Charlie Crist entered the Pasco County banquet hall of Democrats to a standing ovation and open arms, the earliest sign Saturday's luncheon featuring the once Republican governor would be a lovefest.
Crist sounded like he wants to be the Florida Democratic Party's gubernatorial nominee but stopped short of saying he's in the race. He praised President Barack Obama's "leadership and grace" and dissed Republican Gov. Rick Scott on immigration and voting, without using his name.
The room turned especially loud when Crist finished his 20-minute speech about becoming a Democrat by asking Dade City teacher Beverly Ledbetter, likely to run for a GOP-held state House seat, to stand up.
"She and I are considering running next year," Crist said. "And your encouragement truly does mean more than you know."
Not much for eating, Crist stood in front of tables of creamy shrimp pasta and rolls for an hour, shaking hands and posing for pictures with most everyone down to the caterers.
The 200-person crowd at the Jasmine Lakes Civic Center was the largest turnout in years for the Democratic Executive Committee of Pasco County, organizers said.
At Crist's side was his wife, Carole, who downplayed her role in Crist's decision but said she's touched by "the warmth and a lot of affection" at recent Democratic meet-and-greets.
"Look at how happy he is!" she said as he worked the room.
Drawing a distinction with Scott, Crist said he supports the immigration bill being considered by Congress because he is the grandson of a Greek immigrant.
"I wish that the guy who's in the Governor's Mansion now didn't used to talk about an Arizona-type law," he said. "That's not welcoming, that's not embracing and that's not what a Floridian would do."
A couple of times, Crist said, "We need common sense, not nonsense." A reporter said that sounded like a campaign slogan. "It could be!" he said.
All on to oust Scott
A coalition of Democratic groups, including the Democratic Governors Association, the Florida Democratic Party and labor groups, have formed a political committee, Florida For All, to take on Gov. Scott. With a Democratic primary for governor likely, the idea is get started on the general election target well before the nominee is chosen late next summer.
It's still in early stages, but we hear pollster Dave Beattie and media consultant Rich Davis — alumni of the Alex Sink campaign — are working with the committee, along with Democratic consultant Ken Morley. The filing lists Carlos Odio, an alumnus of the Obama White House political office, as chairman of the committee.
No fundraising reports are filed yet, but you can bet it will be a high-powered operation to help win back the Governor's Mansion in America's biggest battleground state.
Pressure for openness
For an organization that only launched in April 2012, the independent watchdog and research group Integrity Florida took little time raising its profile and becoming an influential player in public policy. The group this year had a loud voice in Tallahassee as legislators tackled ethics and campaign finance reform.
Integrity Florida executive director Dan Krassner, today's guest on Political Connections on Bay News 9, said legislators deserve a lot of credit for passing what he called the most significant ethics reform Florida has had in more than 36 years.
Krassner said Integrity Florida will continue to press hard for greater transparency.
"Our priority at Integrity Florida is open budgets, open contracts and open data. We need to see where our money is going, where it's being spent, how it's being spent at all levels of government — online in an accessible manner," said Krassner, the son of Pinellas School Board member Terry Krassner.
Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Running mate's timing
Gov. Scott appears to be in no rush to appoint a No. 2, and the political calendar and election laws give him plenty of time.
The revelation that Orange County Schools superintendent Barbara Jenkins, a registered Democrat, is being given a close look by Scott prompted a fresh review of the laws and timetables by elections supervisors.
Scott is not required by law to pick a running mate until Sept. 4, 2014. State law (99.063(1)) says "no later than 5 p.m. of the 9th day following the primary election, each candidate for governor shall designate a lieutenant governor as a running mate." The 2014 primary will be Aug. 26.
If Jenkins is to be Scott's choice, she appears to have until Sept. 4 of this year to change her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. A law enacted in 2011, and signed by Scott, includes a requirement on a candidate oath of office "that the person has not been a registered member of any other political party for 365 days before the beginning of qualifying preceding the general election."
Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz. Contact Adam Smith at [email protected]