Washington Matters


Blaming Crist for Doing Right by Florida

Mark Willen

Crist will pay a political price for keeping his state afloat.



Charlie Crist is in big trouble. The popular Florida governor was once considered a shoo-in for the Senate seat he’s seeking, but not anymore. He’s very likely to lose the GOP primary to Marco Rubio, a new star in the Tea Party movement who holds an 18-point lead in the polls. Crist insists he’s doing better than it seems, but even his top campaign aides have been jumping ship.

Why? What is Crist’s big sin in Republican eyes?

Blame it on the stimulus. Crist supported the bill passed last year, and his public embrace of it infuriated conservatives. And they have long, unforgiving memories. Crist won’t do the politically expedient thing and admit his “error,” and he won’t follow the likes of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other GOP state officials who grabbed the money even as they attacked the bill that provided it.

Crist’s position stands out because the one-year anniversary of the stimulus package has been marked with all the hyperpartisanship we’ve come to accept as the norm. Republicans blasted it as a complete waste of money that had created no new jobs (a ridiculous contention) -- or in some versions, no new private sector jobs (as though keeping teachers in the classroom and cops on the streets isn’t a worthwhile economic endeavor). Democrats again played defense and resort to silly hyperbole, claiming more job creation than they could prove. That was in part because they had been penned in by the unrealistic promises they made when it passed – i.e., that it would keep the jobless rate below 8 percent.

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Economists, if anyone were listening, came down in a more realistic middle, acknowledging the obvious – that the stimulus helped end the recession and boost economic growth, saving the country from what would have been a longer and more severe recession. But they coupled that with warnings that the economy is still in for a long, tough grind and that burgeoning deficits loom as an extremely serious problem.

That’s our view here at Kiplinger, too. The stimulus did contribute to growth and it did create jobs. We think Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com is about right in saying that the stimulus added about three percentage points to GDP in the second and third quarters of 2009 and about two points in the fourth quarter. He predicts that the added oomph will dwindle sharply in the first half of this year.

Measuring job creation is harder. The administration figure -- 2 million jobs ultimately created or saved -- is likely too high, but the number is significant. Harder to fathom is the GOP claim that it doesn’t count if the jobs saved are in the public sector. States are in a crisis mode, and they’re cutting services right and left. An estimated 300,000 education jobs were saved, the bulk of them teachers. If you don’t think that’s important to the economy, ask the business groups working hard to improve a system that produces graduates lacking basic skills.

And for every teacher, cop, firefighter or state government clerk kept on the job, there is added consumer spending, which fuels growth and helps the private sector keep or add jobs. So it’s simply ridiculous to discount government jobs.

I know that the fashion today is to attack big government, but let’s see how people feel in a couple of years, after they’ve experienced a few more years of much smaller government on the state level. And on the federal level, it’s complete hypocrisy to insist on small government and then attack agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not having the staff and expertise to catch the Toyota problems earlier than it did. They simply can’t have it both ways.

Charlie Crist understands that, but the Tea Party activists don’t. In the end, that’s likely to work against the majority of voters in Florida, who – because they don’t vote in the Republican primary – will probably lose a politician who sees issues in shades of gray instead of black and white.




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