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Ben Kirby: Prospects for Florida Democrats look promising

 On Friday (Oct. 25), Democrats from around the state will gather in Orlando for their annual conference. I expect there will be much discussion about Amanda Murphy’s recent win in State House District 36.

I do not know if Murphy will be there, but if she is, she will likely be greeted as a rock star.

Another hot topic will be the St. Petersburg mayor’s race. It is a non-partisan race, but Democrats are eager to see Rick Kriseman defeat incumbent (and heavily Republican-backed) Bill Foster. Polling throughout the campaign has, encouragingly, shown Kriseman ahead.

In any normal year, those two good news stories would be enough to buoy the spirits of Florida Democrats.

But this is not a normal year.

With the passing of Congressman Bill Young, speculation about who will run in the governor-directed special election is ramping up — fast.

This is a potential Congressional pick-up for Democrats, a fact lost on no one who will be in Orlando this weekend.

But if you’re Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, and you are in the back rooms with the high rollers, the money guys, the issue leaders, the decision-makers, and there is strategy to be made, there is only one race you can be talking about: governor of Florida in 2014.

And that means only one name: Charlie Crist.

Every single Democrat meeting in Orlando ought to be just as excited about Charlie Crist as they are about Amanda Murphy, Rick Kriseman, and Democratic chances in the Florida 13th.

But first, an apology… of sorts.

If you were to look at an archive of Florida bloggers who were tough on Republican Gov. Crist, you would find my name and my old blog at or at least near the top of the list.

I was tough on Crist, and make no mistake: I am not apologizing for what I said. Crist made some bad choices and some dumb moves — especially as he moved toward his run for the U.S. Senate.

And this is politics. And I am a blogger. The sky is blue. Grass is green. That is the way things are.

My apology is for being too slow to come around to the idea of Democratic Gov. Crist. Why did it take me so long? And what finally changed my mind?

The answer to the second question is easy: the shutdown of the federal government. The shutdown was the inevitable culmination of a rigid, ossified political ideology. The very concept of governing measured against the core beliefs of the Tea Party conservatives could not stand.

I saw an awful lot of strange so-called analysis urging President Obama to “negotiate” with Republicans. That argument never held any water with most folks, because the Affordable Care Act was essentially validated in the 2012 presidential election and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. What was there to negotiate?

I found it even weirder that no one seemed to be calling on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to “negotiate”. Where was the call for the Tea Party caucus to sit down and figure out how to uphold their beliefs and still govern the country? You can’t find those editorials, because the belief of the Tea Party caucus is no government whatsoever.

 That belief is steadfast, rigid, unmoving.

Here in the real world, people change. They grow, they evolve, they develop a system of values and beliefs, and those values and beliefs grow as they grow. They grow as we learn new things, meet new people, expose ourselves to new experiences.

I think this makes Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, not just a good candidate for governor, but perhaps the perfect Democrat.

The media are awash in speculation that the Republican Party may be heading toward extinction, or at least dramatic re-engineering.

Are Democrats willing to grow, to evolve and change? Or are we at risk of becoming the liberal versions of our fossilized brothers and sisters in the GOP?

I say we learn, grow, and accept new faces into our party. I say we make Charlie Crist our standard-bearer for that image.

As for why it took me so long, that one is easy: I’m an idiot. A large problem with politics today is that both sides do a fantastic job of clan retention.

To be clear, I am not suggesting a form of middle-of-the-road Broderism. When Democrats meet this weekend, they ought to be reinforcing the Democratic Party values with one another. One of those values should be acceptance of a wide range of ideas and views.

If Democrats can remember that it is really us who have the “big tent,” then the good news stories in Florida will continue — from Pasco County, to St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, all the way to the governor’s mansion next year.

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