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Crist confounds, astounds
By Philip Gailey
Published July 15, 2007
Even though he is a Republican, Charlie Crist may turn out to be the closest thing to a Democratic governor Florida will see for some time. He continues to astound Democrats and confound Republicans. On just about any day of the week, he is capable of upstaging the GOP presidential hopefuls trooping through the state. He did it again last week, making headlines for a bold environmental move.
We haven't heard a peep out of the governor about gay marriage and abortion since he took office in January. Instead, he has been restoring felons' voting rights, flailing insurance companies and siding with consumers and environmentalists against corporations. We knew he was having solar panels installed on the roof of the governor's mansion, but we didn't realize just how green Crist was until he announced plans last week to put Florida in the forefront of the movement to combat climate change. And get this - he has embraced California as his model.
Crist was in Miami sharing the spotlight with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, another Republican behaving more like a Democrat lately, at a conference on global warming. The two governors could have been reading from Al Gore's script on climate change, and dismayed conservatives were left to wonder, "What next - Charlie Crist linking arms with Michael Moore on national health care?"
To his credit, Crist is helping his party come to terms with the inconvenient truth of global warming, a threat that most of the world, with the notable exception of the Bush administration, is beginning to take seriously. And in the process, he is burnishing his national image, giving his party an issue that appeals to independent voters, and drawing praise from such liberal Democrats as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental advocate who rarely has a kind word for Republicans on any issue.
At the Miami gathering, Kennedy told a luncheon audience: "We need politicians like Charlie Crist who are willing to look beyond ideology and look beyond the politics and say, 'I have a larger responsibility to this state and to my nation.' "
Crist is doing more than just changing the political climate in Florida. At the Miami conference, which attracted scientists, environmental activists, business executives and political leaders, he warned that global warming poses a particularly dire threat to Florida that requires immediate and aggressive action.
"Droughts, endangered agriculture, violent storms and changing sea levels - their impact on Florida's economy are just a few of the reasons we must act now," Crist told the conference.
Like Schwarzenegger, Crist signed agreements with the United Kingdom and Germany pledging to work together on battling global warming. He also announced a plan to make Florida the first state in the Southeast to take aggressive steps to reduce greenhouse gases.
His plan calls for a reduction in carbon emissions from power plants, tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, and a greater reliance on renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind. (The thought has occurred to me that windmills and rooftop solar panels may not fare well in a hurricane.)
Crist said The Terminator inspired him to act. If the federal Environmental Protection Agency gives California permission to impose the nation's toughest auto mileage standards, Crist said he wants Florida to adopt the same rules.
Let's hope Crist delivers more on the issue of climate change than he has on insurance reform and property tax relief. The governor owes Floridians some straight talk, starting with a recognition that there will be a cost to any serious effort to address climate change. It could raise the cost of electricity and the price of a car, but the long-term benefits, including development of new energy sources that lessen our dependence on foreign oil, would outweigh any short-term costs. Consider the economic consequences of doing nothing to slow global warming.
Crist has an approval rating in Florida of more than 70 percent, and I imagine that most of those who disapprove of his leadership are the social conservatives and probusiness elements in his own party. The governor deserves credit for his willingness to spend some of his political capital on Al Gore's signature issue.
On climate change, Crist is a refreshing breeze of change.