Jeb Bush who?


Published: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 11:16 p.m.

It seems hard to believe that Gov. Charlie Crist has only been in office a little over two weeks, such is the love from legislators who credit him with fostering a new era of bipartisanship and warmth.

But it wasn't that long ago that Jeb Bush was in office and Crist was calling him the best governor in the nation.

Those messages have been diluted recently. Crist, speaking to a crowd at the governor's mansion last week in a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., said that his favorite Florida governor was LeRoy Collins, the man credited in the 1950s for sparing Florida the civil rights turmoil endemic to other southern states.

And Crist has booted almost every one of Bush's agency heads, as well as nearly 300 of Bush's appointees to various boards and commissions.

Crist also ended Bush's tradition of meeting with the media at the bottom of a spiral staircase in the Capitol basement before the biweekly meetings of the Florida Cabinet. The meetings became mini-melees as a dozen or more TV and newspaper reporters crowded Bush. The image on TV stations around the state was similar to a "60 Minutes" encounter, complete with a sense of tension.

Crist has moved those meetings to an office where reporters can sit and the governor can appear more statesman-like with a new sign containing a picture of the Old Capitol behind his podium.

"A little change of venue," Crist said Thursday. "I wanted to have this (room) open to visit with you, make sure you're comfortable and you're happy."

Reporters' comfort and happiness were rarely concerns of Bush, who notably locked reporters in his office in 2000 when they wouldn't leave lawmakers who were staging a sit-in to discuss an issue with Bush.

After his last pre-Cabinet meeting with reporters in December, Bush said he would miss the gauntlet and chuckled with mock tears.

When he appeared with Bush on the campaign trail, Crist said he would probably call Bush every morning to pick his brain for ideas on how to run the state.

That hasn't exactly happened.

"I'm trying not to abuse that," Crist said, "but we communicate a lot."

He cited a phone call he made to Bush about the change of leadership at Home Depot, the Atlanta-based home improvement retailer.

Crist said he was talking with Bush about the possibility of enticing Home Depot to relocate its headquarters to Florida given the change, telling reporters he was excited about that long-shot possibility in a most un-Jeb like way.

"That would be cool," Crist said.

Senators asking for election advice

Florida is still trying to live down its reputation as "the land of the hanging chad," following the 2000 presidential election. Some memories of that contentious election season were revived in the minds of some as they witnessed the disputed Congressional District 13 race last year in Sarasota.

Given that history, Senate Ethics and Elections Chairman Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, may be taking on more than he asked for when his committee meets next week in a special meeting to listen to what Floridians have to say about the state's election process.

"We're not going to talk. We're going to listen," Constantine said.

Constantine said the committee, which will meet from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the state Capitol complex, is encouraging any Floridians with ideas or concerns about the election process to contact his committee.

For those who can't make it to Tallahassee, they can e-mail their thoughts to the committee at 2006electionflsenate.gov or write the committee at the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, 404 South Monroe Street, 420 Knott Building, Tallahassee, Fla. 32399-1100. The committee meeting will also be broadcast on the Florida Channel statewide.

Compiled from reports by Joe Follick and Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sun Tallahassee Bureau.Crist has booted almost every one of Bush's agency heads, as well as nearly 300 of Bush's appointees to various boards and commissions.

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