Crist for the Republicans

Charlie Crist has a record of serving consumers and is willing to listen to all views. He is the clear choice for the GOP nomination for governor.

By Times editorial
Published August 13, 2006

For the first time in more than a dozen years, Jeb Bush will not be the Republican nominee for governor. Instead, Republican voters will choose between two well-established candidates who have each served in the Legislature, held multiple seats on the state Cabinet and carved out their own reputations. Both Attorney General Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher claim to be the logical successor to Bush, who has served two terms and cannot run for re-election. While neither candidate has Bush's political skills or his penchant for bold policy initiatives, Crist is the clear choice for Republican voters in the Sept. 5 primary.

Although he never will be mistaken for a policy wonk or a visionary leader, Crist has matured a bit as a politician since he was first elected to a St. Petersburg state Senate seat in 1992. As education commissioner and now as attorney general he has been willing to listen to all views and to seek advice. While unwavering in his conservative philosophy, Crist did not hesitate to seek suggestions about responding to hurricanes from the Democrat who preceded him as attorney general - and he did not clean house after he was elected in 2002. That sort of openness would serve him well in the Governor's Mansion.

As attorney general, Crist has exceeded modest expectations. He has delegated much of the day-to-day operations of the office and largely focused on consumer issues. He opposed an unpopular phone rate increase and hired a respected former public counsel and utility expert. He went after price gouging following the hurricanes. He pushed the Legislature to give the attorney general additional authority to pursue civil rights legislation and fined a Perry motel owner for discriminating against African-Americans. He supported legislation to better track prescription drug shipments, then unsuccessfully lobbied the governor this spring to veto a bill that weakened those protections. At least publicly, he stayed out of the fight over removing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube even as the governor and Republican legislators tried to interfere with a constitutionally protected private decision regarding the end of life.

Crist still has a tendency to grandstand and embrace simplistic solutions to complicated issues. His proposed "Anti-Murder Act" to lock up more violent felons accused of probation violations has been rejected more than once by the GOP-led Legislature as too expensive and unworkable. He pledges never to support a tax increase, his support of further tax breaks and spending initiatives don't balance, and he has no comprehensive plan for tackling the property insurance crisis. But to his credit, he has not emphasized social issues in this campaign and says he will not continue Bush's crusade to undermine the popular class size amendment. That suggests Crist at least recognizes Florida has more pressing issues to address and that he is willing to listen when voters say they want something done.

At one time, Gallagher would have been a compelling candidate for governor. He carved out a moderate record in the Legislature, performed admirably as state insurance commissioner after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and ran a competent but unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1994, when Bush was the Republican nominee. No one in this race knows more about insurance than Gallagher.

But in this campaign he has been a terrible disappointment. He has reversed key positions and now opposes abortion rights and embraces tuition vouchers. He has demagogued social issues and acknowledged mixing personal and public business in a series of ethical lapses that have saddened and surprised longtime friends and supporters. One of his recent television campaign ads calls for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, a 24-hour waiting period for abortion and the removal of billboards advertising adult businesses. These are not among the most pressing issues facing this state, and it's no wonder there has been talk among his supporters of throwing in the towel before the primary.