Monday, January 20, 2014

In The Party's Over, Charlie Crist says the GOP has been taken over by "the forces of intolerance and extremism"

Let the governor's race begin …

Posted by on Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 3:31 PM

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Charlie Crist's bid to become the governor of Florida again after a four-year interregnum isn't all that unusual in politics. In California, Jerry Brown went 28 years and did a variety of things (including host a talk show) before returning to lead the Golden State in 2010. (And he's expected to win re-election rather handily later this fall.)

But Brown returned to the governorship while still remaining a Democrat. Crist was a Republican his entire life until he left the GOP in 2010 and ran as an independent for U.S. Senate. He converted to Democrat a little over a year ago, and announced in November his candidacy for his new party's nomination for governor. That's almost unprecedented.

In his new book, The Party's Over: How The Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat, Crist details his political evolution from "Chain Gang Charlie" to the politician invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention a decade later.

Several juicy excerpts have already been blogged about in various publications. One of the most interesting chapters is devoted to Rick Scott, the man who succeeded him in Tallahassee and who Crist hopes to replace in November. It begins this way:

Rick Scott didn't only bring a new administration to Tallahassee on January 4, 2011. He also arrived with a wrecking ball. He'd barely unpacked his toothbrush and his custom-made, Florida-seal cowboy boots when he got busy knocking down some of our proudest achievements. Rolling back consumer protections. Reversing the progress on voting rights. Signaling to the oil drillers, utilities and insurance companies that Florida was open season again. In Tallahassee, the whole tone changed. The bipartisanship that had been such a hallmark of the past four years evaporated with the first morning dew. Democrats were still welcome to their opinion — but no one in power had any interest in listening to them. Teachers, minorities, women's groups, and anyone else suspected of being even faintly Democratic — they were back on the please-don't-bother-us-list.

Crist goes on to write that while everyone knows he's usually an optimist, "There's no other way to say it: He's been a terrible governor, and that's not just because I miss having the job. It's because I care about the people of my state."

Crist assails Scott for rejecting the $2.4 billion that the Obama administration was poised to send to Florida for a proposed high-speed rail line, saying it exposes how "blinding this new zeal can be." And he blasts the current governor for cutting $1.3 billion in education during his first year in office (last year Scott persuaded the Legislature to approve $480 million for teacher salary raises), his lack of commitment to the environment, and yes, his failure to advocate at all for Medicaid expansion.

A longtime basher of Obamacare (and HilaryCare back in the '90s), Gov. Scott stunned the political world 11 months ago when he said he was willing to accept the $51 billion being offered to Florida by the federal government to expand Medicaid in the state. But other than signaling he's willingness to accept the money, Scott has done nothing to actually convince the legislature to make it happen.

In The Party's Over, Crist's thesis is that he didn't leave the GOP, but that the GOP left him. And that's never more clear than in the book's passages about Medicaid, a program that many Florida Republicans essentially have trashed as not being worthy of reform at all. But Crist is a passionate advocate of the government-run healthcare program for low-income people, writing, "It's a compassionate program, one of the most compassionate programs that our country provides to keep needy children and adults well."

Toward the book's conclusion, Crist rips into today's GOP, writing that, "The forces of intolerance and extremism, fueled by the passion of the Tea Party and funded by a tiny knot of super-rich guys, had taken too strong a grip on the party I'd grown up with. They didn't seem to care about the people. They'd shut down the government on a whim. The candidates they were fielding were total goofballs. Did they really believes the crazy stuff they were spouting?"

The Party's Over: How The Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat is scheduled to be published in bookstores next month. It's co-written by Newsday columnist (and frequent Bill O'Reilly sparring partner) Ellis Henican.

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