Martin Dyckman: Despite obvious omissions, Crist’s memoir is good reading

Typical of its genre, Charlie Crist’s recently published campaign memoir, “The Party’s Over,” won’t be a convenient resource for historians.

It has no footnotes and no index.

Another characteristic of such books–indeed, of much autobiography–is a selective memory.

There are some fairly obvious omissions in Crist’s, although fewer than I had expected to find.

One of them is the bill he signed as governor that began the destruction of growth management in Florida.

Another is the fact that the 1995 scheme to put some convicts back in chains, which he recounts proudly, had originated with other legislators. I gave him the nickname “Chain Gang Charlie”–which he relishes–for the way he co-opted and exploited it.

He’s correct in writing that it “was not meant as a term of endearment.”

There’s another important oversight that I’ll get to shortly.

The former Republican governor, now running to reclaim his old office as a Democrat, convincingly describes the uncompromising radicalism that has overtaken his old party.

He believes his downfall began when he exchanged a hug with President Obama at a rally touting the economic recovery plan.

“That simple gesture,” Crist writes, “ended my career as a viable Republican politician.”

Crist blames what he calls “that famous and dreadful hug” for his loss to Marco Rubio in the 2012 Senate race, when he left the party, facing certain defeat in the primary, to run as an independent.

Crist addresses the intensity of Republican hatred toward Obama.

“…It was impossible,” Crist writes, “to imagine an equal measure of virulence for any politician whose skin was white.”

That needed to be said.

But Crist overlooks his own contribution, long ago, to the uncompromising, excessive partisanship that he now finds so distasteful in Tallahassee and Washington.

As a state Senate committee chair in 1995, he led an investigation into robocalls in which Gov. Lawton Chiles’ campaign staff had attacked his Republican opponent Jeb Bush. The message falsely accused Bush of threatening Social Security.

Crist does mention that in the book.

He says nothing, however, about his other target that year: Jim Towey, secretary of the huge Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

Chiles’ department heads needed to be confirmed for a second term. In Towey’s case, it was an “Alice in Wonderland” experience: Sentence first, verdict afterwards.

The Senate leadership, under Republican control for the first time, was hell-bent to punish Chiles for winning re-election. Towey was more than an appointee to Chiles; he was a friend. He made a tempting target, and Crist’s committee hearings were the weapon.

The Senate’s vote was 18 Democrats to confirm Towey, 22 Republicans to reject him. Towey, whose wife had just given birth to their second child, was out of a job.

In an email to me this week, Towey recalled that Crist “could not have been more of a gentleman to me throughout the entire hearing as he methodically trumped up bogus charges about HRS mismanagement…”

In later years, Towey wrote, some of the Republican senators admitted to him that it had been all about politics and apologized.

But not Charlie.

As I have written before, Crist didn’t even seem to remember the episode when he encountered Towey at the White House 10 years later.

When Towey said, “I forgive you,” Crist appeared puzzled and replied, “For what?”

And he didn’t remember it in the book either.

“It was already over 300 pages,” Crist said when I asked him about that, “and I couldn’t put everything in there.” But he insisted that he had “no particular reason” to leave it out.

He stressed, however, that he had exonerated Chiles for the phone calls.

All told, though, “The Party’s Over” is good reading.

And there’s this: Crist has, at least, put a book out there for critics to pick at.

Although Gov. Rick Scott is rumored to be working on one of his own, his office said Tuesday that “nothing is planned prior to the election.”

That’s a pity. A Scott memoir would be an intriguing element in the campaign.

Would he deal with the record $1.7-billion in criminal fines and penalties his former company paid for defrauding Medicare? Would he explain how it happened on his watch? Or why he invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a deposition involving a civil dispute with another company?

A lot of people would be eager to buy that book.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times. He lives at Waynesville, North Carolina. 

 

Martin Dyckman



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