Charlie Crist Slams Rick Scott Over Killing Florida HSR
I missed this last week, but it’s worth mentioning here. When former Florida Governor Charlie Crist announced his campaign for governor, he included a slam at current Governor Rick Scott for rejecting the federal stimulus funds to build high speed rail:
Republican-turned-Democratic former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist criticized incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R) for rejecting high-speed rail money from the Obama administration in his announcement of his new campaign on Monday.
Announcing a challenge to Scott in 2014 in St. Petersburg, Fla., Crist twice noted that Scott rejected $2.4 billion that Florida was offered to build a high-speed railway between Orlando and Tampa that had been sought for years by state leaders.
The quashed railway figures to play a central role in the clash between Crist and Scott because the newly minted Democratic candidate campaigned for the money when he was Florida governor, from 2007 to 2011.
Crist foreshadowed the high-speed rail attack in an interview last week with the News Service of Florida before his announcement on Monday.
“Unbelievable. That could have created tens of thousands of jobs,” Crist said of the stalled high-speed rail proposal.
“Have you driven on I-4? I wonder if he has,” Crist continued in the interview. “He doesn’t have to. He flies over it in his jet. How does he have a clue what we’re feeling? It’s hard to have empathy if you haven’t suffered like that and been on I-4. I’m on it once a week, man.”
Crist knows that Scott is not only vulnerable generally, but that HSR is a good way to hit him. Florida’s economy is not doing very well, recovering slowly from the recession. President Obama twice carried Florida, and Scott rejected the HSR funds in part to make Obama look bad ahead of his re-election bid. Crist is using HSR to help make the argument that Florida was doing better under his leadership, but Scott came in and made highly ideological decisions that have made Florida suffer.
The Economist worries that Crist is playing a risky game by making HSR a campaign issue. But Crist is no fool. He was a popular governor and currently holds a lead in the polls over Scott. Crist wouldn’t make this attack if it didn’t poll well.
And that’s the point. Americans still want high speed trains. The systematic attacks on the California HSR project have taken a political toll. Yet large numbers of Californians still support it and Sacramento politicians who voted to fund HSR in July 2012 were all easily re-elected despite right-wing efforts to use HSR as a way to defeat them. Rick Scott is about to discover that when it comes to HSR, the politically risky thing for a statewide elected official to do is oppose them.
Why does this matter to the California HSR project? If Crist can hold on and beat Scott, with HSR as one of the campaign issues, he will show Republicans that their extremism has serious political costs. Already Republicans are starting to question the wisdom of the government shutdown now that it helped cost them the Virginia governor’s race.
2014 will be a pivotal election, with control of the Republican Party as well as the House and many state governments at stake. It is possible, if not yet likely, that the results of the 2014 election might lead Republicans to wind down some of their extremism and begin supporting infrastructure that they’ve backed in the past – like high speed rail.