Governor stops by for chat with college students

Crist talks about politics and insists that, yes, he is a Republican.

Published April 6, 2007

Direct from a landmark day of restoring civil rights to felons in Tallahassee, Gov. Charlie Crist fielded questions from college students in a quaint parlor in his hometown of St. Petersburg.

"Are you sure you're a Republican?" asked Stephanie Cain, a graduate student in the Florida studies program.

"Yes, I'm sure," Crist said with a smile.

The event, designed to give college students some back-and-forth with the first-year governor, was held at the historic John C. Williams House at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus.

The hourlong session was Crist's idea, said Darryl Paulson, a political science professor at the school.

"After thinking about it for about a tenth of second, I said, 'I think we can squeeze you in,' " said Paulson, adding that Crist is riding "perhaps one of the strongest 100 days in modern Florida history."

Heralding the "golden era of the Florida Legislature," Crist praised bipartisan cooperation in Tallahassee, endorsed the Second Amendment, voiced concern about proposals for the state's highway system, and said he planned on holding an environmental summit after the legislative session.

"I'm not a scientist, but I'm smart enough to seek them out," Crist said.

Pressed about the future of the university - entangled in its own battle for autonomy from the larger Tampa campus - Crist said he expressed budget concerns with University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft.

He asked her, somewhat strategically, if he could establish an office at the St. Petersburg campus.

Crist said the office provided "a bully pulpit," borrowing Theodore Roosevelt's term describing an advantageous platform to advance agendas.

Students said they were impressed that a governor decided to simply drop by for a chat.

Justine Salsbury, 24, said Crist's action within the first 100 days have been "exciting and fervent."

"I almost feel like his policies are too good to be true," she said.

Casey Cora can be reached at 727 892-2374 or ccora@sptimes.com.