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Gov. Charlie Crist pauses to look back, prepares to move on

Gov. Charlie Crist says he has no regrets about his independent Senate run.

Gov. Charlie Crist says he has no regrets about his independent Senate run.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist dropped fresh hints about his future Thursday, saying he'll go home to St. Petersburg when his term ends next month and may join a national group that seeks alternatives to partisanship.

Crist said he plans to go to New York City on Dec. 13 for the launch of No Labels, which advocates practical solutions to the nation's problems beyond party labels and has bipartisan support. A Crist friend and supporter, Democrat Nancy Jacobson, is a leader of the new group.

Lamenting the Republican Party's swerve to the right, Crist said: "There's still some reasonable Republicans, like my parents and my wife."

Crist also said he's in "serious" talks with trial lawyer John Morgan about joining the high-profile Morgan & Morgan personal injury law firm.

And he said he has not received a subpoena from federal authorities as part of their widening investigation of spending practices at the Republican Party of Florida.

Meeting with reporters at the Governor's Mansion, Crist took credit under his tenure for a rise in high school graduation rates and a continuing drop in the crime rate. He said it would have been a "grave mistake" for Florida to have turned away billions of dollars in federal economic stimulus dollars.

Crist's farewell tour is well under way, as he hosts a series of receptions this week and next for staffers, agency heads, the media and others.

He voiced no regrets about his decision to forgo a re-election bid as governor to make a failed run for the U.S. Senate, ending, for now, a political career that spanned three decades.

"Winning an election isn't everything," Crist said. "There's a lot more to life. … It was time. I'm content."

He laughed when a reporter said he became a "toxic" political figure after renouncing the Republican Party.

"A defeat doesn't mean that everything went wrong," Crist said. "I think it means that the people made a different choice, and I think we're in a much different climate today than we were four years ago."

Crist may be headed for a role as a "rainmaker," drumming up new clients for the Morgan & Morgan firm, a move that would further cement his image as a Democrat-leaning ally of trial lawyers.

"It's serious," Crist said of his discussions with Morgan. "He's a dear friend and a gracious guy, been with me for a long time, in the political sense.

"He's of the people, for the people. I like that," Crist said, parroting the law firm's slogan. (Crist called himself "the people's governor.")

Crist's effort to expand the number of people in Florida with low-cost health insurance, known as Cover Florida, has been hobbled since the beginning because most people don't know it exists. Only about 6,400 people are enrolled in a state where one of every four Floridians has no health coverage.

He said it "probably was a mistake" to have not promoted the program more.

Crist said he has not decided what his next political move will be, or whether he would run as a Republican, Democrat or independent, as he is now.

He declined to give any advice to his successor, Republican Rick Scott, but noted that Scott could be weakened because he must work with a veto-proof Republican Legislature.

"It's a different set of circumstances. They're veto-proof and I feel for him for that," Crist said. "That makes leverage a little difficult."

The one-term governor appears determined to leave office on an upbeat note, and remained civil, a hallmark of his style since he took office four years ago. He refused to criticize two people who benefited greatly from his patronage but with whom he has broken.

They are George LeMieux, his former chief of staff who became Crist's appointee to the U.S. Senate and who supported Marco Rubio for Senate over Crist; and Jim Greer, the disgraced ex-state Republican Party chairman now awaiting trial on theft, money laundering and fraud charges.

Crist said he is proud of his overall record during a time of extreme economic difficulty.

"I sleep very well at night," Crist said. "If you don't follow your heart and your gut instincts, what is it that you're following? I'm very content."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Gov. Charlie Crist pauses to look back, prepares to move on 12/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 3, 2010 2:01am]

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