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Backroom Briefing: GOP Lawmakers Become a Little Forgetful

August 13, 2014 - 6:00pm

It's no secret that former Gov. Charlie Crist's past as a Republican could prove troublesome as he tries to regain his old job running as a Democrat. On Thursday, the Republican Party of Florida giddily trumpeted a CNN segment on an old Crist robo-call from his GOP days.

"I'm pro-life. I oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, I support traditional marriage, and I have never supported a new tax or big spending program," Crist said on the tape.

But Republicans accept their own risks when they lash out at Crist's record during his four years as governor. After all, he was in the GOP for all but about eight months of his tenure.

The tricky gymnastics were on display for both sides this week, as Crist started a "Restore the Cuts" bus tour promising to boost education spending, which allows him to blast incumbent Gov. Rick Scott for not spending enough on schools.

Crist can claim the highest per-student spending on record, with $7,142.79 flowing through the state's main program for funding schools in the first budget he signed. But that was trimmed to $6,897.38 a head by his final budget. Asked about that Wednesday, Crist blamed the economic downturn.

"We invested in children, even though it was a very difficult economic time. ... If we look at things in context, what happened when I got elected is, the economy went down as a result of what was happening in the global economic meltdown," he said.

The rub for Republicans -- who are quick to bring up Crist's education cuts -- is that the GOP-controlled Legislature approved those reductions. That includes then-House Majority Whip Carlos Lopez-Cantera, now Scott's lieutenant governor.

That didn't stop Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, from ripping spending policies that were largely written by a Republican Legislature while Crist was mostly still a Republican, as he was for all but two days of his final legislative session.

"When you've got Charlie Crist in the governor's mansion, whose idea of a moral compass is a wet finger in the wind, no one can quite tell what's going on, and I think it led to reckless policies," Gaetz told reporters shortly before Crist started the bus tour Wednesday.

So, a reporter asked, was the Legislature completely ineffective?

"When you don't have a governor who sets a clear course and says we're making it a priority to give teachers raises, to cut taxes, to reduce regulatory costs, then of course, all of the people of the state of Florida suffer," Gaetz responded.

Reporters pushed again.

"Certainly, lawmakers are a part of the process, but Florida's a dynamic state that needs a decisive governor," Gaetz said. "Charlie Crist is one of the most indecisive human beings to ever serve in public office in the state of Florida, and that had a negative effect I think throughout the government."


Former Gov. Jeb Bush has joined a growing list of GOP and law-enforcement officials lining up against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow doctors to order marijuana for patients. Bush went public with his concerns about Amendment 2, which will be on the November ballot and is heavily bankrolled by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan.

Bush, widely reported as considering a 2016 run for president, joined business groups -- including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida and the Florida Trucking Association -- in a press release issued Thursday by groups fighting the proposal, which numerous polls show has widespread support from Floridians of all ages, genders and parties.

"Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire," Bush said in the statement. "Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts. I believe it is the right of states to decide this issue, and I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November."

While Bush was in office, his family grappled with the highly publicized drug problems of his daughter Noelle, who was arrested in 2002 for prescription drug fraud. The Bush family is also close to Mel Sembler, a Tampa Bay developer and major GOP fundraiser. Sembler contributed $100,000 to the anti-Amendment 2 "Drug Free Florida Committee," which has raised nearly $3 million so far.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "CLARIFICATION: The driver who hit the @CharlieCrist bus said she planned on voting for Crist before the accident -- and still will." -- Kathleen McGrory (@kmcgrory), a Miami Herald reporter, after an accident that affected Crist's bus tour Thursday.

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