November 26, 2014

Florida's New Governor

Think Big, Guv'nr

His new role could bring out the best in Charlie Crist.

Neil Skene | 1/1/2007

Is it imaginable that Charlie Crist could be a great governor?

He was at a lectern one day last fall at the Capitol to join former governors in praising '50s Gov. LeRoy Collins. Collins, whom Gov. Jeb Bush called his favorite governor, is so highly regarded because he did the right thing during the civil rights era.

Collins' legacy extends as well to the community college system, state parks and fairer financing of education. Intelligent, detail-oriented, urbane, he personified honor and good government.

More than 50 years later, one wonders: How will "Chain Gang" Charlie measure up? He is not a policy wonk. He has championed no great causes, ventured no new ideas. Doubters tend to expect that Crist will be a smooth, risk-free politician, with one eye on the polls and the other eye on the camera. Fans point out that many have underestimated Crist's abilities as he's risen through the political ranks.

Could Charlie Crist inspire some bipartisan remembrance 50 years from now? Maybe. Even politicians as accomplished as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln have encountered low expectations. Sometimes a critical leadership role brings out the best in people.

What could make Charlie Crist a great governor? Let us count the ways, Guv'nr.

1. Give the people the government they deserve.

Treat them like customers of the government -- not just recipients of social services and other obvious service-seekers, but like citizens as citizens, who deep down are less interested in how cheap their government is but instead how great a value their government is.

Look at taxes and spending from the perspective of return on investment, not minimizing investment. Florida has just about the cheapest government per capita in the nation, yet Jeb Bush spent eight years talking about cutting taxes. You can never cut enough to satisfy people who think they have a lousy government.
The head of the state's biggest agency was recently threatened with jail -- she later resigned -- for not obeying a court order to get mentally ill people out of the jails. We started a pre-kindergarten program so mediocre it is probably doing more harm than good by taking people away from their mothers and putting them with underqualified caretakers. What kind of government is that?

2. Make state employees your partners, not your enemy.

Bureaucracies create risk aversion. For every performance-based bonus program, there are mid-level and low-level supervisors who use it to reward their allies and warn their adversaries. Why not instead build teamwork by rewarding entire units that achieve a goal? Even if circumstances seem to demand pay freezes or layoffs or outsourcing, take every opportunity to raise their sights across Death Valley to the next mountaintop you will reach together. Lead them -- don't ignore them. Give them the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and well.
When Florida Trend writers interviewed Jeb Bush a year ago for a cover story on his legacy, he was asked if he had changed his mind about anything during his governorship. State employees, he replied; he holds them in higher regard than he used to. If only he had ever bothered to tell them that.
Walk around. Show up unannounced in some obscure office where people have done something well and tell them you appreciate them and let them tell you how they succeeded.

Tags: Politics & Law, Around Florida, Government/Politics & Law

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