Crist Trivialized LG Post

3 03 2009

As Governor Crist prepares to deliver his third State of the State address, those liberals so anxious to support the teflon governor that waltzes to Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon may want to think again. Not only has Crist helped send the state into a major budget crisis by pushing the  slashing of property taxes, but his government run solution to the insurance crisis will  likely leave the state broke should a major Hurricane hit in 2009, and he trivialized his first major decision as a Gubernatorial candidate.

While Jeff Kottkamp deserves our praise and admiration for his valiant fight for his life many years back, the selection of the Lee County lawmaker as Lieutenant Governor was simply put, a joke orchestrated for political reasons. After three successive well qualified and visible Lt. Governor’s Crist choose to select an obscure lawmaker with little substance to his record, but one key qualification: he hailed from a professional association that has for years funded Democrats to a greater tune than Republicans.

Kottkamp is a trial lawyer, and his selection was a cynical political maneuver that worked, disarming the funding of Jim Davis at a critical moment in the campaign.  Worse yet, the LG doesn’t have the stature or capability of his three immediate predecessors who elevated a relatively new office (formed in 1968) to an important symbolic position.

Now we learn that Kottkamp has gallivanted across the state with his family on the state dime. If this had been Buddy MacKay or Frank Brogan, I personally would be less offended. Both those men along with Toni Jennings, the former two time Senate President brought a seriousness to the post. Their travel was often times important to state Government.

But Kottkamp is a trivial figure whose travels and functions have reduced the office to splendid insignificance. While some editorials have recently asked the point of the office, this would not be an issue if Crist had not made such a terrible, blatantly political pick. His selection of Kottkamp makes Richard Nixon’s selection of Spiro Agnew look like a stroke of genius.

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“Comrade Crist” Remains a Formidable Foe for Progressives

3 02 2009

Charlie Crist has the distinguished honor of being nominated by the extreme right wing Club for Growth as a nominee for the first “Comrade of the Month” honor. Pat Toomey’s group which is trying to obviously rekindle memories of the House Un-American Activities Committee has singled out one Republican nationally. Toomey’s group which was previously led by the wonkish market oriented Stephen Moore may in fact be helping Crist by positioning him as a moderate in the eyes of Florida voters.

This will certainly make the Democrats who have spent two plus years cozening up to the Governor more comfortable: Crist is obviously perceived as a moderate in certain GOP circles. However given Crist’s ability to change political positions and ideology on a dime, the Democrats should not take solace in this perception. Charlie Crist is no moderate, but in fact a partisan Republican.

Two years ago, when the Governor railed against the Insurance Industry, he cleverly coaxed Democrats to buy into his government run proposal. If and when the next Insurance crisis hits the state of Florida, Democrats perpetually in the Legislative minority will share equal blame with the Governor for the inevitable problems.

For whatever reason, Democrats seem less willing to oppose and more likely to be talked into tokenism and back slapping in the capitol. The Democrats would be better served by not showing up for Legislative Session rather than cutting deals that inoculate the GOP Governor and Legislative majority. Obviously nobody would defend simply not showing up in Tallahassee, but the point is constantly cutting deals should be viewed the same way.

To doubt Charlie Crist is a partisan Republican is foolhardy. In 1995 he held up Governor Chiles most critical appointments until the final day of session for strictly political reasons. The same year he initiated a Senate investigation of campaign calls made by the Chiles campaign. In the long history of political campaigns, dirty tricks have been conducted over and over again. Jeb Bush accused Lawton Chiles of being soft on crime exploiting the family of a murder victim in a TV ad.

But it was Chiles that was accused of dirty tricks in a politically motivated investigation which cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.  In 1996, he helped lead the Republican opposition to Governor Chiles landmark lawsuit against the Tobacco Industry and then a year later, Crist conducted another partisan witch hunt, this time against the attorney’s who bravely represented the state in the Tobacco Lawsuit. By 1997, Crist was firmly viewed within the halls of the Legislature as a show horse and a partisan.

The following year he supported Kendrick Meek’s bill to give Wilbert Pitts and Freddie Lee compensation for their incarceration in the 1960s and 1970s.  Crist was wisely seen in photos with these innocent victims for future use in trying to win African-American support statewide. As a mere coincidence, Crist’s Democratic opponent eight years later has voted against a similar bill two years earlier when he was still in the Legislature. Pitts and Lee were good men who fell victim to raw racism in the Jeffersonian spirited Panhandle of the 1960s. But Crist never felt true sympathy for them: he was merely exploiting their plight for political gain.

When he ran for the US Senate in 1998, Crist accused Bob Graham, a political moderate who put the concerns of the state of Florida over any partisanship or ideology of being a left winger and ran a negative campaign. In 2000 he ran an ad against George Sheldon focusing on a D.U.I. Sheldon had received 25 years earlier. The Ad was pulled after the Governor and Attorney General intervened, but the lesson was clear: Crist will play to win at any cost.

In 2002 Crist’s campaign slimmed Democratic nominee Buddy Dyer repeatedly in the Attorney General’s race. Dyer’s positive legislative record was dissected in a way the Democrats never did to Crist in any of his four statewide races.

Free Market forces have let Florida and the nation down. This cannot be questioned. But the Democrats over eagerness to help “bail out” Republicans for their economic irresponsibility and mistakes is politically naïve.

The Democrats are protecting Charlie Crist, plain and simple. His failures will be tossed aside as he blames liberals and Democrats for backing him into a corner. The Legislators and Democratic elected officials who think they can work with Governor Crist for mutual benefit of the state don’t know the Charlie Crist many Floridians remember: a petty partisan who’ll say or do anything to get elected.





Florida GOP Practicing Hoovernomics.

30 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Earlier this week the Tallahassee Democrat reported that the Chiles Endowment Fund is being eyed again by GOP lawmakers and Governor Crist.  The fiscal policies that have basically bankrupted the state have been on the watch of the Republican Legislative majority as well as Governor Bush and Governor Crist. Yet much like one of Florida’s worst Governors, Fred Cone who led the state during the Depression.

Cone was a doctrinaire conservative much like many fellow Democrats of the day. David Sholtz, who had been the Governor in FDR’s first four years as President employed progressive programs to try and jump start Florida’s economy. But under Cone the state backslid because of an unwillingness to raise revenue or implement new programs.

The Florida GOP of 2009 looks like the Democrats of Cone’s era. Conservtaive, ideological and completely impractical. Governor Crist a master politician understands that this cannot be the GOP’s image. But the legislative leadership, conservative and in many cases tied to the traditional landowning families of Florida’s yesteryear.

These ideolgoues want Florida to be a twenty first century labratory for Hoovernomics. Even Republicans as controversial as Dick Cheney warned GOP Congressman about associating so openly with the failed ecomomic policies of the Republican Party of the 1920s. But the Florida GOP save the Governor clearly did not get the memo from the Vice President.





Lawson’s Shot Across The Bow

21 01 2009

It may have gone relatively unnoticed during last week’s Special Session, but the Senate Democrats finally have a leader who is going to aggressively define party’s positions. Additionally,  Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson isn’t going to be swayed by the “charm offensive” of Governor Crist.

For two years the Democratic Party stood impotent in opposition to a Governor whose moral fabric is weak and who lacks any courage in his convictions to lead. Thus was found ourselves in a budget crisis as the “me too” rhetoric of Democrats matched the adrift boat of the GOP Leadership and the Governor.

The Democrats have been lap dogs for too long in the Legislature. Allowing personality to dictate whether to engage on an issue or not is quite frankly pretty silly. But yet the Senate Democrats have picked their fights, and sometimes the wrong ones for years now. Rather than engaging on the economic issues which clearly separate the parties, the Democrats have either cut deals or been swayed by the assurances from Republicans.

This has left the Democratic Party in the Florida Senate without a clear ideology or set of defining principles. Senator Lawson’s decision last week to step out of this mold and call upon the Governor to veto significant portions of the budget which the Legislature passed indicated a positive posture for the party. Going forward this will not only serve the Democrats well at the ballot box but will serve the citizens of Florida positively as we will the sort of vigorous debate on critical issues that has been lacking in the state recently.





Made of Teflon?

13 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

On Sunday morning the Miami Herald called Governor Charlie Crist the teflon governor.  The article characterized the governor as being very popular despite mixed success in office. What the article failed to address was that Crist’s predecessor Jeb Bush had equally high ratings while staking out clear conservative positions on the issues. Bush’s electoral performance has been more awe inspiring than that of Crist as well.

Charlie Crist had for years been underestimated by Democrats and Republicans alike. Called a lightweight by many a Tallahassee insider he defied the odds and won election after election. I personally warned Democrats in 2002 that it would be much easier to run against Locke Burt for Attorney General than Charlie Crist but was basically laughed out of the room. (I was working for George Sheldon, a candidate for the Democratic nomination at the time) I also told some Republicans in 2005 that Tom Gallagher shouldn’t bother running for Governor because he would be routed in the primary, which he was. Crist, I expect would be Governor and perhaps a US Senator or President of the United States before he was done in politics.

I had high expectations for Crist as Governor. After the ideological wars of the Bush administration, Florida needed a healing figure. But Florida also needed a thoughtful leader and Crist is neither thoughtful or capable of providing any real leadership.

However two years into his administration he has provided the state with the worst possible combination of pragmatism and conservatism. Crist is also less than decisive on the issues and at times seems genuinely over his head as Governor. Crist also seems less than capable of seizing the leadership of a battered national party (isn’t about time Florida provided a leader in one of the major parties, since after all we are the 4th largest state?) and his pick Jim Greer to head the state GOP has presided over diminishing Republican fortunes without the gusto and PR savvy Jeb Bush allies Tom Slade and Al Cardenes provided. Each of Bush’s allies who ran the GOP were formidable figures who could hold their own on the national level, contrasted with Greer who is hardly a notable statewide figure.

Governor Crist’s lack of ideology was a winning strategy for a quick climb as Commissioner of Education and then as Attorney General. But as Governor it has its limitations. The saving grace for Crist is likely to be the lack of a farm team for the Democrats.

Since the mid 1990s the Democrats have blatantly neglected their grassroots and county operations. I was part of a team in 2001 that pitched a proposal to the FDP to develop a “bench” for legislative and statewide races by investing money at the country level in candidate development and grassroots training. The response the party gave our group is that local DECs handle that. The problem is the local DECs often times are paper tigers that serve as glorified debating forums once a month.

The problems of the Democratic Party can be discussed another time, but the point is that Crist will likely be re-elected as Governor because the Democrats are unlikely to field a strong candidate. But that cannot avoid the reality of Crist’s tenure which thus far has been uneven and does not have him bringing any clarity to the debate on important issues.  Many two term Governors across the country are judged as failures, so simply getting re-elected does not guarantee a positive legacy.  Governor Crist still controls his own destiny but has not met the high expectations many Floridans had for him.





Did Crist Always Intend to Kill Chiles Endowment?

7 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Much like Medicare and Social Security on the federal level, the GOP here in Florida was almost universally against Governor Lawton Chiles crusade against the Tobacco industry. With the exception of three State Senate Republicans and two in the House, Republicans voted in unison for the repeal of Governor Chiles lawsuit and a year later in the Senate to override the Governor’s veto of the repeal. Many Democrats in the Senate joined the GOP effort, which thankfully fell a single vote short of passage.

The GOP leadership used their talking points effectively in 1995 and 1996. They claimed the lawsuit would create a bad business climate and that Children’s Health was not a key concern for the state. The Republicans also complained about how the initial law passed ignoring the fact that legislative trickery and deceit had become a trait of the Legislative wing of the party.

Governor Crist’s continued efforts to raid the Chiles Endowment raises a troubling possibility: Could the GOP have been waiting for an excuse to gut the program altogether? Republicans in the Legislature have never been comfortable with the administration of a trust fund that came from a  lawsuit that the majority of Republicans opposed vociferously.

So after opposing the lawsuit and trying to repeal the law that permitted the lawsuit and then finally repealing the law once Jeb Bush became Governor, the GOP is now reaping the benefits of Governor Chiles courage. The fiscal mismanagement of the state by the Legislature in collusion with the Bush and Crist Administrations has been masked by the raiding of trust funds. How ironic, and perhaps this was all by design. Governor Crist helped lead Legislative efforts to fight the Governor’s lawsuit against Big Tobacco and also led the effort to stonewall Gov. Chiles appointees from being confirmed in the Senate. In fairness to Governor Bush, his agenda did not appear as transparant as that of Governor Crist.

Unless evidence can be brought to the contrary it must be assumed based on their public actions and statements that the GOP leadership always intended to see the Tobacco settlement money “wither on the vine.” By cutting taxes recklessly without complimentary spending cuts, perhaps the Legislature always intended to have a shortfall in funding that could be masked by raiding the Chiles endowment. By cutting taxes so frequently without any reasonable plan to enhance revenues from other sources, it would be foolish to not consider that the raiding of the Chiles fund was by design.

Charlie Crist the master politician who has won three consecutive statewide elections can be honest for change. He can say ” I was there fighting it in nineties, investigating the Governor’s actions and now we have killed it, and given Corporations and Business more money  instead of allowing the money to help the Children.” Let’s be perfectly frank: once a trust fund is raided to the extent the Chiles Endowment is being raided it is essentially dead. That will be the lasting legacy of Charlie Crist’s Governorship. If he does not wish to be remembered this way and have this shameful episode hanging like a noose over him as he pursues higher office, perhaps he should explain his actions without the smokescreen of the current budget crisis.

The state of Florida under Lawton Chiles took the lead nationally in protecting children and seniors: society’s most vulnerable citizens. Now ten years after one of the great statesman in the history of Florida passed on, the leadership of our state seems to have little regard for his legacy or little conscience when undermining one of the most successful programs in our history. So perhaps it was all by design.





Governor Crist Lacks the Moral Authority to Raid Chiles Endowment

5 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Last week Governor Crist claimed that his raid of the Chiles Endowment Trust Fund would be “repaid quickly.”

The Tallahassee Democrat last Wednesday had this report:

Key to Crist’s plan is $600 million borrowed from the Lawton Chiles Endowment and using $135 million in payments from the Seminole Tribe that’s a part of an agreement Crist made but the court’s struck down.

Crist said the Chiles money will be repaid promptly. The late governor’s family has threatened legal action if the state sells assets of the health-care fund, and may ask that the Chiles name be removed from the endowment if it is treated like a regular revenue source.

The Governor’s plan is not only fiscally irresponsible but it is immoral. As someone who in the State Senate fought Governor Chiles every step of the way during his fight for Florida’s Children Crist does not have the moral authority to make this choice. In 1995, Crist voted to repeal the State’s lawsuit against Big Tobacco as a Senator. In 1996, Crist voted to override the Governor’s veto. This override attempt failed by one vote.

Then Senator Crist as Chairman of Ethics and Elections Committee used state money to undertake a painstaking investigation of the lawsuit and the attorneys who bravely represented the state against the Tobacco industry. Governor Crist may be wooing Democrats by the force of his personality in 2009, but in 1995 and 1996 he was nothing but a petty partisan politician who tried to score political points by attacking a Democratic Governor and everything he stood for. Governor Crist did not have the best interests of the state of Florida in mind in 1995 and 1996 but those of the Republican Party. Now in 2009, who is to believe he is not simply trying to dismantle something that the GOP fought against with all their vigor in the mid ninties?

In today’s Florida Legislature where term limits have ripped out the institutional memory of these deeds, Governor Crist has been able to manipulate the Legislature into believing he’s a champion for Children. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Crist has for years eyed the Chiles Endowment for elimination. He fought against its formation in 1995 and 1996, scoring enought points with big business and the tobacco industry to jump start his statewide political career. What objective observer can really believe he’s changed his stripes now?