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Susan Clary: If Crist is willing to run, Democrats need to rally behind him

Walk into a room of progressive activists anywhere in the state and ask them what they think about former Gov. Charlie Crist. Chances are you wouldn’t get agreement.

Democrats either have a crush on the former St. Pete High quarterback, swooning at the idea he may be our next governor, or they act like he’s a spurned lover, cringing at the mention of his name.

There is no arguing that Crist has been fickle. He has changed his mind a number of times on various issues and left loyalists wondering why they ever supported him. Democrats don’t trust him. But perhaps those issues should be left in the past.

Today, we have a governor who seems to be intent on destroying our state – whether it’s our economy or the environment. He turns away federal money for healthcare and transportation, and then puts our conservation lands on the market to the highest bidder.

He has been signing death warrants with the same pen he uses to pass legislation to take money from our teachers and keep minorities from voting. He doesn’t belong in the Governor’s Mansion.

On his watch, his company Columbia/HCA was indicted for Medicare fraud, crimes he denied knowing about. Federal investigators found he took part in business practices that were later found to be illegal. We don’t need that kind of leader.

There is no question Charlie Crist was the better governor. Frankly, he made decisions more like a Democrat than a Republican while in office. He supported automatic restoration of rights for convicted felons who served their prison time, protecting teacher tenure and preserving the Everglades.

Yes, back then he was an A-student with the NRA and opposed abortion. He now supports health-care reform and gay marriage. If Crist has taught us anything, it’s that people change. But isn’t that one of the only things we can ever really count on? As former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean once said: if he realized he made a mistake, he reserved the right to change his mind.

Speaking at a small reception in Orlando last week, Crist gave a compelling speech. Looking back, he said he became a Republican because his parents were Republicans. It was the same reason he became a Methodist – understandable and believable. His friends have told him he has been a Democrat all his life, he just didn’t know it.

Why is it that we complain bitterly about our opponents and when they switch sides, we turn our backs? We need to just let leaders lead. We did that with Hillary Clinton and Ronald Reagan, two infamous party defectors.

Crist has served Florida for more than 20 years – as a state senator, education commissioner, attorney general and governor.  He is probably the only candidate who can inspire the passion and raise the kind of money needed to defeat a multi-millionaire. If he is willing to do it, we need to get behind him 110 percent.

It’s time Florida was led by a governor who reflects the color of the state – blue. As he said in his speech last week, “I’ve always been here, I just haven’t had the right letter behind my name. “

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