Gov. Charlie Crist could have appointed a former congressman, a former legislator, a former Jacksonville mayor, a former state attorney general, or even a former U.S. attorney to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez. Instead, the governor chose his alter ego to keep the seat warm for 16 months as he campaigns for it. He might as well have appointed himself.
Crist's selection of George LeMieux, his former campaign manager and chief of staff, should come as no surprise. It's just one more disappointing decision by Crist in recent months that puts his self-interest in going to Washington above the best interests of Floridians.
On his way to padding his record-breaking Senate campaign account, Crist — the onetime environmental governor — has gutted the state's growth management laws, trashed its water permitting process and walked away from a laudable climate change agenda.
If he was going to pick LeMieux, Crist should have avoided his self-aggrandizing, taxpayer-financed tour over the past two weeks soliciting applications from prominent Republicans in every corner of the state. It was a waste of time and money and disrespectful of longtime public servants such as U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.
That's not to say that LeMieux, an affable and moderate Republican lawyer from Broward County, is not a talented man. But he is first and foremost a political consultant. He was the so-called "maestro" behind Crist's 2006 gubernatorial campaign, including the decision that Crist would not campaign with then-President George W. Bush in Pensacola.
But he is also the adviser who told Crist he could negotiate a gambling compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe without legislative approval. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed, and Florida now stands to greatly expand parimutuel gambling even though Crist ran on an antigambling agenda.
LeMieux, for all his political savvy, lost his only bid for elective office in 1998 when he ran for the state House. He has no Washington experience. While he has eschewed lobbying, he is an active consultant to the state Republican Party and his firm has a lucrative contract with the state Department of Transportation.
But LeMieux has pledged he will not seek re-election to the Senate, so Crist will not have to run against an incumbent. And it's unlikely the loyal LeMieux will take any stands contrary to those of candidate Crist. Perhaps, the pair are even hoping LeMieux's elevated status will set the stage for LeMieux to hop into another statewide race, possibly challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012.
But no one should confuse Crist's or LeMieux's political ambitions with what is in Florida's best interest. An appointee with congressional experience would have hit the ground running. But now Florida's junior senator is a Washington neophyte who will be a caretaker — and Crist proxy — in the midst of debate over health care, climate change and a rising federal deficit.
Like Martinez, who resigned after concluding his homesickness trumped his duty to the people of Florida, Crist has let his own personal ambition guide his judgment. How utterly disappointing for a man who likes to call himself the "People's Governor."