10-20-Life and Charlie
Around the State
Nan Rich won one Thursday. She didn't even have to be in the Biltmore Hotel's Granada Room. She didn't have to touch a microphone. She won because Charlie Crist addressed the Florida media brain trust unobstructed. In all his egotistical glory. His only opposition -- his only enemy -- was himself.
What a rude awakening Crist must have given many in the room, even the ones who scribbled the editorial endorsements they gave him in 2006. Even the ones who will never admit it publicly.
That's what I found the most telling moment of the day: When panelist Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press mentioned the Ronald Williams case to him, Crist -- former attorney general of Florida -- had never heard of it.
Ronald Williams, 26 at the time of the crime in 2010, was sentenced to 80 years in prison for firing a gun in the air to stop four gay men from "whistling and ogling" him from a neighbor’s Riviera Beach home. Nobody was injured. The sentence was based on the 10-20-Life law, enacted in 1999. He was convicted of four aggravated assault charges, each carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, and the terms are running consecutively.
The case was heard in the Florida Supreme Court in June. Big news six weeks ago. Williams' attorney believes the four terms should run concurrently, giving his client a 20-year sentence. If the ruling goes against Williams, he likely will die in prison. Does the law need changing, was the question.
Well, OK, Crist can't know everything about every issue at play in the state. But here's a man who once held the highest law enforcement office in Florida. Not only that, Crist made his bones on tough-on-crime measures, on muscling up criminal law and punishment in this state. Bills he pushed for in the Senate in the 1990s were precursors of the 10-20-Life law. They were its inspiration.
Wouldn't those things alone make him curious enough to follow the consequences of such a controversial law? Especially now, as a Democrat?
After Farrington explained the case, Crist knitted his eyebrows. He was sympathetic and somber. “Just from the facts you’ve presented to me, it doesn’t sound fair and it doesn’t sound equitable,” he told the AP Tallahassee correspondent.
Now it's 10-20-Life, another ghost from his conservative past Crist must expel. No wonder he doesn't follow such criminal cases in the news.
In his March 4, 2008, State of the State address, then-Gov. Crist said this:
"In the Preamble to the Constitution, one of the primary roles of government is defined as ensuring domestic tranquility, which means keeping our people safe. We are fulfilling this responsibility with tougher laws and increased enforcement along with crime prevention strategies within the criminal justice system. Effective legislation such as Stop Turning Out Prisoners and 10-20-Life is making an impact on the crime rate, while the Anti-Murder Act will prevent future tragedies. And we must also work together to address crime in our state, including gang activity."
It's obvious, isn't it? It's getting increasingly difficult for Crist to pull off this steady stream of policy switcheroos. Yes, he's a good politician, but he's not a deep thinker. The longer he goes on, the more often he'll be caught like a deer in headlights. Unable to ad-lib his way out of now-fractured positions he once claimed to be proud of.
It's been said before: Charlie Crist didn't just change parties. Many politicians have changed parties over the years including Ronald Reagan, who once was a Democrat, and Hillary Clinton, who volunteered for Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign.
But Crist wasn't exactly an Arlen Specter or Lincoln Chaffee Republican-to-Democrat switcher. Both those men had big-government, anti-gun, pro-choice beliefs that always aligned with the opposing party long before their switches. And while their switches were equally political, little changed in their ideology.
For Crist, everything changed. Abortion, marriage rights, vouchers, gun laws, Obamacare and, yes, criminal justice.
How he's going to keep pulling it all off with that conveniently bad memory of his and keep looking like governor material this second time around is beyond me.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.