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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist backs Fair Districts reform and bashes legislature's 'rigid adherence'

Here's proof that Gov. Charlie Crist is enjoying his newfound freedom as a candidate untethered to a party platform. On Tuesday he met with the promoters of the Fair Districts amendment and did what no powerful Republican would ever do: he endorsed two constitutional amendments that would ban incumbency protection when the Republican-controlled legislature rewrites the political boundaries after the 2012 reapportionment.

“I like Fair Districts, I signed onto it yesterday with Ellen Freidin and my friend Phil," Crist said Wednesday at a Miami Herald editorial board meeting. Freidin is the director of the Fair Districts Florida, and her husband Phil Freidin, is a Miami trial lawyer. The group, supported heavily by Democratic organizations, has put Amendments 5 and 6 on the November ballot to force lawmakers to redraw the district lines without favoring incumbents or the political party in power.

Crist said he opposes the alternate redistricting amendment put on the ballot by the Republican-led legislature, Amendment 7. Lawmakers said it was needed to "clarify" and preserve minority districts but supporters, including most minority Democrats in the legislature, said it guts the amendments.

The governor called the legislature's amendment a "silver bullet" and said he would have vetoed it if the Constitution hadn't allowed lawmakers to escape his reach by putting it directly on the ballot.Meanwhile, Crist was  asked to assess the legislative session. He smiled, paused and said, “They can all always be better. I think the members try hard. I think it took a hard right the end though, that was disappointing. It wasn’t necessary.''

Having divorced himself from the Republican Party three weeks ago, Crist described his newfound independence as "joyful" and said he now sees the dangers of rewarding politicians who adhere to the party at all costs. He said many of the remarks from Republican lawmakers who were angered by his decision to run as an independent were caustic and harsh.

"Some people have gotten so rigid about their adherence to the party before doing what's right for the people, it's hurting our country,'' he said. "It is very obvious to me when these unkind remarks are made. I mean, what do they care what I do? They shouldn't care where I go to church. They shouldn’t care whether I'm registered a Republican or a Democrat...You're supposed to be able to do what you want and determine your own destiny.''

He said the strong reaction to his decision "says more about those who are delivering those kinds of harsh remarks than it does about me."

Crist said that when he was contemplating going independent he was heavily influenced by an editorial from the Pensacola News Journal -- the first paper to urge him to bolt from the party. "It said electing a U.S. Senator from Florida is too important a decision to give to just a few,'' Crist recalled. "They're dead right."

"Let's say the Republicans are a club and the Democrats are a club and you look at the primary voter in each party and now you’ve narrowed it down to a sort of a club within a club -- like the super Rs or the super Ds. They are left with a decision in August -- those primary voters alone -- who [choose whom] all of us are going to be able to choose from to be our next U.S. senator in November.''

The governor said his independence now allows him to offer a candid view as to why the party veered to the right this session: "I think that they are terrified of any primaries...I’m liberated from that. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

"I have a lot of other things to worry about but I don’t have to think about, as they do evidently, putting up an ultrasound bill the last week of session and doing the kinds of things that appeal to a certain segment of my former party. And I feel sorry for them.”

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 10:38am]


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