Carl Hiaasen: Charlie Crist will not get “free pass”

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If there is one thing about Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen — he does not mince words about a certain former governor of Florida.

“Good-time Charlie Crist is back,” Hiaasen writes in Sunday’s Herald.

Sure Crist can beat Gov. Rick Scott, he says, anyone can. Even Miami Dolphins’ Richie Incognito could beat the governor if the election was held today.

Scott is one of the most unpopular governors in America, so polls are essentially meaningless. Besides, he has $100 million to spend on getting re-elected.

Even with all that, Hiaasen says, Scott’s chances in 2014 are better than in 2010, when he was a rookie politician with “zero credentials for public office and even more money.”

Spending $75 million of his own money got him to the Capitol last time, and Scott succeeded even after his healthcare group was involved in one of the largest Medicare frauds in history. A resume like that could kill political aspirations — in a “sane and sensible place.”

“But not in Florida,” Hiaasen notes, “the eternal land of suckers.”

And he should know; it is his stock in trade, after all.

This time, Scott will have the full backing of the state GOP, something he lacked in 2010. He will need it to attack Charlie Crist.

That is not to say Crist is invulnerable. He does come with “weak spots.”

The former governor is immensely likeable, which could be the problem, according to Hiaasen. Crist has a need to be liked, something that muddies up his core policy values.

One term in Tallahassee before setting his sights on the U.S. Senate portrays Crist as a political opportunist — not necessarily a terrible thing in politicians — but something having a negative effect on the direction of Florida.

It is what made Rick Scott possible.

Leaving the state during an economic crisis, walking away from a difficult job, was certainly not a terrific career move. It left a gaping political hole, one where Scott waltzed right in.

Crist’s move to Independent, after dropping out of the Republican primary due to poor poll numbers, ensured a division of the moderate vote, guaranteeing the defeat of both Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek. Even less surprising was Crist’s next switch to the Democratic Party.

Hiaasen writes that the GOP wants every vote to be about Obama, and they will have no problem pounding Crist for “standing on the same stage as the president.”

If the healthcare catastrophe is not resolved in the next year, Crist’s support of Obama could be a problem—or maybe not. Look what happened to Chris Christie in New Jersey; Republican Christie literally embraced the president after Hurricane Superstorm Sandy, and he won by a landslide in a Democratic-leaning state.

Voters require different things from governors than national politicians, that’s why it is easier to cross party lines in state elections. Jeb Bush won that way for two terms, and Crist rode the same surge in 2006, with lots of Democrats crossing over.

But joining the party doesn’t mean Democrats will automatically vote for Crist, Hiaasen warns.  The people want a leader who is reliable and sturdy — not just likable.

That means Crist will not receive a “free pass” to Tallahassee without a little more explanation. 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.