Sunday, May 27, 2018
Opinion

In Florida, Republican trials and tribulations

Ultimately, brothers and sisters, what should we take away from the salacious saga of defrocked Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer — who turned his stewardship of the state GOP into one big, fat Bacchus feast of expense accounts — begging for mercy?

There are probably many lessons. For example, it is probably a good idea before you hire someone for a fancy-pants political job like state party chairman to subject them to a vetting process more vigorous than holding a mirror under his nose.

Because former Gov. Charlie Crist, along with other party mandarins, asserted less due diligence than picking a head of lettuce before settling on Greer, the former chairman's upcoming corruption trial risks being turned into a Bravo Network reality show.

As the former deputy mayor of Oviedo, Greer was plucked from anonymity to run the state party. Now he faces numerous felony charges stemming from his time as state chairman, including allegations he schemed to divert $200,000 in party funds to a fundraising company he created. Or in other words, think of this as a Chicago alderman's midday snack.

But what could be viewed as a fairly simple, run-of-the-mill case of greed has evolved into much more. Greer has argued that highly placed party officials such as Crist, state Sen. John Thrasher, House Speaker Dean Cannon, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio were all aware of what he was doing and nobody raised a peep of protest.

So Greer's scheduled trial next month could easily result in some potentially embarrassing moments for the state's most prominent politicians. Memo to Greer: Elevator shafts — avoid them.

But Greer has reserved his most scandalous bile for Crist, whom he once described as "compassionate, results-oriented and visionary." What a difference criminal charges make.

In recent days, Greer's lawyer, Damon Chase, has said Crist had homosexual relationships. He also accused Crist of being a sloppy drunk, which seems almost to be a Tallahassee job requirement.

John Morgan (yeah, that John Morgan), Crist's mouthpiece, accused Greer's mouthpiece of making the claims to extort the ex-governor into changing his testimony in a deposition where Crist denied knowledge of the consulting company created by Greer.

Doesn't extortion only work if the tawdry information never makes it into the public domain? It would appear that if Chase was trying to extort Crist, he needs a primer on effective extortion techniques.

Rumors about Crist's sexual orientation have simmered throughout political circles for decades. Indeed, during the 2006 Republican primary for governor, Tom Gallagher's allies expended no small amount of effort trying to find Crist's closet to no avail.

In this vast information age, Crist has had every minute detail of his life investigated by opposition research sleuths, mainstream media, the tabloid press and celebrity outlets like TMZ. Yet — nothing, until an estranged former political ally about to go on trial decides to get all National Enquirer on everyone.

Still Crist brought this controversy on himself. As the titular head of the Florida Republican Party in 2006, Crist was responsible for hiring a political flyweight to oversee the state GOP. He could have reached out to someone with more experience, more savvy, more political and fundraising skills. Instead, Crist tapped the former deputy mayor of Oviedo. This was like sending a Little Leaguer up to the big show.

It's not Charlie Crist's sexual orientation that should be scrutinized. It's his decision to hand over the keys to the state Republican Party to a walking Gilligan's Island.

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