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  1. Florida Politics

Charlie Crist comfortable with his party switch, multiple flip-flops

Published Jun. 30, 2013

What kind of Democrat would oppose President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, support a constitutional ban on gay marriage and back legislation that every environmental group in Florida reviled as gutting growth management?

The kind of Democrat who used to be a Republican struggling to tamp down backlash from the conservative GOP base, i.e., Charlie Crist.

If he could do it over, Crist would take back each of those stances, he said in a Political Connections interview airing Sunday on Bay News 9. Never before has Crist stated so clearly that he took positions and actions he did not actually believe in to appease fellow Republicans while running against Marco Rubio in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

"When you're in a Republican primary — especially 2010, which was kind of the zenith I think of a very hard right turn, if you will — I really felt like a round hole in a square peg. It was difficult for me," Crist said in the interview airing Sunday at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

"You have to be true to yourself. Going independent, and then finally a Democrat has made me a much more comfortable person, much more comfortable politically. In many ways it's where I always should have been and I'm darn glad to be there now," Crist said.

He gave no firm timetable for announcing a decision on running for governor again, but said he and his family members have been encouraged by the reception they have received from Democrats across the state.

More from Crist's interview:

• On why voters would want to elect him to a job he gave up to run for U.S. Senate in 2010: Crist said he felt at the time he had helped change the political tone in Tallahassee to a largely nonpartisan one. "What I saw in Washington in 2009-2010 was exactly the opposite. The new president was having a hard time getting things done. It seemed to me that we needed to have a more civil attitude and I hoped and believed that I might have been able to bring that to Washington. As it turned out, it didn't work out that way," Crist said. "I think that kind of attitude back in Tallahassee would be healthy, civility that is, and to try to be cooperative, be inclusive."

• Crist said he was receptive to legalizing marijuana for medical use in Florida — a ballot initiative led by his boss, personal injury lawyer John Morgan, as long as it was limited to patients who needed it. "If it's truly for medical purposes, I'm much more accepting to the concept, because I don't like people to suffer."

Alex Sink said Crist would be "a disaster" for the Democrats to nominate for governor. He was more charitable about her: "She'd be fine," he said, shrugging off her comments.

• On his hopes that Florida leaders ultimately will expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act: "You're talking about economic impact, you're talking about being considerate of people who really need health care and need it the most, the poor among us, and turning a cold shoulder on that is just incomprehensible to me."

• On legalizing same-sex marriage: "Society has moved and is not becoming just tolerant, but rather accepting of what I think most people feel — live and let live. What business is it of governments to tell people who they should love or who they should marry?"

Also appearing on today's Political Connections is Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, discussing last week's Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage. Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Jeb honors Hillary

This will generate some 2016 chatter: On Sept. 10, Jeb Bush, chairman of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, will present the 2013 Liberty Medal to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both, of course, are possible contenders for the presidency. "Former Secretary Clinton has dedicated her life to serving and engaging people across the world in democracy," Bush said in a statement. "These efforts as a citizen, an activist, and a leader have earned Secretary Clinton this year's Liberty Medal."

Pander of the week

Kathleen Ford, introducing herself Thursday at a St. Petersburg mayoral candidate forum hosted by the NAACP and Weekly Challenger newspaper, made a point of stressing that she had relatives who fought for the Union during the Civil War.

Muted Bill Nelson

Democrats were ebullient last week with the Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage. So it seemed odd that Sen. Bill Nelson, who only recently said he supported gay marriage, did not put out a statement. We had to ask and got back something remarkably terse:

"The Supreme Court said the Constitution prohibits discrimination of lawfully wedded same-sex couples. I support this decision."

Sen. Marco Rubio, in contrast, released a nearly 500-word, nuanced statement lamenting the ruling, while acknowledging public attitudes have changed.

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz. Contact Adam Smith at asmith@tampabay.com.

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