Cameras Don't Lie: Charlie's Consuming Washington Itch
Around the State
Who knows how long Charlie Crist the Republican hankered to hobnob with the most powerful politicians in Washington.
Five years? Ten years? Since he was a kid?
The thing about Charlie's ambitions is, he never let the demands of his current job get in their way. As soon as voters gave him one job, he was hugging up some celebrity politician for a bigger one.
Democrats -- in fact, all Florida voters in 2014 -- might want to remember that. This is a leopard who changes his positions but never his spots.
Look at just his performance as governor. As soon as Charlie got a whiff of what 2008 presidential candidate John McCain was selling -- a shot at the vice presidency -- he didn't want to live in the governor's mansion anymore. He became the highest paid hooky player in Tallahassee, hung out with presidential campaign teams, attended swanky, private parties out of state. And when that didn't work out, he got busy running for U.S. Senate.
In essence, Charlie abdicated long before his term ended.
In 2006, in his first gubernatorial campaign, Charlie promised Floridians: “I’ll work for you every day.” He even ran an ad using an empty chair to symbolize missed votes in Congress by his Democratic opponent, Jim Davis. You know what happened after that, right? Charlie was sworn into office Jan. 2. Three days later he took the day off. After that, he took another 123 days off and worked 238 half (or less) days (excluding weekends), which is equal to an additional 164 days off.
Some folks in Tallahassee still remember his nickname in 2007 and after. It wasn't "Chain Gang Charlie" anymore. It was "Empty Chair Charlie."
Had his term as governor been in good times, his schedule might not have drawn scrutiny. But 2007-2010 especially was not good times for Florida.
Said the Fort Lauderdale newspaper, "Crist, who is paid $132,932 a year, is presiding over a historic collapse of the state's housing market, banking sector and construction industry, and a slowdown in tourism. Lawmakers in Tallahassee are wrestling with a $6 billion budget gap and possible funding cuts for police, schools, health care and the poor."
By June 2009 Charlie had decided to run for U.S. Senate. From this point, fuzzy as his eye on the ball was in those early days as governor, his eyesight worsened the further into the Senate campaign he got.
But, back to 2008: Before the November presidential election Charlie took time out of his work schedule to campaign for John McCain, appearing at rallies, raising money for him in Texas and California, and visiting the GOP candidate at his ranch in Sedona, Ariz.
"He was with him so many times I thought he was an adopted member of the family," Mitch Ceasar, 2009 Democratic chairman of Broward County, told the Sun-Sentinel.
Charlie loved the attention of Big Party Republicans. All of them. Loved having his picture taken with them, loved putting the photos in frames. He was famous for making promises he couldn't keep to federal-office seekers, perhaps because hoping to win the support of the governor of Florida, they all stroked his ego and he couldn't say no.
He angered the Giuliani campaign in the 2008 presidential election by leading it to believe he would endorse the former mayor; instead, he backed McCain. In his book "The Party's Over," he explains this episode by writing that he liked McCain because, while “extremism seemed to be rising inside the party, John was the voice of reason to me,” including on the “red-meat social issues.” Never mind that it makes no sense, that McCain was strongly pro-life and very much against gay marriage. On the other hand, Charlie has changed his mind so often on abortion maybe he's just confused.
It explains a lot about Charlie's ambition that in his after-the-fact book he describes serious misgivings about McCain's vice presidential choice, Sarah Palin. Yet he never expressed them at the time, he kept mum, escorted Palin around Florida like a Dutch uncle. In fact, in one CNN interview he intimated that with Palin's executive experience in Alaska, she was more qualified to be president than Barack Obama.
There are photos of Crist with his heroes all over the Internet. Had "selfies" been invented in 2007, Charlie would have had himself a hobby, I'm convinced of it. This is a man who needs to hug the next rung and photograph it. Remember, in 2007 it only took him six months after he was inaugurated to set his sights on Washington, D.C.
I just don't want you to think that because he's turned Democrat, he's somehow lost his seven-year itch for the Beltway high-life.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.