Chris Lays Out His consrvative Credits by Bill Rufty

Posted: November 8, 2009 in News and politics
Printed on page B1

lakeland yacht club appearance

Crist Lays Out His Conservative Credits

The governor, now running for U.S. Senate in 2010, says his Republican opponent can’t edge any farther rightward than Crist’s own record.

By Bill Rufty
THE Ledger

Published: Monday, October 12, 2009 at 10:26 p.m.

LAKELAND | Gov. Charlie Crist sent a message to his nearest Republican primary opponent for the U.S. Senate during a Lakeland appearance Monday: Don’t try to out conservative him.

Crist, in an appearance at a Lakeland Yacht Club luncheon sponsored by the Lakeland Republican Club, made it clear to the audience of more than 200 that he considers himself just as conservative as former Florida Speaker of the House Marco Rubio. The two are fighting for the GOP nomination in next year’s primary.

"When I was in the state Senate I was nicknamed ‘Chain Gang Charlie.’ It’s hard to get right of that," he said during an interview with The Ledger prior to his address.

Crist’s appearance at the luncheon was the second of four events Monday. His first stop was at the Haines City Economic Development Council’s annual meeting. After Lakeland, he appeared in Tampa and St. Petersburg before returning to Tallahassee.

In Haines City, the governor said the state’s economy is slowly turning around and noted the help that turn around is receiving from the changes his administration has made, such as cutting property taxes and streamlining the process of obtaining permits.

Rubio and some conservative groups have complained Crist is too moderate and heavily criticized his appearance with Democratic President Obama in support of the federal stimulus package.

Crist said in his Ledger interview that he would describe himself as "about as conservative as you can get" in his post.

"No governor has cut taxes more, no governor has vetoed more pork bills and no governor has spent more time reducing spending," he said.

He also mentioned his work when he was state commissioner of education with a wide range of education choices including home schooling, a key issue among some conservative Christians.

"This is not only important in conservative circles, but in common sense circles," he said.

On the issue of federal stimulus dollars, the largest amount that has already arrived has gone into education and road construction, and will continue, he said.

As U.S. senator, Crist said, his advice to straightening out the nation’s economy will be to cut taxes.

The nation should follow the example in Florida where $25 billion in property taxes will be cut over the next five years, he said.

On Afghanistan, Crist said the president should listen to his general’s call for 40,000 more troops.

"We have 22 (military) installations in Florida," he said. "We are probably the most military friendly state in the nation. Listening to the generals on the ground seems to me to be mission number one.”

Continuing his public safety stance, Crist told the Lakeland audience about Florida’s toughness on habitual criminals. He is using a tough stance on crime in many of his speeches to blunt Rubio’s claim that he is not as conservative.

Crist said he signed the death warrant for convicted murderer Paul Beasley Johnson at the request of Sheriff Grady Judd, who lost a friend and fellow deputy whom Johnson was convicted of killing along with two other men in 1981.

"At one time Florida was number one in the nation in violent crimes," he said. "I remember (the Gov.) Lawton Chiles was in South Florida and put on a bullet proof vest before getting out of a car. And CNN was there and put it on television, but he did what he had to do."

The main culprit in those high violent crimes, Crist said, was the early release program in prisons.

As a state senator in the 1990s, Crist filed the STOP Bill (Stop Turning Out Prisoners) that requires convicts to serve at least 85 percent of their time before being released.

That is part of the reason that Florida’s crime rate was down 8 percent for the first six months of this year, he said.

"I know I am preaching to the choir," Crist said, "but sometimes the choir needs pumping up, too. Taxes are down, crime is down and education is up in Florida."

Crist, Rubio and six other Republicans will meet in the Republican Primary, Aug. 24, 2010. The winner will face the winner of the Democratic Primary that date in the Nov. 2, 2010, general election.

[ Ledger Political Editor Bill Rufty can be reached at 802-7523 or bill.rufty@theledger.com. ]

This story appeared in print on page B1

Copyright © 2009 TheLedger.com — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.

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