TAMPA — Charlie Crist, the former "Ronald Reagan Republican" who now looks like the Democratic frontrunner for governor in 2014, says he's pretty much the same guy he always was.
"I know what Floridians care about. People generally are not hard right. Nor are they hard left. They just want to get the right thing done for most people," the former governor said Wednesday during a forum on leadership at the University of Tampa.
"They want good education. They want to be able to start a business in an economy. They want appropriate regulation, but not too much," Crist said. "They want the kind of government that stays out of your hair, thank you very much, and lets you be successful and doesn't burden you too much but does have appropriate regulation to make sure people on Wall Street act right and do right and that banks are fair with people."
Crist made no mention of his potential campaign for governor in 2014 during the forum, which was coordinated by former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. Iorio is now the leader-in-residence at UT's TECO Center for Leadership at the Sykes College of Business.
But Crist took every opportunity to tout areas where his agenda often coincided with Democrats — environmental protection, better-funded schools and teachers, voting rights and immigration reform that embraces people eager to move to America.
His convictions, he said, stem from the values his parents taught him and essentially boil down to common sense approaches to doing the right thing.
He never mentioned Republican Gov. Rick Scott, but gave a scathing critique of voting law changes embraced by Scott and Republican lawmakers that he said led to long lines and hindrances to many Florida voters in November.
"You have Americans who in our past and in our present are literally willing to give their very life so that you can exercise this precious right to pick your leaders yourself. And yet there are some in public policy-making positions that try to impede that right. To me that's astonishing, and it's unconscionable," he said.
Crist did not mention his campaign mailers in his 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary stressing his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage but noted that when asked about social issues during that primary he often described himself as a "live and let live" man.
He also recounted how in 2006 he publicly supported allowing nonviolent felons who had completed their sentences to have their voting rights automatically restored.
"I huddled with my Republican advisers, and they said, 'Charlie you've lost your mind. Why would you say that?' And I said because that's how I was raised, it's what I believe. I believe in forgiveness."
Former Gov. Bob Graham kicked off Iorio's leadership lecture series late last year, and former Gov. Bob Martinez is scheduled to speak next month.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.