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Charlie Crist

Listen to the voters and serve

Editor's note: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist spoke about the future of the Republican Party on Thursday night in Miami at the Republican Governors Association annual conference. Here are his prepared remarks, edited for length:

Our nation's democracy is a shining example of freedom and hope, admired throughout the world for its peaceful transition from one leader to another. We as Republican governors must focus on service to the people — and we must do so without regard to politics. America has spoken, and elected Sen. Obama our next president.

The message of this election is clear. The people want leaders who will work together to solve the difficult problems facing our nation. While he was not my candidate, Sen. Obama is now my president and he has my support. While we may disagree on issues both foreign and domestic, there is far more that unites us than divides us.

As leaders, our focus should be on serving our fellow Americans — in Washington, in every state, and in every neighborhood. Leaders emerge during challenging times, because people must have hope for the future and a sense of stability in the midst of uncertainty. Families praying for a way to pay the mortgage or to send their children to college need to know that their leaders are working to restore their dreams . . .

We must work, and I mean work, our way back to gain the confidence of the people. We must be results- and idea-driven so we have a competing vision and record of accomplishment to offer to the people. It is much easier to tell the people what you will do if you can point to what you have already done.

In recent years, spending and the growth of government under Republican leadership in Washington drew no difference from the old tax-and-spend policies of years past. As many of us governors are experiencing declines in state revenue; as the fall of Wall Street and the credit crunch have caused American families to tighten their belts and live within their means, government must do the same. We have a fiscal responsibility to balance our state budgets and spend the people's money wisely.

As governor of Florida, I have been privileged to work alongside both Republicans and Democrats. Together, we have accomplished much for the people of Florida by focusing on those who really matter — the people we serve — and by not worrying about who gets the credit. Together, we have taken historic measures to reform property taxes, property insurance, and how Floridians cast a ballot.

In Tallahassee, my administration has made a concerted effort to reach across the aisle and work hand in hand with Democrats and Republicans alike … . Allow me to share a few particulars with you. Tonight, roughly 4-million Floridians will go to sleep without the comfort of health insurance. In the state with nearly 20-million people, it is unconscionable that 4-million of our fellow Floridians do not have basic health coverage. Our solution was to solve the problem without using one tax dollar.

Our administration reached out to the health insurance industry and lobbied on behalf of our fellow Floridians. I'm proud of the work the Florida Legislature did in passing the Cover Florida plan and after the first of the year, we will provide catastrophic and noncatastrophic plans for an average of $150 for Floridians who have not had insurance in the last six months. I bring this issue up for a couple of reasons.

First, we worked in a bipartisan manner to pass the Cover Florida plan without one dissenting vote. Second, we decided to use the bully pulpit in working with the private sector on behalf of 4-million people without using one tax dollar — the kind of fiscal responsibility the people deserve.

Third, we ended the tragic cycle of politicizing issues that impact real people. The people deserve solutions, and if we are to succeed our party must offer real solutions to the real problems facing this nation.

We must lead on the issue of lessening our dependency on foreign oil. We can be leaders within our states on the development and production of renewable energy and alternative fuels. Here in Florida, we are providing resources to our state universities for the development of cellulosic ethanol, solar energy and wave energy. These centers of excellence throughout our state enable the future leaders of our nation to work hand in hand with scientists and researchers to make our goals a reality.

Teddy Roosevelt demonstrated environmental credentials through conservation. Our nation's environment must be protected. Here in Florida, we are doing just that. Yesterday, I was proud to highlight Florida's efforts to purchase more than 180,000 acres from the U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades' restoration. America's Everglades, just a short drive from where we sit tonight, is a cherished, national treasure that must be protected.

Our goal is to store, clean and move water from Lake Okeechobee south to Everglades National Park. This movement of water will enable us to emulate the original flow of water through the River of Grass. We must lead on issues relating to our environment and natural resources.

We are given a public trust. The people of our states have entrusted us to do what is right … not for the benefit of just Republicans, but for all the people. The small business owner has no interest in watching the political scoreboard, they simply want results … .

So, tonight as we look to the future, I ask you to join me and the millions of Americans counting on us in this new journey, this new partnership that connects chief executives and policymakers to the people we serve. It is time to govern with a focus not on the next election, but instead on the next generation. It is time to end the usual politics and begin forging relationships across the political divide.

This won't be easy and there will be challenges, but together, we can do better for the people. The road map is found in our nation's history. Lincoln united a nation divided, Roosevelt lifted a people when hope had run out, Kennedy inspired a generation to serve a cause greater than one's self and to literally reach for the stars, Reagan brought peace and freedom through strength and resolve.

Great Americans accomplishing the impossible not through individual power but rather shared responsibility — listening and learning from the people of this great nation.

Our success in this regard hinges on our party taking this message of new ideas and problem solving to all Americans. This party can no longer hope to reach Hispanics, African- Americans and other minority groups — we need to just do it. Embracing cultures and lifestyles will make us a better party and better leaders. This desire for inclusiveness is near and dear to my heart … . Last week, the American people made a choice and this week, if we choose to call ourselves leaders, if we truly endeavor to serve with a servant's heart for the people who count on us, then we too must work together, listen to one another and learn from the leaders who made the kind of history the American people deserve.

Listen to the voters and serve 11/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 3:47pm]

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