MAXWELL: CRIST CURTAILS MY RANTS, RAVES
4/8/2007 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column expressing glee that Jeb Bush, the humorless micromanager, no longer is Florida’s governor.
Now, I turn to Charlie Crist, our new governor.
He has been in office only a few months, and I am sick and tired of him already.
Wait!
Before you declare me a sore loser – I did not vote for Charlie – and stop reading, please bear with me a few more paragraphs.
Until Charlie’s election and, of course, his subsequent behavior and policies, I, a lifelong Democrat and a card-carrying member of the ACLU and the Humanists of Florida Association, prided myself in holding most Republicans in contempt. I saw nothing – absolutely nothing – good about them. Believe me, folks, I looked for redeeming traits.
Alas, nada.
And, yes, I still can tell good Republican jokes with the best of them. Take this old standby: Republicans sleep in twin beds – some even in separate rooms. That is why there are more Democrats.
Anyway, until Charlie replaced Jeb, I was in my GOP-hating comfort zone. I did not listen to most Republicans. I saw too many of them as being mean, spiteful, racist, greedy, selfish, homophobic, chauvinistic, jingoistic and dishonest.
I took great pride in never having voted for one, in any race, at any level. Then came Charlie. The man is causing me to have second thoughts about the potential for Republicans to be decent human beings.
On the most basic level, the man is just plain old nice. He has a great sense of humor. He is friendly, respectful of others, even of poor people who never had a powerful voice to speak for them in the halls of authority.
Most recently, Charlie took up the cause of the parents of Martin Lee Anderson, the 14-year-old black inmate who died at the hands of boot camp guards. Charlie wants the state to pay Anderson’s parents $5-million, an amount they agreed to.
“I think it’s real important that the state do the right thing,” Charlie said, “and I think the right thing to do is honor their more-than-reasonable request.”
And this came from the mouth of a Republican?
Over the objections of assorted Jeb supporters, Charlie orchestrated an agreement with the Board of Executive Clemency that would automatically restore the rights of most felons who have paid their debts to society. Charlie is fully aware that this old law of denying felons automatic restoration of their civil rights was rooted in Jim Crow.
Here is what Charlie said of a mother who was fighting to get her civil rights restored because of a felony conviction: “My heart bleeds for her. There’s somebody who is truly trying to be productive and do the right thing. And we’re going to say no to her?”
The man sounds genuinely compassionate. And I believe that he is. Am I actually saying this about a Republican?
There is more. My colleague Adam C. Smith reported last month that when Charlie needs advice on governing, he turns to former Democratic Govs. Bob Graham and Reubin Askew, not Jeb. In this light, no one should be surprised that when Charlie needed a new leader for the Department of Children and Families, he did not pick a crony or a big-time donor. He turned to Bob Butterworth, a Democrat and former attorney general with long bona fides in public service.
Try to imagine the partisan Jeb making such a crossover. You cannot imagine it.
There is still more. I have spoken with many public school teachers and several university professors about Charlie. They are feeling included in decisionmaking for the first time in years. In non-GOP fashion, Charlie has put his imprimatur on reviving physical education in our public schools, and he has thrown out Jeb’s myopic teacher merit pay system.
I cannot stop praising Charlie, a Republican.
He has a sane position on stem cell research. He told the Cabinet that Florida’s environment matters and that he wants policies that will protect our coastal lands and natural resources.
This is an uncharacteristic view of the environment for a Republican.
I could go on. But Charlie has ruined my life enough already. He has pulled me out of my political comfort zone, leaving me with less to rant and rave about each morning.