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McCain VEEPwatch: Who Is Charlie Crist?

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“Empty Chair Charlie.” “Chain Gang Charlie.” “The People’s Governor.” “Florida’s First Black Governor.” “Arnold Schwarzenegger Without The Austria.” How many nicknames can one man have? He must be cool! Is McCain looking for a cool Florida Veep? Learn more here.

Congressional Credentials:

Governor of Florida
(2006-Present)

Attorney General of Florida
(2003-2006)

Florida Cm’ssner of Education
(2001-2002)

Deputy Secretary of Florida
(1999-2000)

Florida Senator
(1992-1998)

Chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee

Chairman of the Appropriations Criminal Justice Subcommittee

Background:

Charlie was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania to a wealthy Greek American doctor and Irish-Scottish mother. Their last name was legally shortened to “Crist” in 1949 (from “Cristodoulou”). Crist moved to Florida when he was in middle school. He was a football quarterback for Wake Forest University but ultimately received his undergrad from Florida State University (where he was student body VP & homecoming king). He later received his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law in Alabama. Even though it took him three attempts to pass the bar exam, he made it and served as general counsel to the Minor League Baseball Commissioner’s Office.

His Agenda:

Charlie Crist’s Gubernational platform boasted a “pro-life and pro-family” approach to abortion, with $3,000 subsidies for heterosexual adoptive parents and $5,000 subsidies to foster parents. He supported Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act (that said states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages). He sought legal protection for eminent domain cases, wanted to lessen the insurance burden for the people, supported closed borders with promotion of legal immigration, advocated the right to bear arms and was a staunch proponent of the death penalty.

However, Charlie’s best known for his “tough on crime” policies and environmentalism streak. As Attorney General, he cracked down hard on unethical telecomm companies, escalating utility rates and spammers. He was referred to as “Chain Gang Charlie” because he supported the use of prisoners-in-shackles for road work. As a Senator, he proposed the Stop Turning Out Prisoners program (to keep offenders in jail for at least 85% of their sentence), the Anti-Murder Act (to keep violent offenders who violate probation in jail until sentencing), proposed more federal prisons and supported the broadening of the death penalty.

“I didn’t get elected to mark time,” Charlie once said in an interview with Grist Magazine. “I got elected to make a difference, and I think [the environment] is one of the most important issues of our time. We have an opportunity to do what’s right to protect God’s work.” He fondly recalled fishing with his father in Tampa Bay during his childhood and added that the environment “makes Florida so special and beautiful.”

As a result of this passion, he fought the plans to build a coal-burning power plant, offered up $1.7 billion to buy out US Sugar / revive 187,000 acres of the Everglades and hosted a high-profile climate summit, where he announced Florida’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 10% by 2012, reducing them to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. He introduced the state’s first alternative energy campaign (“Florida Power & Light”), which will build three solar power plants. He appropriated $200 million for solar, wind and biofuel from citrus development, as well as $70 million for alternative energy and $100 million for continued Everglades restoration.  He asked Florida utility companies to derive 20% of their power from renewable resources by 2020 and proposed energy-efficient appliances for all state government buildings and state-owned vehicles. As for Crist personally, he has corkscrew bulbs and solar panels at his home, an EPA-acclaimed four-stroke outboard engine on his boat and drives around in an ethanol-powered car.

Foreign Policy Cred:

None – but one could argue his “tough on crime” mentality could carry over to border control and international issues.

Domestic Policy Cred:

Crist is a champion of preventing Medicaid fraud, protecting state resources, returning consumer assets lost in scams and toughening penalties for identity theft. He recently proposed a new medical plan that would provide $150/month insurance

Star Achievements:

The Stop Turning Out Prisoners bill

The Marvin Davies Civil Rights Act of 2003
 
Possible Snafus:

– Empty Chair Charlie: Some critics claim Charlie’s been spending way too much time focused on becoming the next vice president, rather than working on Florida issues. His term for Governor isn’t up until 2010, which leaves many Floridians wondering, “Well if he doesn’t want the job why’d we elect him? And what will we get stuck with next?”

– Environmental Flip-Flop? Just as quickly as he gained favor with environmentalists, he lost it again when he said he was “willing to consider” offshore drilling – provided that “no Floridian would ever be able to see an oil rig off the coast,” and that the drilling would be done in a safe and clean manner.

-Attorney General Missteps? Remember Terry Schiavo? There was some racket about Crist’s laissez-faire attitude as Attorney General while the “Right to Life” case was in full swing. Some also allege that he didn’t investigate her missing Department of Children and Families file. Additionally, he faced a civil lawsuit in the Lou Pearlman boy-band-scouting scandal of 2006 that claims he interfered with investigations as Attorney General. Assistant State Attorney General Jackie Dowd said she presented Crist with 2,000 consumer complaints against Pearlman, but was promptly terminated when she continued to investigate these assertions, despite Crist’s belief that there was no case. (As it turned out, there was a case and Pealman’s serving 25 years in prison for conspiracy and money laundering.)

-All’s Not Ok in the Gayberhood:  The rumor mill about this super-tanned, well-manicured white fox when Charlie’s former classmate and political rival Max Linn made claims on public radio that the two had discussed “what would happen if [Crist’s sexual orientation] comes out” during a political campaign. Twenty years after they shared a leadership class together – when Linn is running against Crist for governor, he decides to “out” Crist on National Coming Out Day. (How trite!) Some critics point to Crist’s backing off of the gay marriage ban as “evidence” that he must be a homosexual – however, one could also argue that he’s just unwilling to use party money to fund such legislation, which bolsters his image as a “fiscal conservative.” Crist reportedly shrugged it off as “It’s not an issue that moves me.” During the 2006 Mark Foley sex scandal, tabloid entertainment news media latched onto the topic and claimed that Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist knew about Foley’s sexual identity for almost a year – alleging that the two “covered” for Foley. Foley had always paraded around with women in tow (for show) and media pundits posited that Crist’s one year marriage to Amanda Harrow had been a similar façade. So what if the metrosexual Crist gets up early, swims 20 laps in the pool, does 250 crunches and then eats his one meal of the day – just before his “Patrick Bateman” type shower routine? He announced his engagement to girlfriend Carole Rome just this month to silence these nasty rumors once and for all.

-But wait – there’s more – Charlie has a bastard child? In 1989, a paternity claim was filed against Crist by Rebecca O’Dell Townsend, which later resurfaced in 2007 (when the alleged daughter was of age to learn more about her birth parents.) This malarkey was raised – again – by Crist’s political rivals when he was running against Tom Gallagher (who the alleged mother supported). One wonders if Crist could pass the vetting process with such a canard-laden past.

VicePresidents.com Assessment…

The McCain-Crist Ticket Brand is Hot! Just as hot as the spicy wings Crist loves is the prospect of a McCain-Crist ticket. At 52, Crist brings a young Good Ol’ Republican vigor to the ticket. In 2006, Crist pledged to pull the party “back to its roots” — “to the moderate, commonsense leadership tradition of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.” Yet he also echoes the “Maverick” nature of McCain in many ways, since he generally refuses to tow the party line on issues like the environment. Perhaps that’s why he has so much Democratic and Independent support in the Sunshine State – and why he’s also been called “Arnold Schwarzenegger without the Austria.” Republican Senate Leader Ken Pruitt said “Charlie would give Elvis a run for his money – that’s how popular he is in Florida. If McCain wants to win this state in November, Charlie Crist is a no-brainer.” Cuba-born Senator Mel Martinez added, “The bottom line is we know what an attractive political figure the governor is, and that’s a good thing for Florida.” 

Obama, Eat Your Heart Out! Hell, what better VEEP to use as ammo against Obama than “Florida’s first black governor.” Well, he is well tanned… but not quite black… although this nickname was bestowed upon the Governor by Democratic Representative Terry Fields, who added, “Charlie Crist has been a friend to the African-American community even before he became governor.” He’s the state’s only Republican governor to attend NAACP conventions and he endorsed legislation that required paper ballots in black communities, where people felt the computerized system was undercounting their votes. He also proposed and passed the landmark Marvin Davies Civil Rights Act of 2003 to fight willful discrimination at places of accommodation, as well as the workplace.

For all Obama’s talk about being JFK-like… some say Crist is RFK-like, since Crist once cited Robert F Kennedy Jr as his “personal hero.” Like Obama, Crist isn’t a “doom and gloom sort of guy” – he’s an optimist, which is something we can all be excited about.

A Loyal McCainite: Crist was hesitant to endorse early, since Romney had supported Crist’s 2006 gubernational campaign. Yet on the eve of the Florida primary, Crist suspected the McCain campaign was going to secure the nomination but needed a little boost. In Crist’s hometown, McCain went from a projected 11-point deficit to a 7-point victory — and the victory lap took Crist on tour to Arizona, California, New York and New Jersey, to name a few. He was also invited to that Veep vetting Memorial Day BBQ at the McCain compound. Yet some people wonder if Crist is really needed for Florida. One poll suggested Crist added to the ticket would make no difference at all to Florida voters. Moreover, the number of military families, senior citizens and may have already clinched the Florida win for McCain.

My Final 2Cents: Despite all the conjecture about Crist’s character and sexuality, I think he’s an appropriate VEEP for McCain. Every politician is going to have a certain amount of baggage and a change of heart on certain issues. I also think the geography and “battleground state” mentality isn’t going to matter as much as the “chemistry” and “collective synergy” of the candidates. Crist ran on a platform of creating an “open and transparent government” and commonly refers to himself as “the people’s governor” and Florida citizens as “the boss.” These are all good messages for the McCain campaign to adopt. If Crist can magnify the Maverick spirit of McCain and boost his “tough on crime” and “aggressive pursuit of alternate energy” messages, he’s in.