After the shutdown, Charlie Crist may be the perfect Democrat for this political moment

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This Friday, Democrats from around the state will gather at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort in Orlando for their annual conference. I expect there will be much discussion around Amanda Murphy’s recent win in State House District 36. I do not know if Representative Murphy will be there, but if she is, she will likely be greeted as a rock star.

Another hot topic will inevitably be the St. Petersburg mayor’s race. It is a non-partisan race, but Democrats are eager to see Rick Kriseman defeat incumbent (and heavily Republican-backed) Bill Foster. Polling throughout the campaign showing Rick ahead ought to do nothing but fuel dreams of a progressive renaissance in St. Petersburg for the attendees in Orlando.

In any normal year, those two good news stories would be enough to buoy the spirits of statewide Democrats. 

But this is not a normal year.

With the passing of Congressman Young, speculation about who will run (on either side of the political spectrum) in the governor-directed special election is ramping up — fast. This is a potential Congressional pick-up for Democrats, a fact lost on no one who will be in Orlando this weekend.

Each of those things will, in some measure, be whispered between attendees sitting in the back row of sessions and trainings. Democrats standing in the hallways of the hotel or out for a smoke break will proffer ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams on each of those political scenes.

But if you’re Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, and you are in the back rooms with the high rollers, the money guys, the issue leaders, the decision-makers, and there is strategy to be made, there is only one race you can be talking about: the race for Governor of Florida in 2014.

And that means only one name: Charlie Crist.

I want to tell you why every single Democrat meeting in Orlando this weekend ought to be just as excited for Charlie Crist as they are for Amanda Murphy, Rick Kriseman, and Democratic chances in the Florida 13th. But first, an apology… of sorts.

If you were to look at a recent archive of Florida bloggers who were tough on Republican Governor Charlie Crist, you would assuredly find my name and my old blog at or at least near the top of the list. I was tough on Governor Crist, and make no mistake: I am not apologizing for what I said. Crist made some bad choices and some dumb moves — especially as he moved towards his run for the U.S. Senate. And this is politics. And I am a blogger.

The sky is blue. Grass is green. That is the way things are.

My apology is for being too slow to come around to the idea of Democratic Governor Charlie Crist. Why did it take me so long? And what finally changed my mind?

The answer to the second question is easy: the shutdown of the federal government. The shutdown was the inevitable culmination of a rigid, ossified political ideology. The very concept of governing itself measured against the core belief structure of the tea party conservatives could not stand.

I saw an awful lot of strange so-called analysis urging President Obama to “negotiate” with Republicans. That argument never held any water with most folks, because the Affordable Care Act was essentially validated in the 2012 presidential election, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. What was there to negotiate?

I found it even weirder that no one seemed to be calling on Texas Senator Ted Cruz to “negotiate”. Where was the clarion call for the tea party caucus to sit down and figure out a way to uphold their deepest beliefs and still govern the country? You can’t find those editorials, because the belief of the tea party caucus is no government whatsoever. That belief is steadfast, rigid, unmoving.

Here in the real world, people change. They grow, they evolve, they develop a system of values and beliefs, and those values and beliefs grow as they grow. They grow as we learn new things, meet new people, expose ourselves to new experiences.

I think this makes Charlie Crist, a former Republican now Democrat, not just a good candidate for Florida Governor, but perhaps the perfect Democrat for the political moment at hand. The media is awash in speculation that the Republican Party — again, ossified, unmoving, unwilling to live in the real world occupied by the rest of us — may be on their way out, or at least due for a necessary re-engineering.

Are Democrats willing to grow, to evolve and change? Or are we at risk of becoming the liberal versions of our fossilized brothers and sisters in the GOP?

I say we learn, grow, and accept new names and faces into our party. I say we make Charlie Crist our standard-bearer for that image. 

As for why it took me so long, that one is easy: I’m an idiot. A large problem with politics today is that both sides do a fantastic job of clan retention. 

To be clear, I am not suggesting a form of middle-of-the-road Broderism. When Democrats meet this weekend, they ought to be reinforcing the Democratic Party values with one another. One of those values should be acceptance of a wide range of ideas and views.

If Democrats can remember that it is really us who have the “big tent,” then the good news stories in Florida will continue — from Pasco County, to St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, all the way to the governor’s mansion next year.