By Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry is the anchor of the WMNF Evening News on 88.5 FM community radio.
Despite the censure vote on Governor Charlie Crist last week that evenly divided Palm Beach County Republicans (it failed to pass as the group deadlocked at 65 votes apiece), the head of the Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee says his membership is united.
They’re ALL disappointed in Governor Crist.
“There was not a single person last night out of 130 votes, and about 30 or 40 speakers, who got up there to tell us what a good job the governor is doing,” said Sid Dinerstein, the chair of the Palm Beach County REC.
That vote comes a week and a half after the Volusia County GOP voted “overwhelmingly” in a voice vote to censure the governor. The list of his perceived transgressions is long, including the governor’s enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s stimulus package and his failure to endorse certain GOP Congressional candidates. But for many, the most damning was his selection of liberal Justice James E. C. Perry to the state Supreme Court last March.
From speaking to several conservatives last week, it seems to be the selection of Perry to the high court that rankles most severely.
That was the last of the unprecedented four new Supreme Court Justices that Crist has had the opportunity to select, more than any previous governor in state history. And after nominating several solidly conservative justices (among them former Polk County-based U.S. Congressman Charles Canady, best known nationally for being one of the 13 House Managers who argued before the Senate for the impeachment of Bill Clinton), Crist emphasized his centrist credentials by selecting the 65-year-old Perry, only the second black to be named to the Supreme Court.
But Perry’s selection was part of the old Charlie Crist, the raging moderate who debated Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal earlier this year on Meet The Press regarding what philosophy best represented where the GOP should move next in the wake of its shellacking at the polls last November.
The new Charlie Crist is one strongly motivated by the stirrings in the state party for his rival, Marco Rubio.
Although the governor is thoroughly whipping the former House Speaker when it comes tofundraising, it is the 38-year-old Cuban-American from Miami who is turning on the base, not the man who is collecting censure votes from various county political parties.
In recent weeks the guv, celebrated by environmental groups throughout Florida for being in the small vanguard of GOP leaders with a vision regarding global warming, has strongly hinted that he will cancel his climate change summit, and is also backing away from advocating a cap and trade energy policy.
This follows his failure to veto Senate Bill 360, the controversial anti-growth management bill that has engendered the wrath of both liberals and conservatives throughout the Sunshine State, but was strongly supported by the developer community.
And then there’s the strange case of his lack of support for recently appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Last month, while the whole nation was buzzing (pro and con) about the self-proclaimed “wise Latina,” Crist originally told reporters when asked his opinion that he had no opinion about her, even as the Senate Judiciary Committee began their hearings.
Then, after his close ally Mel Martinez spoke movingly in support of her in what was ultimately a valedictory of sorts, the governor aligned himself with the other 31 GOP senators who somehow found her to be outside the mainstream of contemporary American jurisprudence, alienating someLatino groups.
As University of Central Florida Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett said last week, “I found it interesting that when he didn’t really have an actual vote, he took the symbolic gesture of going out of his way to say he would not vote for her if he was in there. Yet, when he had the chance to put a conservative on the Florida Supreme Court (which he did the first couple of times), the last person was a more liberal judge from Central Florida. So, it’s interesting to see the Governor maneuver.”
Interesting, indeed. Crist has apparently learned his lesson of appearing to be too close to Barack Obama. After being one of the few noted Republicans in the country to embrace the federal stimulus package this winter, the Governor is staying far away from any type of endorsement of the health care proposals that the president and Congressional Democrats are stumping for.
No, instead, he is touting his own Cover Florida proposal as a “national model that the feds could be wise to emulate as a private sector alternative.”
One problem, though — hardly anybody in Florida is on the system. As the Miami Herald reportedlast week, in a state with nearly 4 million uninsured people, only 3,757 have signed up (less than 1 percent).
And what about the stimulus plan that the governor has taken so much heat for supporting? Although conservatives nationally have already declared the bill a failure, most neutral analysts have reasoned that too much of it is designed to kick in later this year and much of next year to give it a final grade.
But it doesn’t help to learn that the state ranks dead last in the country when it comes to spending highway money approved in the program (though Crist and other state officials have denounced that finding, claiming that the state’s spending has been characterized by “integrity, rather than speed”).
Nevertheless, the twisting and turning of positions could expose independents and Democrats to what hardcore Republicans (like PoHo contributor Chris Ingram) have been saying for a while — that Crist’s integrity, if not his overall record, is spotty, and he may not deserve a coronation to the U.S. Senate next year.
But the maxim in state politics for the past couple of years in Florida has been that Charlie Crist is untouchable. Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek certainly don’t think so. The question is whether the rest of the Florida electorate will follow them.