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By STEVE BOUSQUET, Tallahassee bureau chief
Published December 1, 2007
He was an anti-big business attorney general from one of America's biggest states who used the job as a springboard in 2006 to get the job he wanted all along - governor.
The future seemed bright. He arrived speaking of a new spirit of reaching out to all sides and putting an end to cynicism and divisiveness.
But things went horribly wrong.
This is not the story of Charlie Crist, but rather of Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic governor of New York.
Spitzer's first year has been one horror show after another, and almost literally a flip side to Crist's first year as governor.
A comparison of Spitzer and Crist reinforces the point that style matters.
Spitzer has been accused of being hardheaded and bullying legislators who disagree with him. Those same legislators have the power to make a governor's life miserable.
Crist, on the other hand, is capable of over-the-top praise. He refers to the current crop of lawmakers as "the Golden Age of the Florida Legislature."
Spitzer is enduring a scandal, dubbed "Eliot's mess" by the New York City's tabloids, in which two aides are in deep trouble for using the state police to dig up dirt on a state Senate rival.
Things really hit rock bottom for Spitzer in early November when an avalanche of criticism forced him to drop a proposal to give drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Unlike Spitzer, Crist has kept a safe distance from the immigration debate, and every other social wedge issue, for that matter. It's not his thing.
His agenda is property taxes, property insurance, global warming, civil rights for ex-felons and openness in government.
Crist had a few stumbles in his first year, but many governors would trade places with him.
His trouble is that he may live for the moment too recklessly. He dramatically escalated the state's exposure in a catastrophic hurricane, but benefited from the quietest hurricane season in a long time.
History tells you that kind of luck won't last forever.
As Crist struggles with widespread public anger over taxes and insurance, and faces the prospect of another bleak budget year, he is to many simply a nice guy, with a smile and a pleasant outlook that has a way of keeping trouble at bay.
"Spitzer was the prosecutor who punished, and still has maintained that personality as governor, I think - at least that's how it's been reported," said Crist's chief of staff, George LeMieux. "Charlie Crist is the happy warrior."
What LeMieux calls "the Charlie Crist way" is this: "Try to get what you can get done with people who you may disagree with on other things - do that stuff first."
In his Capitol office, LeMieux had a Wall Street Journal editorial on his desk. The headline read "Spitzer's fall" and below that was a line that is impossible to imagine in any piece about Charlie Crist: "His nastiness catches up with him."
The worst the Journal has said about Crist is that his "socialized" insurance plan has put Florida "on the path to fiscal ruin."
Eliot Spitzer would gladly take that kind of coverage.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.
[Last modified November 30, 2007, 23:16:23]