by Benjamin J. Kirby
The political news in Florida for the next few days will be the party-changeover by former Republican, former no-party-affiliation, now-Democrat Charlie Crist.
The Facebook posts and tweets from loyal, long-time Democrats have all been roughly the same: an enthusiastic welcoming of the former Florida Governor to the Democratic Party. Many instruct me to welcome Governor Crist with "open arms."
I've been a Charlie Crist critic for long enough to have earned a little street cred with those same folks who would so vigorously welcome a guy we called "Empty Chair Charlie" not all that long ago.
I would hope the Democratic faithful might maintain just a hint of skepticism about the newest member of our Party. And by "faithful," I mean those who just finished walking neighborhoods for Obama... and who walked those same neighborhoods in 2008. I mean those who campaigned for Kendrick Meek when Charlie Crist was telling Republicans he would caucus with them if elected (and then followed that by saying "who cares!" when asked who he would caucus with, giving Marco Rubio a too-good-to-miss entree into one of the best political ads, maybe ever). I mean the Florida Democratic faithful who poured their souls into a failed recount effort in 2000. I mean the faithful who still remember the Bob Graham days, the Lawton Chiles days.
I hope we Democrats can maintain just a touch of skepticism, even as we, in true Southern form, welcome Governor Crist to the Party.
Because there's a difference between filling out the form and doing the work.
And Charlie Crist has some work to do.
Hey, I get it:
He has been a strong supporter of higher pay for teachers. He works for a leading trial lawyer. He was a leading advocate for civil rights as governor and attorney general. And though he describes himself as "pro-life," his voting record in the legislature was mostly in favor of abortion rights. He has long been more of a populist than a pro-big business Republican.
The Obama administration has long had a strong relationship with Crist, who was one of the few high-profile Republicans to enthusiastically endorse the $700-billion stimulus package that he said helped keep Florida teachers and emergency workers employed and could have funded a high speed rail initiative in Florida had not Gov. Scott rejected the money.
Frankly, there could be worse Democrats than Charlie Crist. There have been worse Democrats than Charlie Crist.
That said, he's been just a mess on some critically important issues. The Amendment 1 tax cap here in Florida has been particularly devastating in a state already hit hard by the housing bust and recession. Then-Governor Crist was the Amendment 1 champion. With our beaches being not only an environmental treasure, but the economic life-blood for many Floridians, off-shore drilling is an understandably hot topic -- Charlie Crist has flipped and flopped on it. I'm glad the Obama folks like him, but he was back and forth on health reform, too. Crist also changed his position on gay marriage.
He'll have to answer for those things. He must know that.
And when the faithful -- those good Democrats who continue to work so hard -- ask those questions, he must know, too, that if he wants to be welcomed with open arms, the answers better be right.