Crist waxes optimistic at inauguration
Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 11:17 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - With warm promises of bipartisanship and humble service, Charlie Crist's decades-long march to the top culminated Tuesday at noon sharp when he was sworn-in as the state's 44th governor.
Crist inauguration speech highlights
His speech centered on the themes of his campaign: A vow to be the ''people's governor'' with problem-solving replacing political division.
''Politics at its worst separates us. Our values, our outlook, are always more similar than different,'' Crist said. ''And to those of us entrusted with the public confidence, our mission has never been more clear: solve problems, don't politicize them. We will work together to do what is right and reject labels - red, blue. Liberal, conservative. Democrat, Republican.''
Crist's optimism was even evident in his opening words when he said ''the sun shines upon our faces.'' It was, in fact, a brisk day with grey clouds and temperatures in the 50s that forced the hundreds of people in the crowd outside of the Old Capitol to wear coats and scarves. It may be the last day that Crist can revel in the ardent, vague politics of populism. In two weeks, the Legislature will meet to address a crisis in exploding windstorm insurance that threatens the state's future as much as any challenge in more than a decade.
Crist talked in generalities only about the steep rise in property taxes and windstorm insurance that is making it hard for people to afford to live in the state, calling them ''a real threat to our citizens.''
He promised to expand Florida's homestead exemption and proposed a constitutional amendment to ''cut our property taxes.'' Neither promise came with specifics. Crist said his first act today will be to sign an executive order creating the Office of Open Government ''to ensure that the people have accessibility to their leaders and the working of their public officials.''
The move typified the feel-good day, with even the most passionate Democrats praising Crist.
The new governor promised to travel to Israel on a trade mission, saying Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler had suggested the trip. Wexler called Crist's promise ''an incredible statement.''
''I am as devoted a Democrat as there is in the state,'' Wexler said. ''Charlie Crist is the real thing when it comes to bipartisanship. The natural inclination (in politics) is not to believe him. The truth is that it's not an image. It's the real Charlie.''
House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said Crist's promises to raise teacher pay and protect the environment ''are the things Democrats want to hear.''
''It was clear to everybody that he wants to govern from the center,'' Gelber said. ''The question is going to be after this speech whether deeds follow words. It's my hope and expectation that they will.''
Ever since his first, failed run for the state Legislature in 1986, Crist has eyed a top slot in public office. He won a seat in the state Senate in 1992, quitting for a long-shot campaign against U.S. Sen. Bob Graham in 1998, which he lost.
Crist hasn't lost since, winning statewide election as education commissioner in 2000 and attorney general in 2002. This year's campaign for governor suffered few bumps. Crist trounced party stalwart Tom Gallagher in the Republican primary and was rarely threatened by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Davis in the election, which Crist won with a 52 to 45 percent margin.
Crist's promises of bipartisanship, beginning with his appointment of longtime Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth to run the Department of Children and Families, have already softened a political atmosphere coarsened by Jeb Bush's eight years of ideological crusades.
In his second inaugural speech in 2003, Bush famously wished for a Capitol complex empty of government workers, ''silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill.''
Crist, by comparison, suggested the playing of ''Fanfare for the Common Man'' by Aaron Copland as a prelude to his swearing-in and avoided any incendiary rhetoric by promising the ''people's Legislature and the people's governor following the people's agenda.''
Crist praised Bush as ''America's greatest governor.'' Bush left Tallahassee by declining comment, stepping into a Ford Crown Victoria parked in the courtyard outside of the Capitol. Pointing to Crist with a smile, Bush waved off questions, saying, ''He's the man.''
Bush's absence, and Crist's signals that he's more interested in working with lawmakers rather than imposing his own agenda, may mean a more powerful Legislature.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said Crist's tenure as a state senator in the 1990s may lead to a renewed energy for lawmakers who for eight years reacted to Bush's proposals.
''Because of Charlie's background, he thinks of it as more of a team approach,'' Baxley said. ''With Gov. Bush, he was more of a CEO problem-solver.''
''I think just the fact that Gov. Bush is not going to be here changes the dynamic dramatically,'' Gelber said. ''(Crist is) new and he's just getting his team together and he has a more mature Legislature that's going to want to flex its muscles.''
Gelber warned that unless Crist and the Legislature, still controlled by Republicans with a nearly 2-to-1 margin, come up with a plan this month to reduce insurance rates by 30 percent or more, ''we'll have failed miserably.''
But Tuesday was a day for celebration, and Crist accommodated. After a parade with marching bands and Tampa Bay Lightning cheerleaders ended at the Governor's mansion, Crist changed into a sweater and blue jeans. He shook hands with hundreds of photo-snapping well-wishers, signed autographs and spoke briefly to a crowd after being introduced by Bill Wharton, a gumbo cook and blues musician known as the Sauce Boss.
Crist's political mentor, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, said Tallahassee's political world was still adjusting to a plainspoken populist running the state.
''This is a man who truly cares with his heart and soul about service to others,'' Mack said. ''You can never underestimate the power of a personality.''
Comments are currently unavailable on this article