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Crist taps Democrat as adviser on universities
By SHANNONCOLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLERand STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writers
Published September 19, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist, under fire for his treatment of Florida universities' budgets, is turning to a Miami Democrat with a history of bipartisanship to advise him on higher education issues.
"Our goal is to increase excellence in our state university system," Crist said Tuesday, announcing that attorney Dean Colson will serve as his unpaid adviser.
Colson's selection comes at a critical time for Florida's public universities and community colleges, with tuition-setting authority in legal limbo and institutions facing tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts because of the lagging state economy.
Elected Democrats and education leaders praised Crist's decision.
"Dean is an example of a Florida citizen who puts party aside and works for all the citizens in our state," said Ocala Republican Carolyn Roberts, chairwoman of the board that oversees the 11 state universities. "He has a history of being reasonable and understanding the value of higher education in our state."
"It is my hope he will build bridges between the Governor's Office, the Legislature, Board of Governors and Chancellor Mark Rosenberg," said House Minority leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.
Colson, 55, is a Democrat and longtime civic leader with a sterling political pedigree. A Princeton and University of Miami law school graduate who clerked for former Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, he leads a Miami law firm that specializes in personal injury and commercial cases.
He was a close ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush. His law partner, Roberto Martinez, was chief of the transition office for Bush and Crist. Colson ran Super Bowl host committees, the Orange Bowl Committee, and chaired the state Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. He was a member of the Commission on Ethics.
He served on the Florida Board of Governors and chaired the University of Miami board of trustees.
Tuesday, Colson deftly sidestepped questions about tuition, the state's higher education spending and the governance of state universities.
He seemed to agree, though, with those who say the system has been starved by previous Legislatures and governors.
"Our schools and universities need greater funding to accomplish their goals."