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CRIST GIVES AND GETS WISH LISTS

The governor pushes for Everglades restoration, national insurance and more in a visit to D.C.

Gov. Charlie Crist went to Washington Tuesday with a list of federal priorities he wants the state's congressional delegation to address, and left with a lengthy list of state issues it wants him to consider.

The Republican governor pushed for a larger federal effort in the Everglades restoration, the creation of a national insurance fund, more federal Medicaid money, a commitment to clean energy and emissions reductions, and protection of the state's role in the space program.

Then one by one, representatives asked for his help.

Democratic Rep. Ron Klein, who helped write a bill to create a national insurance backup fund, told Crist that the only presidential candidate who doesn't support it is Republican Sen. John McCain, whom Crist endorsed and has campaigned with.

He asked Crist to talk with McCain and others in his campaign and better explain the bill, which passed the House and is stuck in the Senate. He said McCain doesn't seem to understand it.

"It's very important to Florida and many other states. It's not a Florida problem, it's a national problem," Klein said.

Crist said he has already talked to McCain about the proposal and will continue to do so.

Republican Rep. Ric Keller, who represents the Orlando area, said his district has seen a rise in juvenile crime, and a number of repeat offenders aren't detained. He wants judges to have more discretion to lock the worst offenders up against recommendations of the Juvenile Justice Department.

"These judges tell me that they need the authority to put some of these kids away, and they just don't have it," Keller said.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who recently helped get a national pool safety law passed, encouraged Crist to promote the new law and make sure the state is in compliance.

Republican Rep. Adam Putnam said that while Crist is working to ensure the federal government commits to the Everglades, he should also push for money to make sure the dike that surrounds its headwaters - Lake Okeechobee - is repaired.

Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek asked Crist to make sure tough budget times don't lead to a significant weakening of the state's commitment to lowering class sizes. Crist assured him his budget proposal seeks to meet that commitment.

Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor asked him to put pressure on the White House to protect the Medicaid program, saying Republican governors can have more of an influence on the administration.

After the meeting, Crist met privately with House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., to ask that the federal government keep its financial commitment for the $8-billion Everglades restoration.

Earlier, Crist spoke briefly with McCain at a Senate Republican policy lunch and planned to meet with the Arizona senator later in the evening. Crist helped push McCain to a primary victory in Florida on Jan. 29, then campaigned across the country with him before the Super Tuesday primaries Feb. 5.

He dismissed speculation that he could be considered as a McCain running mate.

"I'm focused on being the best governor I can for the citizens of Florida, and that takes up the lion's share of my time," Crist said.

Earlier, he told the Associated Press he will continue to campaign for McCain - though how much is up to McCain, Crist said.

He acknowledged his relationship with McCain could help the state should McCain win.

"That only bodes well for the future of Florida," Crist said. "Having a friend in the White House, a genuine friendship, can only be good for Florida, and that's very much on my mind."

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