Charlie Crist takes political risk with Rick Scott’s business past

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Charlie Crist is betting that Gov. Rick Scott’s business background will help the former governor get his old job back.

Four years since Scott’s business experience became a central part of the campaign against him, Crist is revisiting same topics, hoping he would be more successful that Democrat Alex Sink was in 2010, writes Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

“I don’t think it was discussed enough four years ago, for whatever reason,” Crist told Wallace in an interview on Friday.

It could be a dangerous strategy for Crist, say some political experts. Not only is there a risk of looking like he is reworking old issues, but it could hurt Crist’s trademark affability, an identity he cultivated over three decades.

“There’s a real risk for him in becoming too much of an attack dog,” said Professor Darryl Paulson of the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.

Regardless of the risks, Crist has been persistent at a pair of recent Sarasota fundraisers and a number of press conferences. He condemned Scott’s time as chief executive of Columbia/HCA as a “fraud,” adding his companies “stole billions” from Florida taxpayers.

Scott resigned as HCA’s CEO in July 1997, while federal officials probed into reports the company incorrectly billed the government for services never performed.

From 2000 to 2002, HCA paid $1.7 billion in fines for falsely billing Medicaid and Medicare.

In civil lawsuits filed after Scott’s departure, Scott pleaded the Fifth — invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination – to dodge questions about his time at HCA. Crist denounced it as a sign Scott lied and cannot be trusted to run Florida.

“If you can’t trust your governor to tell the truth, what can you trust?” Crist said. “Seventy-five times he pleaded the Fifth. You know how many times I’ve pleaded the Fifth? Zero.”

Scott dismissed questions about Columbia/HCA during a visit on Wednesday to Lakewood Ranch. Scott said Crist was struggling to distract voters from the campaign’s real issues.

“What he doesn’t want to talk about his record,” Scott said, adding, “He talks a lot; he gets nothing done.”

Scott blames Crist for the economic recession, saying the state lost 832,000 jobs during his time in office, from 2007 to 2011.

“Since I’ve been in office I’ve been cleaning up Charlie Crist’s messes,” he said.

Many expect the Florida governor’s race to be the hottest in the nation. When running for governor in 2006, Crist was Republican. In 2012, he switched to the Democratic Party.

Scott’s followers call Crist’s ethics attacks a poor attempt to bring issues already resolved by voters.

“This thing has been litigated to death already,” according to Florida Republican strategist Rick Wilson.

“Voters have already made up their minds on it. They are done with it.”

Winning in 2010 came after a blitz of ads about HCA in both the primary and general election, Wilson said, and voters have moved past the matter.

Crist is desperate bring up anything other than the declining unemployment since leaving office in 2011, Wilson said.

However, Crist is convinced the old news for politicos can be fresh for millions of Floridians — especially with the federal fines Scott’s business past.

“There’s a lot of people who have no idea his company was fined $1.7 billion,” Crist told Wallace.

 “Look, I’m a nice guy. I don’t enjoy going through someone’s sordid past,” Crist said. “But they stole billions from Floridians and the American people.”

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 HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, 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 phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.