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Daniel Tilson: What would Crist Florida Economy 2.0 look like?

As middle class Floridians are repeatedly reminded in the months ahead about Charlie Crist’s history of shifting policy positions, it’s his vision of what constitutes genuine economic and tax fairness in Florida that deserves closest attention.

While conservative-to-liberal conversions on issues like marriage equality, abortion and gun control have him inhabiting space on the political spectrum populated by progressive Democrats and Independents, his detailed views on what makes for a fair economy will bear close watching.

The challenge for mainstream middle class voters who don’t have the time or inclination to dig through Crist’s political history or decode his public statements is going to be getting to the facts, and the truth.

For all the growth of online news, local TV and radio news is going to be a primary source of information about the campaign for most voters. And the vast majority of those stations won’t spend time breaking down and examining what Crist says about the economy.

What they’ll mostly do is dutifully run what are nothing more than Crist campaign ads, carefully constructed little sound-bites like this one from yesterday’s candidacy announcement speech:

“Right now, we have an economic plan that is entirely focused on giving money away to corporations. That might be a great way to take care of your friends and raise campaign dollars, but that’s no way to build an economy that is built to last.”

Speaking of ad campaigns — that’s a quote in risk of bringing to mind the trite-but-true Miller Lite slogan: Tastes Great, Less Filling!

It’s easy to attack Gov. Rick Scott for being all about Big Business and tax giveaways – if you have the steady, longtime middle-class champion credentials of Crist’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, former State Senate leader Nan Rich.

While it’s good to hear Crist give voice to what Florida’s middle class is thinking about an unfair economy, the plain and simple truth is, he has almost no credentials to back up the welcome words.

He has no history of fighting for an overhaul of the Florida tax code so it better serves the interests of working and middle class Floridians – as Nan Rich did in trying to pass the Fair Economy Act last year.

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He has no history of fighting to close the huge tax loopholes for super-rich corporations and individuals that bust state budgets and hamstring hopes for broad-based economic recovery built on middle class empowerment.

In fact, his history as governor includes leaving those loopholes alone and raising millions of campaign dollars from appreciative beneficiaries. As the state budget swooned, a recession-ravaged middle class was hit with billions of dollars in new cigarette taxes, higher motor vehicle registration fees and the like.

Understanding the ruthlessly ultra-partisan political motives behind a recent Op-Ed by George Lemieux, then-Gov. Crist’s confidante, Chief Of Staff and U.S. Senate appointee, the characterization of his old friend’s economic policies is worth noting.

“He never met a tax increase he liked. …The Charlie Crist I knew idolized Ronald Reagan and embraced Reagan’s view of limited government. He was pro-life, pro-gun and vehemently anti-tax. He believed big government was the enemy of success, and that when government taxed it took ‘your money’.”

The Crist campaign will keep reminding Democrats he has “evolved” on economic issues, like his public support for a federal “Millionaire’s Tax” championed by Warren Buffet and President Obama.

It will be up to the Nan Rich campaign to push Crist hard and often for details about how far that evolution has actually progressed, and how ready he really is to fight for a fair Florida economy.

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