The week that was in Florida politics: Hope or change?

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This time four years ago, there was a lot of talk of “hope and change.” This week, President Obama exhorted Americans to continue to hope – rather than to make a change, reports David Royse of the News Service of Florida.

And a Florida politician had his own kind of change on display. Charlie Crist’s change of heart, from “Ronald Reagan and Jeb Bush Republican” to an Obama-backing speaker at the Democratic National Convention, brought the expected calls of derision from his former Republican brethren – who said he really hasn’t changed and is just the same old opportunistic Charlie

And while he may be once again embracing the president, at least in spirit, Democrats weren’t necessarily buying Crist’s full-on man hug of their party. A number of them this week said – cautiously – something to the effect of ‘Come on in if you wish, but we’re skeptical of your motives and bona fides.’

But those who were saying so were the Democratic Party activists at the DNC in Charlotte, N.C. For them – many of whom have eyes on running for, or working for someone running for, the governor’s office – Crist may represent a rival, though he’s officially not a member of their party, at least not yet.

With his appearance on stage at the convention just a short time before Obama, rumors have resurfaced that the chameleon-like Crist may also be looking for a return to the state political stage.

And there’s more than a little bit of envy of Crist – who seems to have some things Democrats haven’t had much of in this state in recent years: name recognition, likeability and fundraising prowess; in short, electability.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said in his Baptist upbringing he was taught to welcome people from other faiths into the church.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to make you a preacher,” said Smith, who could be one of those mulling a run for governor in 2014.

Crist tried to sell his backing of Obama as both pragmatism and ideology, saying that from a pragmatic standpoint Florida was only able to balance its budget – the state was “saved” in Crist’s words – by Obama’s stimulus spending. From an ideological standpoint, Crist said the GOP has drifted too far to the right and isn’t amenable to compromise.

“My friend Jeb Bush recently noted Reagan himself would have been too moderate, too reasonable for today’s GOP,” Crist said. Later, he said Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were “allergic to the very idea of compromise.”

The Cristo-Chango of the former governor was kind of the way it has gone for a Democratic Party that has had few wins in Florida lately – even their big convention week was partly overshadowed by the longtime Republican.

For those who remain in the state Republican Party it was a quiet week, coming right after the GOP’s Tampa convention. They mostly watched — and sniped — from the sidelines as the Democrats did the week before. State Party Chairman Lenny Curry was in Charlotte to do counterpoints – but Crist botched things up for him too. Instead of getting to go on national TV to shoot off zingers about Obama and to praise Romney, Curry had to use his time in the spotlight to answer questions about Crist.

The Democratic convention hardly went off hitch-less for the party as a whole. Rank-and-file Democrats changed the platform and omitted previous language that included the word God-given, leading to allegations the party was going Godless. Democrats also failed to keep in language about Jerusalem being the rightful capital of Israel, a point of interest to the Jewish voting bloc. Both changes – chalked up as oversights – were quickly changed back, but the Republicans got a couple of days of talking points out of the blunders.


While Democrats and Crist got all hopey and changey again in North Carolina, the business of actual government continued in Florida.

Florida education officials were weighing the possible impact of a federal-court opinion handed down late last week that may require in-state tuition for the American-born children of illegal immigrants.

Even though they’re U.S. citizens by virtue of American birth, tuition is based on residency, and residency is based on where your parents live if you’re a minor. But U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore’s ruling found that an unconstitutional violation of the rights of those students.

And in another issue related to the federal courts, the U.S. Department of Justice said this week that it won’t oppose a new plan for early voting in five Florida counties that must get prior approval for electoral changes under the Voting Rights Act.

Lawmakers last year reduced the number of early voting days in all Florida counties, but the change was rejected for the five counties – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe. A new plan would reduce early voting from 14 days to just eight in those counties, but expand the hours to 12 per day. The DOJ notified a federal court that it won’t oppose the plan, putting the Obama Administration, the Scott administration and the counties mostly on the same page.

One county, Monroe, isn’t totally in agreement – its supervisor of elections, Republican Harry Sawyer, said the extra hours of early voting amount to an “unfunded mandate.” Also, Sawyer said it’s not clear whether the plan might reduce minority turnout, which is the objection to cutting back on early voting. But he said he’d go along with whatever the court decides.


Gov. Rick Scott 2.0 continues to take shape. This week those who watch the governor’s office learned that Scott’s communications director, Brian Burgess, is leaving to go to the Republican Party of Florida. Burgess was a lightning rod, with a more confrontational approach with the media than predecessors. But he has to be credited for helping Scott get to the office in the first place, helping craft the campaign messaging that propelled the previously obscure Scott from health care executive to the state’s chief executive. Burgess will be replaced by Melissa Sellers, previously spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Hoping to rekindle the spirit of hope he ignited four years ago while wanting Americans to not change to a different vision, President Barack Obama asked the country this week to give him a little more time to achieve the vision they bought into in 2008.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’m one of those believers that if you want to join our church you’re always welcome in the congregation. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to make you a preacher……. I think he would have to take some Desi Arnaz lessons. He’d have some ‘splainin’ to do.” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith on Charlie Crist’s ongoing flirtation with the Democratic Party.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.