Charlie Crist's national book tour reached Tallahassee Thursday night. The former governor and Republican-turned-Democrat figured he would be signing copies of "The Party's Over" for about an hour. He ended up staying at a Books-A-Million store for nearly two-and-a-half hours before flying back to St. Petersburg.
And where Crist goes, the Republican Party of Florida goes. GOP Chairman Lenny Curry was there ("Charlie Crist is trying to tell a story that's just not true") along with more than a dozen young "protesters" who carried signs with slogans such as "Charlie ran away." Curry said Crist "has changed his mind on just about everything" and that on his watch, Florida's economy tanked and Crist did nothing to fix it.
In heavily-Democratic Tallahassee, more than 100 people waited in line to get signed copies of Crist's book, shake his hand and be photographed with him, and the store at one point ran out of books and had to fetch more from another outlet. Crist's former DCF secretary, congressional candidate George Sheldon, was there, as were Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons, Rep. Alan Williams, lobbyists David Rancourt, Mark Logan and Rich Rasmussen, and former Crist aides JoAnn Carrin, Bob Sparks, Jerry Curington and Diana Sawaya-Crane, along with Estus Whitfield, a respected environmental advisor to former governors, and Jeff Wright of the Florida Education Association.
Crist told more than a dozen reporters he's "open-minded" to the idea of expanding destination casinos. He blasted Gov. Rick Scott for his proposed deep cuts to public education in his first year in office, followed by a Year Two cut of $300 million to universities. He said he opposes changes to the pension fund being pushed by Republican lawmakers, and that workers are "demoralized" and need to be protected.
Crist said Republican legislators and Scott should be ashamed of themselves for not expanding the Medicaid program.
"I can't believe that Rick Scott -- I can -- would come out and say he's for it for about a minute and not lift a finger to get it done," Crist said. "As a result of that sort of fraudulent exercise, what is happening is about a million of our fellow Floridians are not getting health care."
Crist adviser Steve Schale spotted a familiar sight: a GOP "tracker" videotaping the scene with a small hand-held unit. "They need to get their tracker a better camera," Schale said.
On Friday, the Crist campaign plans to launch a new web video from Crist's visit to UF Wednesday where he criticized the Scott administration for opposing the use of the UF student union for early voting. The video shows Crist and the Gainesville students chanting "Let the people vote."
Among those standing in line for a book was Collin Kenline, a 20-year-old from Fort Myers and a political science major at FSU who said he was eager to vote for Crist for governor next November. A Democrat whose parents are both Republicans, Kenline said: "I really love how he takes the approach that we really shouldn't be arguing with each other, and this gridlock that is happening is really detrimental to our nation. Just trying to work with everybody."