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In the Capitol basement, political dreams fade

Florida’s Gov.-elect Rick Scott, left, and Gov. Charlie Crist met Tuesday in Tallahassee. Crist said he was “hopeful” for Scott and described him as “very earnest.”

Associated Press

Florida’s Gov.-elect Rick Scott, left, and Gov. Charlie Crist met Tuesday in Tallahassee. Crist said he was “hopeful” for Scott and described him as “very earnest.”

TALLAHASSEE — A platform in the basement of the Capitol has been the stage for some of the state's brightest political stars twice a month for the past four years.

But Tuesday, it was more like a political gallows: Two seated behind the rostrum lost statewide elections last week, a third was defeated in the August Republican primary and the fourth was dissuaded from seeking higher office in behind-the-scenes political negotiations last year.

"It's a new day in Tallahassee," Gov. Charlie Crist said.

With term limits, there is regular turnover in the Legislature. After the Nov. 2 election, freshman lawmakers will now hold one-third of the seats in the state House and Senate.

But a fickle Florida electorate helped spark a historic exodus of the four statewide officeholders who gather twice a month for Cabinet meetings. None will return in January.

"That's historic. It's never happened since statehood," Republican Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said.

Several agency heads said goodbye Tuesday to Crist and the Cabinet, which meets once more in December.

Bronson, who briefly considered running for governor, is the only one leaving because of term limits.

Crist's U.S. Senate loss to Republican Marco Rubio punctuated a bizarre political year for one of the state's most popular politicians that included being the first Florida governor to decline a bid for re-election since 1968, when the state Constitution was changed to allow it.

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum and Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink also declined re-election bids only to be defeated by the same man: Republican Gov.-elect Rick Scott.

Scott on Tuesday made his first visit to the state Capitol since Election Day, holding private meetings with Crist and incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, about transition plans.

"The reason I won the election is over one issue and that's getting the state back to work," Scott told reporters after meeting with Crist. "So my whole goal, and the things I'm going to focus on when I take office, is how are we going to get the state back to work."

Crist said he was "hopeful" for Scott and described him as "very earnest."

Crist plans to make his final appointments to various state boards and panels, despite a new governor taking over soon. One of Crist's first actions as governor was to rescind 283 appointments made by his predecessor, Jeb Bush.

"The people elect you for four years. Or maybe more," Crist said. "So I'm going to honor what they did for me."

While Crist and the Cabinet members know their successors (Bronson met Tuesday with incoming Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam), none know exactly what their next step will be.

"I'm only 54," Crist said. "I'll see you around."

McCollum, 66, and Bronson, 61, both said they would look for consulting work. Sink, 62, said she had no immediate plans but would not rule out another run at political office.

"You should never say never," Sink said. "I really thoroughly enjoy it."

The Cabinet has long been considered a springboard to higher political office.

Crist was attorney general before voters elected him governor in 2006.

Democrat Bill Nelson was the state treasurer and insurance commissioner, a job whose duties are now largely part of the CFO's office, before he succeeded Republican U.S. Sen. Connie Mack in 2000.

But as Sink and McCollum found out this year, positions on the state Cabinet don't always merit promotions.

Sink's predecessor, Tom Gallagher, lost his bid for governor in 2006. In 1988, state Treasurer Bill Gunter was defeated in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary. And Jim Smith came up short in his attempt at the governor's office in 1986 when he was attorney general and in 1994 when he was the elected secretary of state.

McCollum said the turnover should serve as a warning to new Cabinet members, including Putnam, incoming CFO Jeff Atwater and incoming Attorney General Pam Bondi — all Republicans.

"The people of Florida are best served by anyone in a Cabinet position who focuses primarily on that job," McCollum said. "And secondarily on the politics."

Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet, Mary Ellen Klas and Lee Logan contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be contacted at mbender@sptimes.com.

In the Capitol basement, political dreams fade 11/09/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 12:41am]

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