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Citizen Crist

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Citizen Crist

From The Tampa Tribune

In Charlie Crist's world, skies generally are blue and sunny, and not just because he lives by the water in St.Petersburg.

Within the past year, Crist has been knocked out of the only occupation he ever seriously pursued-politics-and endured a bitter break with the Republican Party, his longtime political home.

But never mind that, said the chronic optimist. Life, he said Tuesday, while appearing at Stetson University College of Law to deliver a lecture, is good.

"I'm enjoying the private sector very much," Crist said in an interview after his speech.

His new job with the Morgan & Morgan law firm "is one of the most fun things I've ever done," and boss John Morgan "is just a wonderful guy, really cares about people, and has made the transition frankly a joy. I'm having a lot of fun."

Even watching Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature in Tallahassee demolish his legacy as governor- from reversing his initiative on voting rights for former felons to flushing the high-speed rail project - doesn't move him to anger.

"You think?" he said jokingly when asked whether his legacy is being abandoned.

"Obviously, when you work hard to accomplish something like restoration of felons' rights, trying to protect education and teachers, preserving the Everglades, and you see those things going in a different direction, it's disappointing."

But Crist, famous for never seeming to take offense at almost anything, declined to criticize. "I understand it's a new day, ... new administration, new day, new way."

* * * * *

Crist spoke to a group of Stetson students and faculty about civility in politics, which he said is declining, and on the difficulty of breaking through the partisan political structure to run as a no-­party candidate.

He illustrated that difficulty in a three-way U.S. Senate race last year when he lost as a no-party candidate, along with Democrat Kendrick Meek, to Republican Marco Rubio.

Crist said one thing missing from today's politics, which voters want and he sought to cultivate, is "a more civil tone,... a more adult like tone."The appearance Tuesday was part of another new job as an occasional lecturer at Stetson.

Crist also has joined the board of directors of The St. Joe Co. at the behest of a dissident stockholder of the large but financially troubled development company.

Crist remains unwilling to talk about a possible future in politics.

"I bet there's a lot of rumors out there," he said when asked about rumors that he's considering running for office. "A lot of people suggest that to me, and it's very gracious," he said, but "I'm enjoying the private sector much and very happy."

Morgan, head of the huge personal injury law firm, has been heavily involved in politics and a long time supporter of Crist. Asked whether Morgan wants to see Crist back in politics, Crist said only, "You'd have to ask him."

When asked, Morgan replied via email and partly in jest,"I would advise anyone to never enter or return to politics."

"Everybody loves Charlie," he said. "The best heart in the world."

Crist and his wife live in a condo in the same building on downtown St. Petersburg's waterfront where he has lived for years, but he recently moved from his one-bedroom to a two-bedroom.

His wife's two daughters, ages 11 and 13, visit occasionally when they're not in a private school in New York, where she's from, or away at summer camp.

A lifelong fisherman, Crist said he and Carole try to go out on his boat every weekend, which he couldn't do nearly so often during his 19 years in public office.

He almost certainly still would be in office, and still be a Republican, if he had chosen last year to run for re-election as governor rather than leaving the office to run for the Senate.

He adamantly denies regretting his decision to leave the office and the party. "No on both counts. I felt our country needed some common sense."

"Some elements of my former party had gone to a place that I couldn't be," he said in his speech. "I didn't leave the Republican Party, it left me."

* * * * *

Crist said he no longer is the faithful GOP voter he once was.

In next year's presidential and U.S. Senate races, he said in the interview, he'll pick candidates "on a case-by-case basis."

"There has been, for some, a very hard right shift in the Republican Party, and we see it almost daily in Tallahassee with this super majority" in the state Legislature.

Crist practiced law only briefly, years ago, before entering politics.

He said his work at Morgan & Morgan includes client development and marketing, which Tampa lawyer Tom Scarritt said is typical for a "rainmaker" whose main job is to draw clients rather than try cases.

"I doubt if he has any intention of trying a case or going to hearings,"said Scarritt, a prominent political fundraiser for Democrats. "That's not his interest."

Scarritt, who knew Crist and occasionally practiced alongside him in the 1980s, said it's no accident that Crist, who called himself governor for the people, now works for a firm whose motto is "for the people."

"To the extent they can successfully bridge from 'governor for the people' to 'lawyer for the people,' I think he'll bring in somecases."Crist has dropped out of contact with at least some of his former political supporters and advisers.

One of them, former state party Chairman Jim Greer, said the two remain friends, although Crist denied they have talked recently.

Greer, chosen by Crist as party chairman after Crist became governor, has been indicted on allegations of misuse of party money. He maintains his innocence and says he was made a scapegoat for others' mismanagement and fundraising failures.

He also has said he is writing a book about his experience, which some believe would implicate or blame other prominent Republicans,possibly including Crist, in the party's financial scandals.

In an interview, Greer sounded uncertain about the work, but he said that if he writes it, "there are others who should lose sleep more than Charlie Crist."

"Lobbyists, legislative leaders and people currently seeking higher office will play a prominent role in the book if I do write it. I've had people reach out to me indirectly and ask me not to do it," but Crist wasn't one.

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