The New York Times: Charlie Crist, Once a Republican, Takes a Seat Among Democrats in Congress
By Emmarie Huette
Representative Charlie Crist, Democrat of Florida, has had many identities. Governor. Senate candidate. State attorney general. Education commissioner. State legislator. Democrat. Republican. Independent.
Now he has added “congressman” to his résumé, occupying a Capitol Hill office that once belonged to Lyndon B. Johnson and Dick Cheney, after his November election victory in Florida’s 13th District. For a taste of home, he has accessorized with a Tropicana-branded mini-fridge, stocked with orange juice bottles in tidy rows.
Mr. Crist sat down with The New York Times last month to talk compromise, party pressure and one particular campaign memory involving a hot Florida day and the driver of a white pickup truck. This interview has been condensed.
Are Democrats missing something about the direction of the country?
Maybe. I think that rural America had concerns that maybe national Democrats didn’t pick up on, to some degree. You know, concern about safety — of course, all Americans are concerned about safety, but maybe the level of it was heightened.
I’m from a very diverse state, much like California or New York in that way, or even Texas. And when you get into the bread basket of the country, it’s not as diverse. And I think that Republicans capture a lot of that part of the country. But also the president won my state of Florida, and he won my county, and so I think that there’s a lot to be learned from this past election. But I also am cognizant that about three million more people voted for Secretary Clinton than they did for President Trump.
Where do you see room for compromise?
Infrastructure, I think, is a good place. The president has expressed a great interest, and I’m delighted by that. The Senate Democrats have put forward an aggressive plan to pursue infrastructure. It certainly would be helpful to my state that roads and bridges and high-speed rail, hopefully, could be a part of that, provide jobs for a lot of our fellow Americans.
I wish there were. I would hope that climate change could become one, and we’ve seen some comments out of the new cabinet members that indicate maybe they aren’t completely in concert with some of the things that were campaigned on in the fall by the new president and his then campaign, that they’re maybe a little more open-minded about addressing climate change in a responsible way.
I’m encouraged, in fact, by the fact that the [then] president-elect met with Elon Musk, who is a true pioneer, does a lot of great work in my state with SpaceX, so I’m grateful to him for that. If he’s listening to people like Elon Musk, that’s a good thing for the future of America, in my humble opinion.
What did voters in your district tell you about supporting President Trump?
Not a lot of direct conversation about why they did. But some people confided to me, look, I’m voting for Donald Trump and I’m going to vote for you.
We were putting signs up back in August, and I was personally engaged in that activity because I like physical activity, and we’re using post hole diggers and putting signs up on the side of the road. It was hot as you might expect it to be in Florida, and so I’m drenched and wearing a T-shirt and shorts and sneakers and it’s midday, and all of a sudden this white pickup truck comes pulling off the side of the road where we were putting up the sign. And it was a Caucasian gentleman, probably in his mid-50s and not terribly svelte, if you will, and he gets out of the truck, and it has a Trump sticker on the back. And I’m the Democratic nominee, and I’m thinking, this may not be so good.
And he comes up to me and he goes, Aren’t you Charlie Crist? And I said, Yeah, and he goes, Can I get a picture with you? And I’m like, Yeah, sure. I’m thinking, O.K., this is all turning out all right.
Do members just need to be more in touch with their districts?
I think it makes a difference. My family has lived in St. Petersburg, Fla., since 1960, since I was 3. My dad practiced medicine there for 55 years as a family doctor. When I was a kid, I used to make house calls with him, and my mom was very active in our community. And so when you have that kind of familiarity, I think it brings with it — if you’re a decent human being — trust and familiarity and comfort. And I think that helps a lot, whether you’re running for Congress or school board.
Which of your previous jobs do you think was the best preparation for being in Congress?
All of them. Maybe the best was State Senate, because it’s a legislative body, as is the Congress. It gives you insight into the process, how it works and what your role is.
But having been attorney general and governor, in particular, gives you perspective of how a chief executive looks at the legislative branch. Having been a member of it before I got elected governor, I think, gave me that perspective and understanding and appreciation that it’s not a dictatorship. It is a democracy, and all branches of government are very important and to be honored and respected, and the more that you do that, show them favor, the more cooperative people are. It’s just human nature.
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