Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

At campaign stops, Crist hears pleas to veto teacher tenure bill

Dennis Wallace, dressed in World War II garb as part of an event at the Villages, advised Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the teacher tenure bill. The Wildwood resident is the dad of a Florida teacher.


Dennis Wallace, dressed in World War II garb as part of an event at the Villages, advised Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the teacher tenure bill. The Wildwood resident is the dad of a Florida teacher.

THE VILLAGES — Gov. Charlie Crist had barely set foot inside this huge retirement center Saturday when retired teacher Bill Smith stuck out his hand and offered some blunt advice that set the tone for a day of campaigning.

"Don't sign that bill," said Smith, wearing a Chicago Cubs cap.

The 68-year-old is a Democrat and still votes in Illinois, so he can't help Crist in his U.S. Senate bid. But the governor listened closely as Smith warned that proposed changes to tenure and merit pay would discourage people from entering the field.

"Teachers work their butts off," Smith told Crist.

Rick Reichard, a 58-year-old substitute science teacher in Jacksonville and registered Republican, called the bill "a big mistake" that will drive away young teachers.

On it went under a brilliant sun at the Villages gathering spot known as Lake Sumter Landing, at an event featuring World War II artifacts ranging from gas masks to hand grenades that drew dozens of suntanned retirees. The feedback appeared to strengthen Crist's resolve to kill the bill, but he said he has not made a final decision.

Dennis Wallace, 56, of Wildwood, the father of a Florida teacher, told Crist: "That bill seems a little unfair."

Villages resident Orv Van Ryn, whose two sons teach in Michigan, asked Crist to think about the teachers working in high-poverty inner city schools "who are really making a sacrifice."

Crist came to the Villages, a Republican stronghold, to seek votes in his uphill campaign against his GOP primary rival, Marco Rubio, a supporter of the education bill. Rubio will be there Tuesday as the guest of Fox talk-show host Sean Hannity.

For more than an hour, one person after another pleaded with Crist to veto the teacher tenure and pay-for-performance bill (SB 6) now sitting on his desk in Tallahassee. At one point, Crist even grabbed hold of a dog's snout and asked Mandy: "What do you think of Senate Bill 6?"

Paul Gilson, 64, a retired special education teacher from the Detroit suburb of Willow Run, also urged Crist to use his veto pen. But, like many voters Crist encountered at random in the Villages, Gilson can't help Crist in the U.S. Senate race: He's a registered independent.

Only retired New York school administrator Carm Serge, when pressed by Crist to set aside politics, urged Crist to sign the bill. "Education needs reform," said Serge, wearing a Yankees cap. "It can't be business as usual. We have to do something different and the teacher unions don't want that."

It was an extraordinary scene in Florida, where voters usually prefer small talk and photo-ops to serious policy discussion on the stump. The Villages is known for its laid-back lifestyle, where baby boomers ride around in upscale golf carts listening to speakers playing oldies on the local AM station.

"I've never seen anything like it," Crist said. "I think I've gotten three people who said I should sign it compared to hundreds (opposed). It's been pretty overwhelming."

A more raucous scene greeted Crist as he campaigned in Tavares, north of Orlando, where a barbecue festival at the Tavares Seaplane Base looked more like a rally at the state Capitol.

Parents and teachers

Chanting "V-E-T-O," dozens of parents and teachers held homemade signs saying "Nix 6" and "Remember in November." Most of those who pleaded with Crist to reject the bill were women, such as Angela Olson, a middle school teacher in Haines City.

"They can't blame teachers. We're powerless," Olson said. "They need discipline in school. We need textbooks. We need supportive parents and the community, and we're lacking all of those things."

In a speech to a crowd of several hundred in Tavares, the county seat of Lake County, Crist did not directly address the intense controversy over the bill but praised the protesters for their activism.

"I'm proud that these people showed up to have their voices heard," he said. In an apparent reference to the Legislature, he added: "Because there's lots of things that people who do what I do need to listen to you about."

'You're the boss'

Crist then quoted Abraham Lincoln's "of the people, by the people and for the people," adding: "It's what I believe … In this country, you're the boss."

Crist is an intuitive politician who puts a lot of faith in heartfelt pleas from everyday people, especially when the sentiment appears mostly on one side of an issue. At the same time, some critics see Crist as too easily manipulated by emotion and the passions of the moment.

If public opposition is as strong as Crist believes, his anticipated veto could be the big break his floundering Senate campaign has needed, at a time when Rubio is showing higher poll numbers, better fundraising ability and more positive national media attention.

Crist has been inundated with opinions, suggestions and pleas about the teacher bill. But what about the person seen as a major driving force behind the bill — former Gov. Jeb Bush — who said recently in a Fox News interview that it was "unforgivable" for Crist to have accepted federal stimulus money so enthusiastically?

Has he called?

"No, he hasn't," Crist said. "Surprised?"

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

At campaign stops, Crist hears pleas to veto teacher tenure bill 04/10/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 11, 2010 6:39am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: Turn the heat up on AC problem in Hillsborough schools


    Hillsborough County School District students do not want to hear that their buildings are decrepit. They do not want to hear that Florida's legislators are complicit. All they want to hear is the sweet sound of a classroom air conditioner kicking in at full power. Anything less creates uncomfortably hot classrooms and …

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins and the current Hillsborough County School Board did not create this air conditioning mess, but they own it now.
  2. Man in bunny mask part of trio that breaks into Odessa McDonald's to haul away ATM


    ODESSA — A man in a bunny mask and two also-masked accomplices broke into a McDonald's early Wednesday, hoisted an automatic teller machine into a stolen minivan, then dumped the ATM and the van into a pond, deputies say.

    Three masked men, including one in a bunny mask, broke into an Odessa McDonald's early Wednesday and stole the ATM.
 [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  4. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, is proposing an end to public financing of campaigns. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  5. Jeb Bush on the 'most ridiculous example of political correctness in history'


    Jeb Bush on ESPN's decision to pull commentator Robert Lee from a football broadcast at the University of Virginia.