Charlie Crist's short list for a U.S. Senate appointment is no longer so short.
On Sunday, the list grew to 10 people, including former U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, who will be interviewed by the governor in Tampa along with a fellow Pinellas Republican, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.
Crist's office added former congressmen Bilirakis, Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale and Lou Frey of Orlando to the list of finalists on Sunday, less than 24 hours after the governor told reporters it was unlikely he would add more names to the list.
But Crist also had been encouraging advice about Mel Martinez's interim replacement from grass roots activists at the state party's quarterly meeting in Orlando, and was peppered with pleas to add more names to the list. Political activists from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties have been pushing hard for Crist to consider Bilirakis, 79, who retired in 2007 after 24 years in office.
The three former congressmen offer extensive Washington experience and widespread respect among Republicans. Unlike the case of U.S. Rep. Young, none would have to retire from their current positions and set in motion a special election.
Shaw, 70, lost a bid for a 14th term to Democrat Ron Klein in 2006. Frey, 75, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1978 and U.S. Senate in 1980. In recent years he and former Gov. Bob Graham have gone to court challenging the Legislature's authority over tuition and fees at state universities.
Crist said a decision could come by the end of this week or the following week, and he should complete all his in-person interviews today when he sits down with Shaw in South Florida, Young and Bilirakis in Tampa, and Frey and former Attorney General and Secretary of State Jim Smith in Tallahassee.
The governor is a candidate for Senate in 2010, so he is looking for a credible, respected place-holder to finish the 16 months left in the term of Martinez, who resigned abruptly, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Crist insists no decision has been made, and the interviews could be crucial.
"We talk about issues, the health care debate, different policies, taxing and spending," Crist said of the conversations he's had with other finalists. "It's not unlike any interview I conduct for any appointment, probably a lot more in-depth. I want to see what they're about."
Others who have been interviewed already include state Rep. Jennifer Carroll of Jacksonville; former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez of Miami; former Jacksonville Mayor and North Florida University president John Delaney; George LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff, campaign manager and deputy attorney general; and former state Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]