September 25, 2023


Crist Governs from the Gut

Nearly two years in office, Gov. Charlie Crist has all but abandoned traditional ideology in favor of leading from his instincts.

Amy Keller | 8/1/2008

Charlie Crist
[Photo: Brian Smith]
Asked what role ideology plays in his decision-making, Gov. Charlie Crist tells a story. Shortly after his election in 2006, he sought the advice of the state’s former governors. Reubin Askew, who served as governor from 1971-79, told him he’d be getting lots of advice and that it was fine to listen to others. But when the time came to make a decision, Askew told him, Crist should rely on his own life experiences and trust his instincts — just as voters did in electing him.

“It’s been invaluable advice,” says Crist.

Indeed. A year and a half into the job, Crist has made governing from the gut his trademark, using his party affiliation as a jumping-off point rather than an ideological bastion. “Maybe it’s not traditional Republican-type stuff,” says Crist, “but I think it’s the most traditional Republican-type view. I mean, it’s sort of Republican in the sense of Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator, and Teddy Roosevelt, who founded our national parks systems.”

A sampler of Gov. Charlie Crist's politics.
See guide to Crist's Ideology
It’s a style that hasn’t been universally well-received — particularly among those with strongly defined views about what Republicans should believe and about how “leaders” are supposed to lead. Business leaders, steeped in eight years of Jeb Bush’s ideological rigor, generally like Crist but know his positions on issues won’t be as predictable as those of his predecessor. “In the past, we could pretty much hear what an issue was and know how the governor would react to it. That’s not true with Gov. Crist,” says Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.

Others in the business community worry that Crist isn’t listening to them enough. “I think he’s a good listener, but I don’t think he’s got enough good advice,” says Tom James, CEO of Raymond James and chairman of the Florida Council of 100. James — a friend of Crist and a longtime backer — says he wishes the governor would call on the council more often for advice like Bush did. “If I were a governor, I’d be using a group like us to study all kinds of problems,” James says.

Crist has also drawn criticism from those who believe he operates constantly with one finger in the political wind, responding to “the people” but with no well-defined policy backbone of his own. “He’s essentially become a cheerleader for Florida, and he’s not providing leadership” on fundamental issues such as economic development, education and water, says David Colburn, a University of Florida history professor who has authored several books on Florida politics.

For others, however, Crist’s style is a breath of fresh air after the highly partisan Bush years. “I think he has genuinely tried to reach across party lines so we end up talking more about the merits of an idea rather than who likes it,” says House minority leader Dan Gelber, a Democrat from Miami Beach.

And those whose opinions matter most — the voters — have so far embraced Crist and his style. In a state where voters increasingly look to person rather than party, Crist appears to have tapped into the moderate zeitgeist in much the same way Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has in California. Crist’s approval ratings — consistently above 60% — are the envy of most governors. And however his policies may rankle some, there is almost universal respect for his political instincts. “He’s got greater political skills than any modern Florida governor has had,” says Darryl Paulson, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.

Tags: Politics & Law, Big Bend, Government/Politics & Law

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