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A Times Editorial

A part-time governor for a full-time job

There is a reason Gov. Charlie Crist hardly ever breaks a sweat. He's not working that hard. A St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald review shows the governor has taken the equivalent of about 10 weeks off a year since taking office in January 2007. Running the nation's fourth-largest state is not a part-time job, but Crist often has the controls set on autopilot.

No one expected Crist to be a policy wonk when he was elected governor. He has never been a detail guy, and it is not surprising that he has not been holed up in the governor's office reading policy papers. He did establish a more civil tone in Tallahassee, and even his political opponents find it hard to dislike him personally. But good manners only go so far. Voters did expect Crist to show up for work more regularly and spend more afternoons brainstorming with real experts to find some solutions to Florida's most pressing issues.

It's not as though the governor lacks challenges. Unemployment is higher than it has been since 1975, and more people are leaving the state than arriving. The property tax structure is worse than when Crist took office, and so is the property insurance situation. The governor has been less than successful in advancing much of his agenda through the Legislature, and in his last session in 2010 there are any number of big issues he could push: ethics reform, a fairer tax system, investment in higher education, renewable energy. But that would require spending time now to develop and refine his proposals, and Crist is too busy raising money for his U.S. Senate campaign. He drops by the state Capitol today for a Cabinet meeting and a full schedule, but later in the week he's off mining for cash in Phoenix and Las Vegas and . . .

Crist points out that a governor is never off duty, and that's true. His official calendar does not list all of his meetings and phone calls. But his predecessor, Jeb Bush, kept a far busier schedule and was determined to make a difference. Bush's predecessor, the late Lawton Chiles, was often hard to find in the mornings during hunting season. But Chiles also could be very effective when he was focused on policy — and he had a much more engaged lieutenant governor in Buddy MacKay than Crist has in Jeff Kottkamp. While Crist notes that his public schedule does not reflect his actual workload, it also does not show when he spends a weekday afternoon on his boat in Tampa Bay or shopping with his wife in Miami.

Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink also do not have particularly heavy public schedules. McCollum has even more time unaccounted for than Crist, with the equivalent of 42 weeks off since January 2007. Sink looks like a comparative workaholic with the equivalent of some 26 weeks off. Now both McCollum and Sink are running for governor, so expect to see their office lights on even less.

Florida is supposed to have a full-time governor and Cabinet and a part-time Legislature, not the other way around. As Crist, McCollum and Sink each campaign for higher office, voters should question whether they are more interested in new titles than in tackling the challenges that come with the jobs.

A part-time governor for a full-time job 10/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 26, 2009 7:08pm]
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