LeMieux explains his decision as 'a gut check'
In his first interview since publicly breaking ranks with Gov. Charlie Crist, U.S. Sen. George LeMieux said Friday that "my beliefs" trumped personal loyalty to a governor who made him a U.S. senator. He called the agonizing decision "a gut check ... you have to set an example," and refused to support Crist's non-partisan candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
"I can't stand apart from my beliefs and my principles," LeMieux said. "Sometimes in life, you're called to make difficult decisions ... I'm sure it hurts my friend but I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I did the right thing by the beliefs I've held since I've been in politics -- since high school."
"Principles are more important than winning," LeMieux said.
The two men were friends for 15 years and virtually inseparable throughout the 2006 campaign and during Crist's first year as governor.
LeMieux was Crist's deputy attorney general and his chief of staff as governor. Crist confounded and disappointed a lot of people last August when he chose LeMieux, who lost his only bid for elective office in 1998, to serve the 16 months remaining in the term of Mel Martinez, who resigned.
LeMieux said he hasn't decided whether to actively campaign for Rubio, and he said his decision to put party loyalty first is not related to the possibility of challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012. "That wasn't part of my calculation," LeMieux said. "My friend's decision to leave the party is why we had to make all these decisions."
LeMieux confirmed that Crist asked him to delay his announcement, but he issued his statement of support for Rubio Friday morning. Asked why he didn't stay neutral out of both party and personal loyalty, LeMieux said: "You can't walk the knife."
Tallahassee lawyer Chris Kise, a former legal advisor to Crist, is among those angered by LeMieux's decision. "He (Crist) plucked this man -- an average lawyer -- out of obscurity, and put him in the U.S. Senate," said Kise, a partner in the Foley & Lardner firm. "And he doesn't even have the decency to say 'Thank you.'"
Told of LeMieux's "walk the knife" comment, Kise said: "Instead of walking the knife, he jammed it into the back of the governor."
Vivian Myrtetus, a spokeswoman for LeMieux, responded to Kise's comments by saying: "The only attacks on the senator are from those who still hope to profit off the governor. Follow the money."