Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Governor-Elect Reaching out to Make New Legislative Allies; Democratic Leaders Are Reserving Judgment about Crist for the Time Being

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Governor-Elect Reaching out to Make New Legislative Allies; Democratic Leaders Are Reserving Judgment about Crist for the Time Being

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING

TALLAHASSEE - A month into his engagement as Florida's governor-elect, Charlie Crist is reaching out to old friends and trying hard to make new ones.

Some of the relationships have been successful; others are marked with caution.

Crist has drawn mild criticism by announcing a list of inaugural activities and events expected to cost $3 million, a fairly high tab for a governor's inauguration. Plus, funding is coming largely coming from lobbyists. That move comes just a year after Florida enacted a ban on gifts of any amount from lobbyists, but the Florida Commission on Ethics has said the inauguration funds are legal.

The attorney general has also failed to persuade the Legislature to add his cherished "anti-murder bill" to the Jan. 16 special legislative session agenda.

Still, the closest anyone will come to criticism is a tone of caution from top Democrats, such as Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller.

"He keeps making these comments about being 'the people's governor' and so far it looks like it, but I give him an I for incomplete," Geller said. "He's still in the wedding dress. We have yet to see what he's going to look like at 4 in the morning with curlers in his hair and no makeup."

Crist, who succeeds Jeb Bush on Jan. 2, has spent his time since the Nov. 7 election strengthening old and new alliances and seemingly making few enemies so far. He has a team of about 40 employees in Tallahassee, including an 18-member transition team, working to smooth the handover of the state's highest office.

The first administration appointments have come and gone, with longtime confidant and campaign chief of staff George LeMieux landing the highest-profile position of chief of staff. Crist made his first agency appointments on Tuesday, naming Gerald Bailey as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Melinda Miguel as chief inspector general.

While Crist's desire to continue Bush's policies hasn't changed, he said he expects to approach the job of governor from a more bipartisan point of view. He had a relatively bipartisan approach to the Attorney General's Office - the Republican kept much of the staff from his Democratic predecessor, Bob Butterworth, for example - and he said he plans to repeat that as governor.

"Our philosophies are in line, but the governor and I do have a difference in style," Crist said. "A good road map is how we handled the AG's office. You'll see more of that, quite possibly, in some of the secretarial appointments. I'm proud to be a Republican, but I understand that people want us to work together."

The top two Democrats at the Capitol - Geller, of Hallandale Beach, and House Minority Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach - said they expect Crist will live up to the promise. …

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