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Politics

A humbler inaugural on tap

Almost-Gov. Crist is expected to focus today on the tax and insurance crisis.

By STEVE Bousquet
Published January 2, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Governor-elect Charlie Crist, right, reacts to volunteer Jim Magill's, left, directions Monday afternoon on the steps of Tallahassee's Old Capitol building during an inauguration walk-through.

TALLAHASSEE - Republican Charlie Crist will be sworn in as governor of Florida today in a ceremony that's expected to stress humility and the need for bipartisan solutions to problems, especially taxes and insurance.

In a tradition-bound scene outside the Old Capitol, Crist will take the oath of office as the state's 44th governor at noon, succeeding Jeb Bush. An estimated 3,000 people are expected to attend the daylong swearing-in ceremonies, which will be televised statewide.

Crist's inaugural address is expected to echo themes of his campaign. They include inclusiveness, openness, limited government and the need for relief from rapidly-widening inequities in the property tax system and the crushing weight of insurance costs.

As a candidate, Crist also vowed to double the Florida homestead exemption, to $50,000; combat a murder rate that is once again on the rise; take steps to keep kids safer from predators; make health insurance more affordable; implement a voter-approved class size reduction plan; boost teacher salaries; and appoint a statewide child advocate to promote adoptions in Florida.

"There's no job I'd rather have," Crist said, "and it sure beats the alternative."

Crist declined to discuss details of his speech, but he said anyone searching for clues should listen to what he said on Election Night, when he defeated Democrat Jim Davis by a margin of 52 percent to 45 percent.

"I ran for governor for you and I will go to work every day with the understanding that you are the boss," Crist said at the Renaissance Vinoy hotel in St. Petersburg on Nov. 7. "I want you to know that we've got an aggressive and far-reaching plan to lower your taxes and cut your insurance costs."

The 50-year-old Crist, who has been state attorney general for the past four years, is the first governor from St. Petersburg. He also is the first bachelor to hold the office since Claude Kirk in 1967.

Also on stage

Crist's parents, Dr. Charles and Nancy Crist, will share the stage with him along with his three sisters and other family members. The Rev. H. Clark Edwards, pastor of Crist's church, First United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, will deliver the invocation, and the band from his alma mater, St. Petersburg High, will march in a parade.

Mel Martinez, the state's junior U.S. senator and the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, will be master of ceremonies.

Also taking oaths of office today will be Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and two new Cabinet officers, Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican, and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat. The lone holdover on the Cabinet, who also will be sworn in for another four-year term, is Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, a Republican.

The inauguration represents a triumph for Crist, a politician who has built his career on making people happy and exceeding expectations as a state senator, attorney general and candidate for governor.

In the past few weeks, he has met with key legislators in both parties; chosen a Democrat, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, to tackle one of the toughest jobs in state government, the Department of Children and Families; established an Office of Open Government; and sought advice of most of his predecessors in the governor's office.

Crist said he met with Democrat Bob Graham about two weeks ago.

"The best advice he gave me was, surround yourself with the best people you can find," Crist recalled. "He also said to try to get some rest. He said, 'Take care of yourself.' "

Florida is one of three states required under its Constitution to swear in a governor and other statewide officials today, even though President Bush has declared a national day of mourning in memory of former President Gerald Ford, who died last week. Other states inaugurating governors today are Minnesota and Rhode Island.

Florida's inaugural will be preceded by a prayer breakfast at Florida A&M University and will be followed by a parade, street fair and open house at the Governor's Mansion. All events are free, paid for with private donations.

Crist's inaugural committee has reported more than $600,000 in donations so far.

A planned inaugural ball at the Tallahassee civic center was canceled by Crist in early December after even supporters questioned why Crist's inaugural committee had been soliciting private donations of up to $500,000.

Stung by the criticism, Crist quickly labeled the big-bucks event a mistake, imposed a ceiling of $10,000 on donations, and ordered them to be disclosed weekly on a website, www.cristcampaign.com.

The result is that Crist's supporters will have to hold impromptu parties tonight, even though some had booked blocks of hotel rooms and purchased formal wear.

Crist's spokeswoman, Vivian Myrtetus, said the governor was expected to have dinner with his family at the mansion and possibly watch college football on TV, including the Orange Bowl game between Louisville and Wake Forest, where Crist was once a bench-warming quarterback.

There won't be much time for relaxation.

Crist must put his touches on Bush's final state budget proposal, which must go to the Legislature in a few weeks. He still has dozens of top-level jobs to fill in state government, and he must prepare for a special one-week session of the Legislature on insurance that starts two weeks from today, on Jan. 16.

For a Republican who vows to be "the people's governor," today's ceremony marks the exclamation mark on a political campaign that was technically efficient and filled with nebulous promises. But it's the start of a longer and more treacherous road of governing the nation's fourth-largest state.

While Crist's everyman themes struck a chord with voters, they also were vague. His chief goal, he often said, was "to do what's right for the people," and he repeatedly said that "change is coming."

One ally said Crist wants to break the sense of estrangement that many taxpayers have with government. They see it as a bureaucratic behemoth that's either at the beck and call of the very rich or that exists to help only the very poor.

"He wants to include a lot of people who don't necessarily feel disenfranchised. They don't feel anything," said Scott Peelen, an Orlando financial adviser who raised money for Crist's campaign and was on his transition team. "He's going to be a great governor."

Another supporter said Crist's political instincts will serve him well.

"I hope he goes by his gut feelings and does his own thing. He'll always come out better that way," said state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon. "His own natural political instincts will lead him in the right direction."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified January 2, 2007, 14:27:52]


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