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Monday, December 24, 2012

Bill McBride, 1945-2012

The news of the passing of Bill McBride took by sorrowful surprise today. Considering the man never was as successful in politics as many of us hoped he would be, I know his death will not be seen widely as a major event. But for so many reasons, I feel loss at the news.

Of course, I have always liked that McBride went to the same high school I did. The notion a Yellowjacket could have become governor of Florida was undeniably appealing from the moment I learned he was pondering entering the race in 2002. But I also appreciated how his small town heritage informed his politics, sometimes to his detriment in terms of strategy but always in a way that earned admiration on a personal level. I think back to how these powerful individuals who lived their lives sweeping the state end to end would always make sure there was never a day when one parent wasn't with their children, even if that meant rejiggering a high-stakes campaign. McBride's family came before his ambition, and I weep today for the now-grown children Bert and Lexi.

McBride, of course, was a remarkably successful lawyer before he tried his hand at statewide politics, so that loss should not be overlooked. In the end, Alex Sink was the more politically successful part of this power couple, something I would never have guessed a decade ago.

I recall when I first met McBride. He was campaigning at a Democratic banquet in Leesburg. His message at the time, that he was a better challenger to Jeb Bush's re-election than the baggage-laden Janet Reno, went over remarkably well with this hometown crowd. In the end, the fact McBride beat Reno and lost to Bush was a lesson to Florida Democrats on being overly cautious. (Could Bush have really bludgeoned Reno with Waco as the country was mounting up for a full-scale war with Iraq?) But for the Democrats at Silver Lake, the simple prospect of having a governor who knew what Lake Griffin looked like in the 1970s and could it to the polluted mess of modern times was enough reason to forgo any other options in the gubernatorial contest.

McBride spoke to me and told me he was already tracking what his hometown paper, The Daily Commercial, was writing about his own bid. He had read a recent article I wrote questioning if McBride, even if he won the nomination, could even carry Lake County in the end (he couldn't, it turned out). But he said he wanted me kept abreast of the race and gave me a direct cell phone number to reach him whenever I needed. Curses, I lost the number pretty quickly, but the campaign kept in touch to the bitter end.

The paper that year was the first in Florida to endorse McBride in the general, a risky move in a Republican County but one which still feels right. The guy was a hometown hero, even if he ended up being a bit politically naive. But I loved that someone growing up in the small town, conservative bastion of Leesburg had, just like myself, grown up realizing progressive policies would benefit the region more than free market-conservatism. The fact he was one of the most successful businessmen in Florida made him a good spokesperson for that message as well.

He wasn't perfect. I recall interviewing him about his longtime relationship with Gary Morse, the politically powerful owner of The Villages, and he simply said "I don't know what your problem with Gary is?" Oh, where to start... But even then, it struck me his failure to support oversight of explosive urban sprawl in the case of The Villages had more to do with misplaces personal loyalty than financial corruption.

I am saddened by news of McBride's death, though not entirely shocked. Even during the race, it was obvious the man was not the poster child for healthy living, and at the paper, we would get calls regularly from people talking about his dramatic shifts in weight. But I certainly wished for a long and happy life for McBride.

Going forward, I pray for Alex Sink and her family, and I hope still for the future McBride tried to achieve. I hope the days of the small town Democrat combining rural values with progressive sense haven't died with him.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Let The Consternation Begin

We saw it coming. Now the moment has arrived. Charlie Crist, whose early political stances earned him the nickname Chain Gang Charlie, is now a Democrat. From the Tampa Bay Times, which seems to have the fullest account: 
Crist... signed papers changing his party from independent to Democrat. He did so during a Christmas reception at the White House, where President Barack Obama greeted the news with a fist bump for the man who had a higher profile campaigning for Obama's re-election this year than any Florida Democrat.

The paper goes on to tell some of these reasons Democratic partisans should be happy about this. The man is almost certainly running for governor in two years, and quite frankly would be a slam dunk to kick Gov. Voldemort and his deatheaters back into hiding.

 But all I feel is dread. Why? Because Charlie Crist has done all the things I said last May that would make his worth our consideration as a viable Democratic candidate, and it all makes feel a little ill. Part of it is that the rank political opportunism emanating from the man's political soul smells more than ever precisely because he was willing to do all those things. But strong as well is the fact no politician in the country better exemplifies what is so wrong with the Republican Party post-2010, and what makes the Democratic Party the one which genuinely represents a cross-section of America.

A man who served as the standard bearer for conservative values in a hopeless Senate bid in Florida as recently as 1998 is now treated as an alien at Marco Rubio's tea party. That Democrats will consider a man who even with his rush to the left would be a moderate within our own ranks speaks to the open-minded of those on the left.

 Of course, that also opens our side up to being dragged rightward in the central positions of our party, and that is distressing. Great candidates like Pam Iorio look like moderates today but could be branded communists by the time a primary with Crist was completed. A candidate like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, whom I have greatly admired since her days in the state Senate, will get lambasted as Marxists from the start should she enter the race.

But then again, Crist may have done as much as any Florida Democrat to help President Obama win Florida this year. That means a lot with party officials, and more with moderate voters.

So what's a good Democrat to do? I suppose we're back to basics. Fight hard for the candidates we want representing the party in primary season, then going to the general election with whoever comes out alive. I will refrain from attacking Crist with the vigor I did in 2010, but I have not forgotten his roots, even as he has done. And we'll see how the 2014 cycle shakes out.

But somehow, the man who almost single-handedly made the 2010 cycle in Florida the craziest of my lifetime seems poised outdo himself in 2014, and he's doing so with the blessing of my president. This is going to be fun.