Last week, the Florida LGBT publication Watermark published an interview with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, marking the governor’s first-ever interview with the LGBT press. While this could have been a prime opportunity for the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democratic politician to atone for his past sins against LGBT folks in his state, he did little more than admit how wrong he was.
Crist says he left the Republican Party not because he changed, but because “the Republican Party went nuts.” But Crist adhered to the party’s anti-gay policies — which haven’t changed — without protest a few years back. In 2008, Florida voters just barely approved of Amendment 2, which added a provision to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. Crist had initially expressed apathy toward the measure, but then had an apparent change of heart and told Floridians to vote for it.
Watermark interviewer (and publisher) Tom Dyer called him out on it — and didn’t accept his apology:
Dyer: When you first ran for governor in 2006, you said that a ban on same-sex marriage was unnecessary, but then you signed a petition to place Amendment 2 [banning same-sex marriage] on the ballot…
Crist: … and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did that. It was a mistake. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
Dyer: I appreciate that, but I want to make sure I spell this out in full. After you signed the petition you said Amendment 2 wasn’t an issue that moved you, but then you ended up voting for it, saying you believed in it. Just three years ago, when you were running for the Senate as a Republican, you told CNN that you believed that “marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.” And just three years ago, when talking about gay adoption, you expressed a belief that traditional families are best…
Crist: Tom… I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Crist apologizes a couple more times, agreeing that his shifts in opinion were “politically expedient,” but when Dyer gave him a chance to explain himself, he stumbled:
Dyer: … I want you to have the opportunity to address this in full; to explain where you’ve been and where you are right now.
Crist: I was a Republican. You know why I was a Republican? Because my mom and dad were Republicans. I’ve told many people this. It’s the same reason I’m a Methodist. So I grew up as a Republican… But it was an awkward fit, and on social issues it was especially awkward…
The examples you cited were examples of me trying to be a good Republican. I couldn’t do it anymore, and I’m sorry I did. I made a mistake. I’m not perfect… please don’t hold me to that standard. And I’m sincerely sorry. I understand when it’s necessary to say I was wrong. That‘s the journey I’m on… and I’m still on it…
My mom and dad raised us to love everyone, to be nice to everyone, to be kind to everyone for as long as you possibly can. So telling women what to do with their bodies, telling people who to love or who to marry… it’s not for me. It’s not for government. It shouldn’t be for anybody. It’s between them and their god. I’ve always really felt that way, and I’m glad I don’t have to pretend anymore. As a Democrat I don’t have to, and that’s why I’m so happy to be home… where I belong.
As a native Floridian who outed myself to my high school by wearing a “No on Amendment 2” shirt on Election Day in 2008, I remember being thoroughly upset that our flaky “good Republican” governor was advocating for constitutional discrimination. It was one of the first times I started to realize that people could be hateful for no discernible reason. Unfortunately for me and millions of other confused Floridians, Crist still hasn’t given us a reason.
There’s an interesting debate bubbling over at Joe Jervis‘ blog Joe. My. God. about whether or not Crist’s apology is sincere. Consensus seems to be against him, with most folks thinking he’ll do most anything for political support. (Anyone surprised?) As one commenter points out:
[Wish] that all journalists interviewing such politicians/pundits would pursue the issues like this! “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” doesn’t suffice, either, IMO.
The thing that’s missing for me is “making amends.” He seems to be making amends only when shamed into it by LGBT interviewers. That doesn’t sound like a man who’s genuinely turned a corner to me.
And those are the nicer responses. Plenty of others don’t give Crist nearly as much credit. And while I want to err on the side of optimism, he offered dissatisfying and vague answers when Dyer several times gave him a chance to offer solutions:
Dyer: I want to follow up, because I think this is where many LGBT voters need reassurance. You’re a Democrat now. The positions you now hold on LGBT issues are those held by most Democrats, and likely necessary for you have credibility within the party. Can you convince us that your present views aren’t once again driven by political expediency? Can you convince us that the positions you’ve recently expressed are heartfelt, and something we can count on in the future?
Crist: I just did. There will be doubters, and they have a right to that. But I ask that they have a little faith. …
Dyer: What you would do to advance LGBT equality as governor? Rep. Linda Stewart just introduced a bill to create a statewide Domestic Partner Registry. Given the progress made in other states it seems like a small thing, but even that faces many hurdles in the Republican-controlled State Legislature. The Competitive Workforce Act — an employment non-discrimination bill — can’t get out of committee. Marriage Equality seems a long way off, unless through some sort of court action. What can you do?
Crist: I want to do all those things. It’s not complicated. It comes down to one word: fairness. Everybody deserves to be treated fairly.
Oh, Governor Crist…
I’d vote for him over our current governor Rick Scott any day of the week, but I’m hard-pressed to call him an LGBT advocate just because he apologized for messing things up when he had a chance to do the right thing.
He’s got to make a much stronger case for himself if he wants people to vote for him because he’s actually the best candidate for the job and not just someone Democrats and LGBT rights advocates have to settle for because there’s no other option.