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Former Gov. Charlie Crist faces dismantling of his legacy with a smile

TREASURE ISLAND — As lawmakers and a new governor rapidly dismantle Gov. Charlie Crist's legacy — overriding his vetoes, rejecting high-speed rail, pushing to split the Supreme Court — he's determinedly, unflappably Gov. Sunshine.

On Thursday, while Crist's replacement signed a teacher-pay proposal similar to one he vetoed, the former governor cheered the stunning spring weather and told a mayors' prayer brunch that his mother taught him if you can't say anything nice, don't say it at all.

"People tell me all the time, 'Charlie, you seem like a very nice guy.' I am! Why not? We live in Florida!" he said. "I mean, what could be better? If you don't think or believe that we're blessed, all you have to do is look outside today, and look at all the beauty that's around us."

With a yacht club view of palms and sparkling water, this was Crist's room, the who's-who of the beaches telling him that they wished he were still governor. He told them the private sector was great — great! — and where else could an ex-politician go than a law firm with the slogan "For the people"?

One pastor asked the Lord to bless Crist in his letting go of things past, and his embracing of things new. Seemed the Lord had already heard that one.

Crist has been back to Tallahassee just a few times, including Gov. Rick Scott's inauguration in January, and Wednesday to testify in the grand theft trial of former House Speaker Ray Sansom. He'll return next month for the unveiling of his official portrait.

That image may last longer than many of his deeds.

A fresh crew in the Capitol has rolled back civil rights restoration for felons, taken up a vetoed ultrasound bill, rejected high-speed rail, and just Thursday revived a bill he buried to allow House and Senate leaders to raise unlimited cash.

But he won't pass judgment on lawmakers, he said, or on Scott. It's a tough enough time to be in office, he said, without a former governor weighing in.

Still, as the ballroom emptied after Psalms, prayer and a Crist pep talk ("It's about trying to do what's right," he said), he let the smile soften, just slightly.

The reversal of his vetoes? "It concerns me. … It will be disappointing to see that happen."

A revival of leadership funds? "I don't understand that."

The ultrasound bill again working its way through the Legislature? "I thought it was a bit punitive."

A harder path to civil rights restoration for felons? "I'm sorry to see that occur, too. … I believe in forgiveness, in second chances."

He still holds out hope for high-speed rail.

But another legacy, his four appointments to the Florida Supreme Court, may also face dilution. House Speaker Dean Cannon wants to ask voters to split the court in two.

What's left? What's he most proud of?

He changed the tone in Tallahassee, he said, at least for a while.

And that, for now, will have to be enough.

Becky Bowers can be reached at bbowers@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8859.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist faces dismantling of his legacy with a smile 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 11:36pm]

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