HOLLYWOOD – He directed some barbs at the governor and articulated a positive vision about Florida’s future, but acted coy about his own political intentions.
Still, former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican turned independent turned Democrat, left little doubt Friday he’s planning to seek his new party’s nomination next year to regain the job he left in 2010 for an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign.
During a 26-minute speech to a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Crist hopscotched through an expansive range of topics: immigration (good), climate change (bad), solar energy (good), wind power (good), public schools (good), efforts to restrict voting (bad), law enforcement officers (good), cooperation and working together (good).
He lamented poverty in India, where he and his wife Carole recently visited, but said the upbeat spirit of the Indian people was inspiring. He complained about paying $58 to fill the gas tank of his Jeep Friday morning. Describing himself as “frugal,” he said the instructions to use a higher grade of gasoline are a “scam.”
Though Crist didn’t mention Gov. Rick Scott by name, he had the current occupant of the Executive Mansion in his sights.
Crist said it was wrong to devalue teachers one year and pretend to be their friend the next. During his first two years in office, Scott effectively reduced pay by requiring new pension contributions from teachers and signed legislation to link their pay to student performance. This year he wants to give each teacher a raise.
Crist was also sharply critical of changes implemented under Scott that made it more difficult for Floridians to vote in last year’s election, something widely blamed for contributing to long lines, and the current governor’s refusal to extend early voting hours the way Crist did in 2008 in response to lengthy waits.
“It would seem if the lines are that long in early voting or otherwise the chief executive might take it upon him or herself to sign an executive order to expand the hours,” Crist said. “Where’s your heart?”
He spoke strongly in favor of overhauling immigration policy, and used it as a way to deliver a biography of himself and talk about his grandfather, who came to this county where he eked out a living and spurred children and grandchildren to success.
Polls show Crist the front runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and suggest he’d run strongly against Scott. Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar, who was one of the many politicos present, said he didn’t have any doubt Crist is running, though the former governor insisted he hasn’t decided and doesn’t know when he’ll make up his mind.
Though the crowd of 320 was ostensibly on hand to see the Chamber of commerce install its new officers, Mayor Peter Bober and former Broward sheriff and state Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who lives in Hollywood, said the it was a larger than usual turnout for the annual event.
The applause was polite, but not uproarious. Afterward, he was mobbed by people wanting to talk and get pictures. Accommodating everyone – a Crist trademark – kept him in the ballroom until 50 minutes after the event, when everyone was gone but a couple of party leaders and servers clearing the tables.