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The week that was in Florida politics — March 20

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This week in Florida Politics gulfs widen; the separation between the House and Senate, environmentalists and lawmakers and relevancy and the Democratic Party grew wider and deeper.

The Senate moved $5 billion further away from the House over a state budget for next year. The Senate has a plan to fill the hole created by the scheduled end of a federal program that reimburses hospitals for providing care to the uninsured. The plan directs $2 billion to safety net hospitals, just like the Low Income Pool fund does this year, and pulls down another $2.8 billion to set up a Florida health insurance exchange to keep the federal dollars flowing.

“We must advocate for our own pro-active, market-based, Florida-driven solution for the enormous healthcare challenges facing our state,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner after the plan was introduced Thursday.

The House appears uninterested in the proposal; more on the LIP solution here.

The Senate also moved further away from the environmentalists’ position on how to spend Amendment 1 money. State Sen. Alan Hays is proposing an 84-percent cut to the Florida Forever land acquisition fund—from $17 million to $2 million. And he is proposing fewer dollars for conservation efforts than either the governor or the House. And Hays also asked the politically incorrect question, at least incorrect to land-buying-loving environmentalists, “how much is enough?” And Bruce Ritchie is all over the story here; and here too, heck, just click on his byline for other stories on the topic.

I need to talk to Charlie Crist as Pittsburgher to Pittsburgher. I know he was born in Altoona and I’m from New Castle, but Pittsburgh is bigger than the city at the mouth of the Ohio — think the old Northwest Territory, or what I like to call football country but you may know as the Rust Belt.

My publisher thinks the announcement this week Crist won’t run in 2016 signals the end of the Crist era and I hope he’s wrong. He’s a political insider. I’m an unemployed steelworker who hangs around the Capitol like others do a tavern, pool hall or barbershop. People tell me things and I tell stories. I do all right because there are a lot of other rust belt refugees calling Florida home.

The Florida Democratic Party is a mess, a complete mess. It and not Charlie Crist is why Marco Rubio is a U.S. Senator and Gov. Rick Scott has a bright future.

Stay with me, I’ve been thinking about this for four days but have limited space.

The Democratic establishment does not know how to talk to people. This week the House Democratic Caucus handed out a flyer with two graphs; one showing a reduction in Corrections employees, another showing an increase in inmate deaths.

When asked if there is a correlation state Rep. Daryl Rouson talked about “affecting policy” through the budget. Democratic Leader Mark Pafford mentioned things have “deteriorated” and “people are dying,” and the communications director afterwards said, no. But then added, Rep. Rouson had answered the question.

Guys, people already don’t know what the Democrats stand for as it is and you don’t need a consultant to tell you stunts like this don’t help.

Compared to Democrats in the Legislature, Charlie Crist is a straight talker.

In 1997 I referred to Crist as a show poodle and an empty suit when I saw what I considered pandering to a gathering at a bird-watching conference. A decade later he was governor and I listened to his words and waited for his actions to contradict what he was saying.

I waited.

Crist’s organizing principle for government is “the people.” His critics say it is an act. If so, he’s pretty good at it and time and time again the record shows as governor he sided with people; on tenure for teachers, restoration of civil rights, insurance and other issues.

Why I heard things differently than my friends, reporters and the Republican establishment (all those flip-flops – I didn’t see it that way). I can only contribute to the fact that we were born in the same Congressional District at about the same time. Crist was in the mountains and I was in the foothills but it was among the same group of people.

When Crist’s grandfather staked his family’s claim to the American dream in an Appalachia coalfield, a James Connelly was a labor organizer among the immigrants working in the Pennsylvania mines, steel mills and rail yards.

Connelly was also newspaper editor who when he returned to Ireland became the de-facto commander-in-chief of the Irish Republic revolutionary army. When he was gunned down in a Dublin firefight with British forces in 1916 the newspaper he competed against in Pennsylvania’s Mahoning and Shenango valleys remembered him as a “very brilliant, well-educated man of an aggressive character . . . it is only natural he should be chosen as one of the leaders. . . in the interest of in the common people and endeavor to secure for them better conditions.”

The Democrats don’t have a brilliant aggressive character. They have a gentleman from St. Petersburg and a lady from Tallahassee.

I don’t know where Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant is going with her deep dive into 2014 data; some interesting comments in this Q&A but everyone knows about Charlie and “the people.”

It’s an American ideal to balance the interest of capital with the interest of people and, given the times, extremely relevant and why Crist’s “the people” infatuation is important.

The biggest problem that Charlie Crist had in 2010 and 2014 may not have been the Republican Party but the Democratic establishment; the gaggle of activists and bureaucrats; people who make money raising money and people who make money telling candidates how to spend money may be interested in issues but their interst in people is suspect.

I’ve become convinced they only see working people when they are handed burgers or their offices get vacuumed or they happen to see the garbage being carted away. Otherwise that group of people is invisible to the establishment and in turn the fast food worker, college student, daycare worker have no reason to vote.

Here’s one 30-year Florida resident and Rust Belt Refugee’s opinion on how the Democrats blew it in 2014.

I was on the Crist campaign bus last August for a swing through central Florida. It was late at night and the candidate and I were talking when things became interesting and asked if we could go on the record. The ever-gracious Crist explained the conversation was never off the record.

“I can quote you on what you just said,” I asked.

“Why not? People are important. Working people deserved to be treated fairly,” said Crist.

The conversation was about the Right to Work law. Crist had said he would be willing to have the Constitutional Revision Commission reexamine its provision in the Constitution. The CRC meets once a decade and the governor appoints some of the members.

I thought the gubernatorial race was about to get real interesting, real quickly. Why Crist was talking like Harry S. Truman — unfortunately Democrats didn’t respond.

Do you remember Right to Work being an issue during the fall campaign? In a state where wage theft is prevalent, workers can be fired due to a lack of sick leave and someone who gives 20 – 30 years to a company can be dismissed on a whim, do you recall any discussion of workers’ rights to effectively organize for the common good?

Who’s fault is that? The candidate put it on the table and the response from the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and other members of the Democratic coaliton was deafening, wasn’t it?

Charlie, Floridian to Floridian, in the foxhole with you during the battle was a bunch of latte-drinking limousine liberals talking about the Starbucks menu. And despite having to carry them you still raised $40 million and came within 65,000 votes of winning.

Charlie Crist is not a James Connelly; too much of a gentleman to be an aggressive agitator. His roots though are in the soil Connelly worked on behalf of his grandfather and father. And for the foreseeable future Crist and Allison Tant are the only hope working Floridians have. So, here’s hoping Charlie Crist thinks long and hard about his next move.

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