Take oath. Look ahead
Charlie Crist is sworn in as governor and offers a positive vision for Florida's future.
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published January 3, 2007
Gov. Charlie Crist brought the common touch to his new job Tuesday, and laid out an ambitious agenda that includes property tax relief, lower insurance rates and the most open government in state history.
On a cold, overcast day in Florida's capital, Crist took the oath of office as the 44th governor at noon on the steps of the stately Old Capitol before a crowd of more than 3,500 people and a statewide TV audience.
With his parents, Dr. Charles Crist and Nancy Crist, standing at his side, and his sisters watching from the inaugural box, Crist put his left hand on a family Bible and repeated an oath given by Chief Justice Fred Lewis of the Florida Supreme Court.
After a moment of silence in memory of the late President Gerald Ford, whose funeral was held in Washington on the same day, Crist delivered a 20-minute address that was heavy on hope and optimism, and light on policy talk.
He vowed to fulfill a campaign promise to seek an amendment to Florida's Constitution, doubling the homestead exemption to $50,000.
The proposal has been rejected in the past by the Republican-controlled Legislature and faces resistance from cities, counties and school districts because it will eliminate billions in tax revenue each year for government services.
Crist also pledged to find "permanent, real solutions" to Florida's property insurance crisis and seemed to portray a state law that passed in 2006 as a quick fix.
"No stop-gap measures, no Band-Aids, no finger in the dike," Crist said.
The new governor and the Legislature are planning to meet in a special session starting Jan. 16. to address the insurance crisis.
"Skyrocketing property insurance and property tax rates are a real threat to our citizens. The impact is crippling," Crist said.
He cited the case of an 83-year-old Pensacola woman whose insurance bill climbed from $1,000 to $5,000 in one year. "This cannot and will not stand," Crist said.
Crist touched more lightly on the topic of education than his predecessor, Jeb Bush, did in either of his two inaugural addresses. He promised to pay teachers more and to make sure Florida children are prepared to succeed in a global economy.
Crist said he will issue an executive order today directing state agencies to wean themselves off jargon and be required to talk to Floridians in clear, understandable language.
The governor who raised a record-shattering $19-million in his campaign pledged to implement "the people's agenda," and he called on his fellow political leaders to put aside partisanship and labels.
"Reject labels: red, blue; liberal, conservative; Democrat, Republican," Crist said. "There's only one label that matters: Floridian. We are all Floridians."
Crist, 50, is a lawyer and the outgoing state attorney general. He becomes only the fourth Republican governor of Florida since Reconstruction and the first to follow a Republican.
But in his inaugural speech, he said the time has come to put partisan gamesmanship aside.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson praised Crist for heeding a clear message from the recent election.
"I really think you're going to see some bipartisanship," Nelson said. "People are tired of the partisan bickering."
The Florida Democratic Party issued a statement wishing Crist the best, and said: "We sincerely hope he is able to keep politics at arm's length from his office."
At a time when the job of governor has more power than at any time in the state's history, Crist stepped onto the inaugural platform to the strains of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, a piece he chose, and which, as it happens, was also played at Ford's funeral. The official program for the inauguration did not even include his name on the cover, as it did Bush's name four years ago.
Arriving at the Governor's Mansion after the speech, Crist welcomed a long line of visitors dressed in blue jeans and a casual sweater.
A beaming Crist stood in a reviewing stand outside the mansion as a parade went by, featuring marching bands from St. Petersburg and Gaither high schools, Tampa Bay Lightning cheerleaders, Ronald McDonald, Sea World cars with dolphin fins molded to the body, Albert the Alligator from the University of Florida and the Florida A&M Marching 100, playing the O'Jays hit Backstabbers.
The parade's big hit was when the Florida State University band paused to play the music of the Seminoles' tomahawk chop, with Crist, an FSU alumnus, making the gesture along with another FSU grad, U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.
At the first inaugural event of the day, a prayer breakfast at Florida A&M University's basketball gymnasium, gospel singer Vickie Winans warmed up the crowd of more than 1,000 people with songs and stories. She described the Crist she sees on TV as smiling so much, "he looks like a televangelist."
Crist reminded the audience of his own fallibility.
"Be patient with us. We will make mistakes from time to time," he said. "We're human, and that's how it is."
The election of the first governor from St. Petersburg is a cause for civic pride in his hometown and across the Tampa Bay region.
Dozens of supporters made the trip from the bay area, including Bonnie Bernstein, 68, a retired Pinellas County teacher. Wearing earmuffs and a long wool coat against the 45-degree morning, Bernstein sat six rows back in the crowd. "It was just lovely," she said. "We're all so proud of him, the folks back in St. Pete."
Watson Haynes of St. Petersburg, a longtime friend of Crist's, said he felt the inauguration celebrated the state's diversity.
"It's a great day for St. Petersburg," Haynes said. "We're really on the map, and we don't look like what people thought what we looked like."
An inauguration of a governor is a time of giddy optimism and rare civic unity in Florida, when people from throughout the often-transient state share a common experience.
But the somber tone of past inaugurations was absent.
Crist added a lighthearted feeling to the events, poking fun at his own scripted reference to "the sun shining on our faces" while his listeners shivered in their thick overcoats.
"You feel it?" he said, looking up at the overcast sky above.
Times staff writers Alex Leary and Lucy Morgan contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or 850224-7263.
BY THE NUMBERS
$1.2M Amount raised by the inaugural committee
3,500 People who attended.
250 Number of press credentials given out.
22 Number of times Crist said "people" in his speech.
18 Length of speech in minutes.
4 Number of bands in the inaugural parade, including Tampa's Gaither High and St. Petersburg High School.
3 Number of beauty queens inthe parade.