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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
TALLAHASSEE -- For months, Gov. Charlie Crist has utilized his knack for compressing complex issues into crisp sound bites to create high hopes that insurance rate relief was on the way and property taxes would "drop like a rock."
It sounded good.
But homeowners are tearing open their preliminary tax notices to find token relief, if any.
The first-year governor is now acknowledging he may have promised too much.
"Perhaps. Maybe all of us in this room did a little bit," he told a roomful of reporters Tuesday, but said he would "keep chipping away" at the issue. Crist also made clear he wasn't blaming the media for raising false hopes.
"I didn't mean to blame you for voicing my 'drop like a rock,' so please forgive me if that was the impression I gave," Crist said.
Some of Crist's constituents aren't ready to forgive him.
Julie Latimer of St. Petersburg complained in a recent letter to the editor that her insurance rates are unchanged and her tax break will be $53.
"After all the special sessions and the press these two issues got, I guess I was expecting to feel more 'relieved,'" wrote Latimer, 47, a graphic artist and registered Democrat.
Political observers who have marveled at Crist's political skills see him uncharacteristically facing a problem largely of his own making.
"It was a political mistake for him to raise expectations so high," said Darryl Paulson, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. "No politician should want to raise expectations so high that they run the risk of not being able to deliver."
Paulson said Crist's best course is to lower expectations, admit a mistake and "beg forgiveness" from his constituents.
That should not be difficult, given Crist's 70 percent job approval rating in the most recent poll. But he now faces the risk of breaking his campaign pledge that he would not let people down.
Crist said Tuesday that many Floridians can still get property tax relief by voting for a larger homestead exemption in a statewide vote Jan. 29. He said he will be "very engaged" in mobilizing support for the proposed constitutional amendment, but passage of the so-called "super-exemption" is far from assured.
The ever-quotable Crist, who stays "on message" better than most politicians, drove home the same tax-cutting message over and over.
"The people need relief," he said on March 22. "They need property tax relief that is significant, that will make a difference in their lives, and we'll do it this year."
On April 9, Crist told reporters: "They want their property taxes to drop, and we will deliver."
Two weeks ago, Crist sounded defiant when he was asked if he promised too much in the way of tax and insurance relief.
"I never promised anything. I'm not going to overpromise. I'm very careful about how I speak," Crist told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board on Aug. 17. "What I've done is promise this administration's best efforts to do everything we can to reduce the burden of property insurance and property taxes."
Crist wasn't the only politician promising relief, but no one else comes close to his level of prominence.
Others amplified the help-is-on-the-way theme, notably House Speaker Marco Rubio, who could not get the Senate to back his plan to swap higher sales taxes for greatly reduced property taxes.
"There was a lot that was promised and sadly has not been delivered," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
Fasano said the governor alone is not to blame. He said legislators were too willing to "retreat" in the face of demands by cities and counties that they be allowed to override state-mandated rollbacks in property tax rates.
"I think we're all to blame. I am," Fasano said. "The people have a right to be unhappy."
On a third issue, casino gambling, Crist is being accused of breaking a campaign promise -- to oppose expanded gambling -- by now negotiating a compact that would allow slot machines run by the Seminole tribe.
Florida Family Action, led by John Stemberger, a social conservative who did not support Crist's candidacy, is organizing an e-mail campaign to press Crist to abandon a deal with the tribe.
The group is circulating a copy of Crist's 2006 interview with Florida Baptist Witness in which he said: "We shouldn't expand gambling."
"There are not many things I dislike as much as gambling, but there is one, and that's increased taxes. And I'm not willing to do that," Crist said on Tuesday.
The first sign that Crist has hurt his standing with his constituents may surface in September in the next poll by Quinnipiac University, which tracks public approval of Crist's performance.
Known for a fondness for sports analogies, Crist compared himself to Tim Tebow, the sophomore quarterback for the Florida Gators who also faces a burden of high expectations.
"He said, 'I promise one thing, to do my best, to do my best effort,' and that's what I have a duty to do," Crist said. "That's always my promise."
May 4, the last day of the Florida Legislature: "A few more weeks for property taxes dropping like a rock. It will happen before (next year's tax) bills go out; that's all that matters."
March 21, at a speech to Broward County civic leaders: "Don't believe what you're seeing in some of the papers -- not all of them -- that the rates aren't going to go down as much as we would like. They are -- I guarantee it -- they're going to keep going down."
WHAT HE SAYS NOW: 'GALACTICALLY STUPID'
Aug. 17, to the Times editorial board: "I never promised anything. I'm not going to overpromise. I'm very careful about how I speak. What I've done is promise this administration's best efforts to do everything we can to reduce the burden of property insurance and property taxes. I can't say it will be a 30 percent reduction. I'd be a moron to say that. Why would I do that? That would be galactically stupid."
WHAT HE SAID THEN: AGAINST EXPANDED GAMBLING
Oct. 18, 2006, on campaign plane, flying from Orlando to Miami: "You have a duty to negotiate with the Seminoles, in a compact. But I am not a proponent of expanding gambling."
Asked about a St. Petersburg Times story that day speculating about future slot machines: "I'm against it. The (budget) numbers work without it."
WHAT HE SAYS NOW: LET'S BE OPEN-MINDED
Aug. 21, 2007, speaking to reporters after a mansion event "There are some other opportunities we're looking forward to help us with the budget challenges we have today. We're negotiating with the tribe ... I want to be open-minded and I want us to be innovative."