Yesterday’s Tampa Bay Times highlighted some Florida history perhaps unknown to many Ave Maria residents. It involves AMU president Jim Towey and former GOP governor Charlie Crist.
While infamous for his deep orange tan, Mr. Crist’s more substantive notoriety is as the sitting Republican governor who opted not to run for re-election in 2010 so that he could run for the U.S. senate, lost the GOP senate primary to Marco Rubio, and instantly morphed into a liberal independent to run against Rubio in the general election.
Crist (who in prior campaigns advocated abolishing the IRS, bringing back chain gangs, and impeaching Bill Clinton – and who as governor actually appointed key Clinton impeachment leader Charles Canady to be a Florida Supreme Court Justice) ran an embarrassing campaign and was soundly defeated by Rubio.
Soon afterward Crist joined one of Florida’s most well-known personal injury law firms, Morgan & Morgan, whose ubiquitous media ads include advocacy for legalizing medical marijuana. Crist himself became a TV pitchman for the firm.
Then in 2012, Crist – still an independent – emerged to endorse Barack Obama during a televised speech at the Democratic National Convention, after which Crist joined the Democrat party.
Which brings us to yesterday’s lengthy article that tries to answer the question “Who is Charlie Crist?”, just as Crist signals the start of a campaign to do what “now should be impossible… to be governor as a Republican and then governor, again, just four years later, as a Democrat.” In trying to answer that question, the journalist highlighted a 1995 incident involving Crist and Jim Towey:
Today, Crist talks about civility and bipartisanship, but Florida’s last Democratic governor [Lawton Chiles] saw Crist as the main obstacle to that. For instance, Jim Towey, Chiles’ idealistic, outspoken head of social services and a former aide to Mother Teresa, lost his post because of Crist’s committee [Senate Committee on Executive Business, Ethics and Elections]. Towey is now the president of Ave Maria University near Naples. He shakes his head that Crist is campaigning as a friend of black voters when he played such a key role in putting so many of them behind bars and in chain gangs. “He can change his image, but he can’t change the facts,” Towey said. “What I see Charlie Crist doing today is the same thing I saw him doing 20 years ago. He’s a master at media manipulation.”
Back then, according to Towey, Crist was gracious to him in private even while ripping him in public. Years later, Crist ran into Towey at the White House, where Towey led President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives. Crist greeted him cheerfully, like they were longtime pals, “happily saying hi to my wife and me when he led my firing when we had two little kids under 3 years old,” Towey said. “To him, it was all forgotten. Didn’t mean a thing. That’s how the guy is wired.” Cordial or pathological? Decorous or two-faced? The velvet glove was open to interpretation.
To be sure, prior to Towey’s initial appointment as Florida’s head of social services everyone knew the agency was in terrible shape and it would be an extremely difficult job. And shortly after the senate fired him the legislature split the huge behemoth agency into two agencies. To be sure, Charlie Crist’s career proves him to be the epitome of a political opportunist – which makes Towey’s remarks ring all the more true.
Some readers might remember a bit about this incident – it was mentioned in passing when Towey first came to Ave Maria. The fact that it was highlighted again this week can serve as a reminder of the weight of experience and the breadth of contacts (seems pretty obvious when a man has been advisor to a saint, a president, a governor, and a senator*) that Jim brings to his office each day as the president of AMU. We can all keep praying that he continues to use them for the success of the institution so dear to our town, and we can thank him for working in earnest to be a man of virtue who is not afraid to take on very difficult challenges.
*Blessed Mother Teresa, President George W. Bush, Governor Lawton Chiles, and Senator Mark Hatfield