Florida's GOP Governor Backs Obama Stimulus Plan

One of President Obama's few Republican supporters on the stimulus package is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Florida is expected to receive some $12 billion in federal aid from the package. But supporting the plan has earned Crist the scorn of some GOP faithful.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Before President Obama outlined his housing plan yesterday, he signed a much bigger stimulus plan. One of the most vocal Republican supporters of that plan was Florida Governor Charlie Crist. In Fort Myers last week, Crist gave the president a hug and embraced his policy.

(Soundbite of applause)

Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Republican, Florida): This issue of helping our country is about helping our country. This is not about partisan politics. This is about rising above that, helping America, and reigniting our economy.

SHAPIRO: Florida's expected to receive some $12 billion in federal aid from the stimulus package. But Crist's support for it has earned him the scorn of some Republicans. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: When the stimulus plan was being debated in the Senate, Charlie Crist said he pestered Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez, calling him just about every day. What did he get for his pains? Senator Martinez voted against the bill and said on the Senate floor that he believed Crist didn't understand all the details of the package.

Crist didn't fare any better with members of Florida's Republican House delegation. They all voted against it. As it's turned out, about the only well-known Republican in Florida, and one of the few nationally who is in favor of the stimulus package is Governor Crist, and he's unapologetic about breaking with his party.

Gov. CRIST: When I got sworn in as governor, I didn't get sworn in as the governor of the Republicans of Florida. I got sworn in as the governor of Florida, all of Florida.

ALLEN: Yesterday, Crist held a hastily scheduled town meeting in Fort Lauderdale, which addressed some of the murmuring going on in Florida Republican circles. Last week at a GOP party meeting in Palm Beach, one activist proposed a vote to censure the governor. It was a motion that drew applause but was ruled out of order. Republican political consultant Ana Navarro says she's been fielding calls from party activists and donors who wonder what's going on with Charlie Crist.

Ms. ANA NAVARRO (Republican Political Consultant): Well, I think it makes people wonder if it's worth fighting and donating and working to get somebody elected that at the end of the day is not going to act according to the values that most Republicans share and hold.

ALLEN: Crist likes to call himself the people's governor and often reminds voters that they're his boss. He's a moderate with a populist streak who served in the legislature and as attorney general.

After becoming governor, he surprised many by reaching out to Democrats on what had been partisan issues, restoring voting rights for felons being one example. Some of his decisions have rankled conservative Republicans in Florida, but they've mostly kept quiet, in part because of Crist's popularity. A new Quinnipiac Poll puts his approval rating at 67 percent.

It's significant that Governor Crist's town hall meeting yesterday was in Broward County, a Democratic stronghold. On the issue of his Republican credentials, the governor reminded the crowd he campaigned for John McCain.

Gov. CRIST: But this is my president now, and I'm an American first, and I think it's important that we support our president and work together.

(Soundbite of applause)

ALLEN: Not just Crist is supporting the president's stimulus plan. A few other Republican governors, including California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vermont's Jim Douglas, also support it. But some other leading Republican governors, aligned with the party's mainstream, oppose the stimulus plan -people like Mississippi's Haley Barbour, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, and South Carolina's Mark Sanford, who said he may not accept the federal stimulus dollars. George LeMieux is a Republican lawyer close to Crist, a former campaign manager and chief of staff.

Mr. GEORGE LEMIEUX (Republican Lawyer): Well, I think that's easy rhetoric to say, well, we don't like this and we don't want to take this money. Call me back if one of those governors doesn't take it.

ALLEN: LeMieux says a lot of the sniping at the governor comes from political rivals, people who might oppose him in a future run for the Senate, for example. Crist has left open the possibility that he'll run for the Senate in 2010 to replace Mel Martinez, who's retiring.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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