a CallTallahassee production

   A Working Narrative

People tell me things. It could be because I ask questions, often with a microphone and recorder in hand. And remarkably, people tell me things. And then I tell other people what they said. It’s how I make a living. Is this a great country or what?

I’ve been doing this for about 25 years.  Telling stories about north Florida.; writing about its wildlife,  Florida State football  and Tallahassee activists.  Today, I spend my time wandering around the Florida State Capital Complex.

The assignment is politics. It is quite intriquing. I accepted the statehouse reporter position at the dawn of the Charlie Crist era. Interesting man that Crist is. I had a front row seat while he experimented with a Sunshine State populism that led to his banishment from the Republican Party.

A Charlie Crist Capital was heavy on symbolism. It was politics in a Frank Capra-inspired Americana. Once I mistakenly got off an elevator on the eighth floor turned down a  carpeted hallway and who do I find assisting two grey-haired librarians who had lost their way but the People’s Governor himself.

The retired Broward County librarians were at the Capital to protest Crist’s proposed budget cuts. Thousands of citizens had come to Tallahassee to try to protect their interests when lawmakers had to reduced spending by billions to cope with the Great Recession.  Crist not only directed the two to the elevator and through the maze of the Capital, Senate Office Building and the Knott Building to the correct committee room but also reminded them to fill out a speaker’s card if they wanted to participate in the meeting.

crist-charm_142804c2-300x228And then in classic Crist fashion he turned to me and asked, “What are you doing, up here?”

“I have the same question for you, Governor,” I replied.

“Helping, they don’t know the building like you and me,” said Crist as he disappeared behind a door of a staff member’s office.

Once after making small talk with one of the guys who give tourists a tour of the Capital, I walked across the first floor rotunda and their sitting on a bench next to the Great Seal of Florida was the People’s Governor. Talking to a St. Petersburg Times reporter.

Crist was working out the logistics of ending a legislative session and flying to St. Petersburg to announce he would run for the U.S. Senate as an independent. GOP activists were demanding he refund campaign contributions made when he was running as a Republican. He was at the center of a multitude of story lines.

And here he was, practically at the front door of the state capital discussing his plans with the bureau chief of the state’s leading newspaper.  Crist prided himself on being the people’s governor and since I consider myself people I sat down next to him and listened in.

People tell me things. The state capital was a friendlier place during the Charlie Crist era.

You have to know a little about Florida to understand the rise and dramatic fall of Charlie Crist, Florida’s 44th governor.

Florida is a myth; one that 19 million of us choose to believe but no more real that say a line drawn in the ground separating Florida soil from Georgia dirt. What does separate the common Floridian from her Georgian and Alabamian neighbors is that most Floridians or their parents came from elsewhere.

We are economic refugees who fled the Midwest when the steel industry collapsed. Snowbirds who refused to endure another New England winter. Young wannabe professionals starting careers and middle aged pluggers trying to salvage one.

When the marriage failed in Eden Prairie and the jobs left Youngstown and the sun refused to shine in Bangor instead of staring into an abyss we left for the coast. Florida has three of them and you can pick your breakfast from trees lining sun-bleached boulevards; according to real estate marketing campaigns from the 1920s.

From what I can gather from people telling me things is that the Florida psyche is like the guy who suddenly finds his job has disappeared, his girl has left him and life in his hometown seems filled with too many conflicts, big misunderstandings where ever he looks; the  Police, neighbors, bosses everyone everywhere.

Suddenly, in the middle of all this, almost magically appears the opportunity go live on the beach with a cute chick.  Florida comes on to you like a young wholesome All-American Girl in cutoff blue jeans and all 19 million of us fell in love with  her.

Now we make a living by cutting each other’s hair, mowing each other lawns and doing each other’s taxes. We may have short-changed careers and other opportunities to live in Florida. We tell ourselves it’s okay;  we’re living on the beach and did you see that sunset last night?

Lord knows Florida is beautiful. Writing about wild Florida gave me a chance to admire wild orchids in the Everglades, explore the St. John’s watershed during a drought and inspect the largest sea grass bed along the Gulf coast. Florida is simply beautiful.  Charlie Crist says that’s how he feels about it too.  Or, at least, that’s the way he talks about her.

The beauty of Florida is what unites people as Floridians. Unfortunately, such a mindset is not conducive to creating good public policy. One can say Floridians, judging by the makeup of the state legislature, are simply not a serious people. Or, we could defend ourselves by explaining we are too busy to pay attention to what policy makers are doing.

Floridians, judging by state park attendance, spend a lot of time in the woods, apparently admiring the state’s natural beauty,  or at the beach admiring the state’ s natural beauty. We participate in presidential elections but mid-terms and state elections, when lawmakers who decide state regulations and policy are chosen, well, we do have other interests. Have you ever seen a manatee up close?

Anyway, after a series of vetoes and other decisions Crist fell out of favor with the ruling Republican Party of Florida and lost a U.S. Senate race running with no party affiliation, failed in a bid to return to Tallahassee as Democratic gubernatorial candidate and is now considering a run for the U.S. Congress.

Should be an interesting story. I’ll keep you posted as it develops.

Myself, I moved on from public radio a couple years after Crist left office to go write for the news division of  a bill tracking firm. The news division was eliminated and I then signed on with a south Florida blogger and we parted ways in May.


So, here I am, an underemployed writer posting his musings on a civil society, the Florida Legislature and mid-life in general. I’m Tallahassee’s very own Rick Redfern.

James Call is the Tallahassee Observer and can be reached at calljames@comcast.net



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