Crist reaches out in first week


Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 1:41 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - With statewide angst boiling over the high cost of property taxes and insurance, Gov. Charlie Crist wrapped up his first week in office on Tuesday sharing warm homilies with high school students in the governor's mansion.
Crist charmed the star-struck students with advice for their future: ''Be good to other people. Be kind. Because that kindness will come back to you.''
He called Abraham Lincoln a ''pretty cool guy'' and shook hands with as many students as possible, asking their names and giving them warm hopes for a good future.
It was typical of Crist's first seven days in office, a week marked by a passionate effort to touch the common person that is a remarkably unusual start for the leader of the fourth largest state in the country.
Crist began his first day in office by deciding against a pricey inaugural ball and deleting the traditional playing of the official state song - ''Old Folks at Home'' - the Stephen Foster song that has been tagged as racist by some.
His first executive order last week was an order for ''plain language'' in state communications with the public. Crist called the ''government gobbledy-gook'' an arrogant effort to hide state decisions in dense wording.
And he said the meeting with students from Tallahassee's Lincoln High School was the first ''Tallahassee Tuesday,'' quarterly meetings in which he'll ''open up the house to regular Floridians, to have them come and speak to their governor.''
University of Florida political science professor Richard Scher has written about the state's governors. He said Crist can only maintain the continuation of his campaigning as ''The People's Governor'' for a short while until residents tire of the effort.
Scher said Crist runs the risk of falling into the Jimmy Carter pitfall when the president's folksy fashion and style wore thin and became a source of public derision rather than admiration.
''In the case of Mr. Crist this has all been, and I don't mean this unkindly, largely symbolic. How can you oppose plain speaking, but what does it really mean? One would have to say it's a symbolic gesture that sounds great but will have few if any practical consequences,'' Scher said.
Scher said Crist's cheeriness was a stark contrast to his predecessor, Gov. Jeb Bush.
''Jeb, good or bad, had a certain ponderous style. But there was a gravitas to the way he went about doing the job,'' Scher said. ''One would hate to think that Charlie is going to trivialize it.''
Scher said Crist may be especially agile with his populist style, but that he is not totally unique among former governors. Bob Graham had ''work days'' where he would do everyday jobs with everyday Floridians. And Lawton Chiles, despite a legendary political caginess, embraced populism by bashing ''big tobacco.''
Those closest to Crist say his cheery takeover of state government is no act and that he treats a stranger the same way he treats a powerful lobbyist.
But Crist will soon have to face up to political challenges more stern than banning acronyms and jargon. A special session on property insurance starts next week and his plans to cut property taxes have little support among lawmakers. For now, at least, he's fulfilling his campaign promise.
''He is very personable,'' said Lincoln High principal Martha Bunch on Tuesday. ''He just seems to be a very down to earth person and I think he is going to be the people's governor.''

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