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Crist vs.Rubio: It's celluloid vs. substance

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Real Republicans in Florida, especially those big-money business people who helped finance Charlie Crist's march to the governorship four years ago, have a serious dilemma.

Intellectually, they know that former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami — Crist's opponent for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate — lines up with their core values and philosophy far better than does Crist.

Real Republicans also know that when you measure what Rubio championed and enacted as Florida House speaker versus what Crist has championed and enacted in all of his positions (governor, attorney general, education commissioner, state senator), Rubio again is, unequivocally, a man of much more substance than is Crist.

And Real Republicans know that, when you analyze their political careers — Crist's 20 years, Rubio's eight — Rubio rose to House speaker in a meteoric trajectory largely on the substance of his ideas and leadership versus Crist, who did it on the basis of cream-puffy populism.

They are: a candidate of principles and free-market, limited-government ideals (Rubio) versus a cardboard caricature (Crist).

And yet, Florida Republicans continue to fund and support the caricature.

Ask Republican Party operatives the obvious question: “Why?”

Here's how they respond: Because Crist can and will win, Rubio cannot and won't. Crist, they say, will trounce any Democrat challenger (so far, it's ultra-liberal U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami); whereas they're not so sure

Rubio would hold the Republican senatorial seat. So don't risk it.

Here's another unspoken reality: the power of the incumbency. Every lobbyist in Tallahassee and every Republican legislator knows that Gov. Crist will preside over one more session of the Legislature. And every one of these players knows it would be political suicide to come out in favor of or show financial support for Rubio (or against Crist).

So the governor's campaign people are working hard and fast to raise special-interest money now. This is their big chance. They know there's not a lobbyist in sight who will fail to pull contributions for Crist from his clients as a safeguard against a Crist veto in the next session.

Likewise, Crists' fundraisers know that if they shake down all of the corporate money now, there won't be near as much left after the legislative session — when all of the lawmakers and special interests will be free (or less constrained) to back Rubio without damaging their Florida causes.

Talk about the ugly underbelly of the fat, political beast. It's crushing Rubio.

Thus, the numbers: Crist has raised $4.3 million so far; Rubio has raised about $350,000.

That's politics for you. In the state capitol, it's a slimy system of payoffs and favors. At the grassroots level, Crist's fundraising says a lot about Republicans and the state of the American and Florida political scene. The disheartening reality is image matters more than ideas. Popularity matters more than principle.

Here's a telling fact: Go to the two candidates' Web sites. On Rubio's, there is a tab for his position on issues. On Crist's, good luck finding anything that makes reference to his positions on any issues. Substance versus celluloid.

Consider: If you sat down with a yellow pad and made the case for Rubio and Crist on the basis of what are supposed to be core Republican principles — free markets, low taxes, limited government, private property rights, to name a few, and how they practiced those in public office — the case for Rubio would be long. For Crist, almost blank.

Or if you wrote out the case against Rubio and Crist on the basis of those core principles of governing, the lists would be diametrically opposite — Rubio's almost blank, Crist's long.

In his term as House Speaker, for example, Rubio campaigned hard statewide to reform Florida's unfair property-tax system to reduce the burden of property taxes on Floridians and its economy. Crist's efforts on this were in favor of Amendment 1 in January 2008, arguably “property-tax-light.” Remember how everyone's property taxes were going to “drop like a rock?” Well, they dropped, all right, but not because of Amendment 1 and Crist.

Another contrast: Rubio is definitive in his opposition to the Obama stimulus spending. Crist was one of the first governors to embrace it and gladly plunge current and future Americans into more unsustainable debt. Just as bad, he encouraged and let the Legislature adopt a budget that takes one-time federal porkulus money to fund ongoing expenses. This is limited government?

Here's another one: insurance. Crist is Florida's father, chief advocate and defender of the state owning and operating the largest property insurance company (if that's what you call a state-owned enterprise). And unbelievably last month he vetoed legislation that would have allowed insurers to operate more like a free market — to charge premiums for property insurance at whatever prices the market would bear.

With Crist's veto, you can't get any more statist than that.

Rubio, on the other hand, was explicit last month at the Florida Press Association annual convention when he was asked: If elected to the U.S. Senate, what would you say to Florida's chief financial officer if he or she asked you to vote in favor of a national hurricane catastrophe fund? Rubio said he would vote against it. The federal government, he said then as he often says, must spend less, not more money.

Rubio knows the odds are against him; it's a big longshot. But he is pressing on and campaigning on the optimistic belief that, if Florida's Republican voters can hear his vision for the United States and then compare his to what they hear and see from Charlie Crist, they will conclude that he, not Crist, should be the GOP's Senate nominee.

Indeed, had you witnessed the governor's substance-less, rambling remarks in front of Florida's pre-legislative press briefing and that of Rubio's remarks at the press association's annual meeting, there is no comparison.

Quit writing checks to the Crist for Senate campaign. Take a stand on principle for a change, Florida Republicans. Back Rubio, a real Goldwater-Reagan Republican.

Post-recession prediction

Now that more and more economists are predicting the end to the recession in the third and fourth quarters, business owners and chief executives are trying to figure out what this will mean for their sales through the remainder of this year, for 2010 and beyond.

Pat Neal, founder/owner/CEO of Lakewood Ranch-based Neal Communities, still believes Florida's long-term growth prospects are good. Neal remains a big believer that Florida still will attract its proportionate share, if not a larger share, of the 72 million baby boomers who will be retiring in the next decade and a half.

If you do the math, that would equate to about 6% of the boomer population, or 4.3 million more people. (Florida has roughly 6% of the nation's 300 million population.)

No doubt Florida's in-migration growth will resume. Not this year, and probably slowly in 2010. As Florida economist Hank Fishkind always points out, Florida's domestic in-migration always hinges on the economies up north — specifically, whether people can sell their homes there to be able to move here.

Neal may be overly optimistic. Here's why. During a conversation recently with Bill Klich, chairman of BB&T's Florida operations (and an executive who has begun thinking more about retirement after 39 years as a Florida banker),

Klich contends Florida has lost “its value proposition.” It's too expensive compared to other states.

Klich noted that property taxes near Cashiers, N.C., an increasingly popular retirement destination, on a home of equivalent square footage and size is $1,800 in Cashiers versus $6,000 in Tampa. The difference in homeowners' insurance is 10 times — 10 times more expensive in Florida.

Population growth is an essential ingredient to economic growth. If Florida's economy is to recover, our lawmakers need to help us. Property-tax and insurance reform are keys to re-energizing our economy.


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