, that there is a future and it’s going to be OK,” he told the Miami Herald. He consulted frequently with Democratic legislators as well as Republicans, even though his own party had large majorities in the Legislature. He also played a role in presidential politics. Three days before Florida’s presidential primary, he appeared at an event with Republican Sen. John McCain and, to everyone’s surprise, including McCain’s, endorsed the Arizonan. It certainly helped, and may have made the difference, in McCain’s 36%-31% victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the primary. Crist continued to support McCain vigorously and downplayed talk that McCain would choose him for vice president.
Crist’s job ratings have been extraordinarily high. Republicans don’t rate him as positively as they did Jeb Bush, but majorities of independents and Democrats regularly indicate their approval. After GOP Sen. Mel Martinez announced he would not seek re-election in 2010, Crist said in early 2009 that he would seek the Republican nomination for the Senate. He was immediately endorsed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee over former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is considered more conservative than Crist.