Nearly two years in office, Gov. Charlie Crist has all but abandoned traditional ideology in favor of leading from his instincts.
“What he does is he starts speaking and says, ‘Oh, Jane. Good to see you. And Bob, I appreciate the note you sent me.’ He litters his speech with this personal arm-around-you kind of stuff. You feel really good he notices you. When you’re in a crowded room, it seems like you’re there alone with him. He’s
like your next-door neighbor. He’s very human.”
- Barry Moline, executive director, Florida Municipal Electric Association
In the certificate of need negotiation, as with other issues, Crist took full advantage of his personality, a disarming combination of cheerfulness and determination that has led many to underestimate him. “There aren’t many people who don’t like Charlie, and that’s something you can’t underestimate in terms of strength,” says Paulson.
The limits of Crist’s style have yet to be tested, however, and some believe the governor may not be able to pull off his iconoclastic approach indefinitely. Paulson suggests Crist’s property insurance reforms were a meteorological gamble that could come back to haunt him. AIR Worldwide Corp., a Boston-based risk modeler, predicts that a Category 5 hurricane making direct landfall in Miami and turning north toward Orlando could inflict more than $130 billion in damage. Meanwhile, a Category 5 storm hitting the Tampa Bay region and tracking east would cause about $70 billion.
Either scenario would wreak economic devastation for the state and test the public’s patience with their cheerful governor. “Crist has put the state at great risk. It’s sort of like rolling the dice,” Paulson says. “I do think potentially it’s his Achilles’ heel, and it does depend more on the fate of nature as to how his legacy will be defined.”
If there are storm clouds on Crist’s horizon, however, he remains ever sunny. “I love the job. It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had. You really have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of almost 20 million. I love the people I work with. It’s a lot of fun.”
Ed Moore, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF), says that state’s 28 private colleges and universities were aghast earlier this year when Crist proposed suspending the state’s Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) program, which provides tuition assistance to Florida undergraduate students attending a private, non-profit Florida college or university.
Moore says the cuts would have devastated the state’s private schools and left thousands of students out in the cold at a time when Florida’s public universities are also cutting enrollment. Moore says Crist “didn’t draw a line in the sand” when the ICUF schools protested the proposed FRAG cuts. He told them to “go to the Legislature and make their case.” In the end, the Legislature cut FRAG funding by only 5.4%, and Crist in a recent letter to Moore says he is “looking forward” to fully restoring the funds to the “valuable” program as tax collections improve. “He’s shown the flexibility to embrace new thoughts and new ideas — to work with us to be creative,” Moore says. “I don’t think anybody questions his sincerity for his love of Florida. If you can make your case on how what you do helps Florida, he’s with you.”