Charlie Crist's Policies Failed Minorities -- the Voters He Now Chases
Around the State
Charlie Crist, aka “Chain Gang Charlie,” is running as a born-again Democrat against his former party and as a civil-rights champion. But how can a man who pushed for far-right conservatism suddenly turn on his long-held principles and move in a completely opposite direction?
Civil rights and social justice, the swan song of the present Crist campaign, were not exactly a priority in his past political life. For more than 20 years, Crist has been dedicated to the actualization of highly conservative principles: from his strict incarceration policies for nonviolent, minority offenders to his endorsement of private prisons, staunch pro-life idealism, support of the No Child Left Behind Act, and anti-gay marriage and adoption stances.
So, how does his wishy-washiness bode for minorities, the voters he now chases? Though Crist’s campaign cites his legislation that restored voting rights for nonviolent offenders (post-sentence) during his last year in the governor’s mansion as the epitome of civil-rights achievement, his 20-year voting record and campaign-finance contributions sing a song more reminiscent of the “Jim Crow Blues” than “Let My People Go."
Formerly known as “Chain Gang Charlie” because of his policy that reinstated the use of chain gangs and his harsh mandates requiring all prisoners to serve a minimum of 85 percent of their sentences even if the crime was nonviolent, he now touts himself as a leader in social justice and civil rights on his campaign website. Yet, in a Congressional 1998 National Political Awareness Test, Crist advocated to prosecute youths accused of any felony as adults, practically forcing the private and state prisons to raise these overwhelmingly minority boys and girls without the hope of full rehabilitation.
As a Republican in the Florida Senate for six years (1992-1998), Crist served as chairman of the Appropriations Criminal Justice Subcommittee. His programs and policies paved the way for the financing and expansion of privatized prisons in Florida. Crist sponsored the Stop Turning Out Prisoners (STOP) bill requiring prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentences, unnecessarily extending the required time of imprisonment for nonviolent offenders by more than 50 percent at huge taxpayer expense.
Crist’s efforts to imprison more minority Floridians and enrich the private-prison system didn’t stop with his time in the Florida Senate. During his time as attorney general (2002-2006), and then as governor (2006-2010), Florida experienced some of the greatest spikes in incarcerations in the entire nation and the impact on minorities has been profound.
Budgetary appropriations for prisons continued to rise during Crist’s tenure, as did the profitability of his private prison cohorts GEO Group and CCA. The cost to Florida taxpayers was huge, and according to the Florida Department of Corrections’ Bureau of Research and Statistics Annual Report Budget Summary, expenditures for inmates in 2009 had more than doubled within six years, during which Crist was directly involved in appropriations, budgets, enforcement, and appointments of corrections executives.
According to a 2009 study on minority imprisonment by theSentencingProject.org, “The use of imprisonment in Florida has been felt disproportionately in communities of color. African-Americans comprise 15.3 percent of the state’s population, but 49.8 percent of persons in prison.”
During Crist’s leadership, Latinos faced the same dilemma; the numbers of both minority populations in the prison system were disproportionate to their actual presence in the state population and remain so today.
During his time as education commissioner (2000-2002), Crist advocated heavily for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), a program that has not only pressurized the state's public education system, but has sanctioned the schools in lower-income areas for failing to force demographically disadvantaged and special needs children to test at the Adequate Yearly Progress Rates (AYP), which are often in direct conflict with the already enacted state mandates. Crist's new party has persistently pointed out that collateral damage in the battle between federal and state testing and funding requirements are inevitably the children, and there has yet to be any proof that NCLB has been effective in anything more than teaching minority kids to bubble in an answer under pressure and implementing harsh school funding cuts in lower income areas.
An entire generation of young minorities has been incarcerated and undereducated at the hands of “Chain Gang Charlie." The young minority prisoners, institutionalized and unable to reassimilate into society after years of serving lengthy sentences for (oftentimes) minor nonviolent offenses, are overwhelmingly of African-American and Latino descent. Students in lower-income demographic areas have been used as pawns to gain funding.
Compounded with his 2006 ban of gay adoption, his opposition to the reproductive rights of women, and his apathy toward gay marriage, it seems that Crist’s historical impact on minorities (and women) has been less than, well, Democratic.
Regardless of his words today, his actions of yesterday speak volumes. Crist’s history is hardly a boon for liberal progressivism’s definition of social justice and civil rights. The only thing he can claim he has accomplished for minorities while in office was to reinstate voting rights to nonviolent felons, who ironically wouldn't need their rights reinstated if not for his policies.
Brooke Knight, special to Sunshine State News, is a writer for imaconstitutionalist.com and baconsmores.com.