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Civility in Public Life

Think back to late January. President Barack Obama was scheduled to appear in Tampa to announce federal funding for a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando and eventually Miami. That was the real news, but the question getting wide publicity was this: Would Gov. Charlie Crist greet the president as he did in Fort Myers last February or would he avoid Obama as he did last October in Jacksonville?

Andy Corty
Andy Corty
Partisan politics unfortunately played a major role in these decisions. After the “man hug” of February ’09, Crist was pummeled from the right wing of the Republican Party for consorting with the Democratic president. The pressure grew so intense that Crist, running for the U.S. Senate, pointedly stayed away in October, saying he wasn’t even aware the president was traveling to Florida.

Such a political game runs counter to the Crist I know. He is a man who is uncommonly polite. He has friends of many stripes. He has always accepted criticism without knocking the critic. And he has typically governed toward the center. While we may personally differ on some significant policy issues, I’ve never felt anything other than warm collegiality from him. Perhaps I’m a starry-eyed political neophyte, but there’s something really “American” about fair-minded discourse between people who don’t see eye-to-eye on policy topics.

By chance I was at the Governor’s Mansion for a reception the night before Obama was to appear in Tampa, so I asked Crist about his intentions. “Of course I’m going to be with the president,” Crist replied. “It’s about jobs for Floridians. With unemployment over 11% here, there’s nothing more important than jobs.”

That was the right decision, and I applaud the governor for greeting Obama. But I wish he had also said that as governor — and as the official representative of 18 million Floridians — he would always greet the president of the United States when he visited the great state of Florida. It’s a question of civility.

Place this scenario in a corporate setting: When the chairman of any large national corporation visits Florida, you better believe that the head of that corporation’s Florida operations will be at the chairman’s side. To spurn him or her would be the height of rudeness — and probably the end of a promising career.

The topic of civility was surely on the mind of former Gov. Buddy MacKay when he wrote his new book, “How Florida Happened: The Political Education of Buddy MacKay” that is set for release later this month. (You can read an excerpt at FloridaTrend.com/Extra.) As you’ll see in our Icon interview, MacKay believes that “single-issue politics and ideological politics are destroying this country.”

I agree. Instead of polarizing every step of the political process, we need to find common ground. That is a job for leaders. It’s a job that this governor and his successor should take seriously.

Our annual Florida Small Business section publishes March 2010, and I encourage you to take a look. Along with our partners — Enterprise Florida and the Florida Economic Development Council — we publish this information to highlight small-business people, who are so important to Florida’s future.

New Year’s Resolution Update — In January I worked out at the gym 12 times, not quite my every-other-day goal but still a huge improvement over past years. Early February also started well. And I’m at least thinking about healthier eating habits. Of course, thinking isn’t doing.

— Andy Corty

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