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Steve Bousquet column

Crist: Out of town, out of touch

As a beaming Gov. Charlie Crist and his fiancee Carole Rome posed for pictures in London Wednesday with the Prince of Wales, state economists were wailing about the latest signs of Florida's deteriorating condition.

"Governor Crist discusses climate change with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales," headlined the news release from the governor's office. It was one of three distributed Wednesday with Internet links to pictures of Crist enjoying a midsummer visit to four European nations.

In Tallahassee, economists predicted Florida's economy will keep tanking until at least the first half of 2010 (when Crist runs for re-election).

Median prices of single-family houses dropped 15 percent in the past year, the report said, while construction jobs fell 12 percent. Nearly 75,000 jobs were lost, more than half of them tied to construction. Unemployment is at its highest point since January 2003, and Florida is losing jobs at a faster rate than the country as a whole.

"Normal economic growth will not return to Florida until the latter half of fiscal year 2009-10, and virtually all of the risks remain to the downside," the forecast said.

The economists listed areas of job growth: "employment agencies, temporary help and leasing services, janitorial and cleaning services, exterminating and pest control services and landscaping."

Taking stock of it all, one wonders if we've reached a pivot point in Crist's term, a moment when voters will look back six or eight months from now and realize that what looked like optimism was in fact cluelessness.

This is the week that Time magazine chronicled the litany of all that's gone wrong in the Sunshine State.

This also is the week that our good neighbor, State Farm, asked regulators for a 47.1 percent increase in insurance rates.

It's a week in which Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the only statewide Democratic official in state government, was quoted as saying for the first time that she won't rule out running for governor in two years.

Crist's advocacy for climate change and reducing dependency on foreign oil has won praise from many corners. His political timing has often been sharp, and he's still riding a improbable 60 percent job approval rating.

But what's the "people's governor" thinking? Is it politically astute to stay in $1,800-a-night hotel suites when your constituents can barely afford gasoline at $4 a gallon to reach a Red Roof Inn?

It's why Crist is starting to wear very thin in places.

Republican Rep. Ed Hooper of Clearwater was asked what his Pinellas constituents are saying about Crist in his home county.

"What I hear most is people saying is, 'Is he spending enough time in Florida on the problems affecting Florida?' " Hooper said. "He's still popular. He still says the right things. But we've got a long summer ahead of us. All it takes is one bad thing for all the cards to come crumbling down."

Crist comes home Wednesday. The day after his return happens to be his 52nd birthday, and he'll be the star of a GOP fundraiser at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. Donors with an extra five grand in their pockets can buy their way into a private reception with Crist.

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

Crist: Out of town, out of touch 07/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 4:12pm]
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