Charlie Crist, Florida’s political Plastic Man, finally has an issue on which he can stand firm. Well, until he doesn’t, anyway. Like the president he fatefully hugged in the spring of 2009, all of Charlie Crist’s statements come with an expiration date. Every one of them.
For the moment, however, the transmogrified Democrat, erstwhile “Ronald Reagan conservative” and former governor has rebuffed his successor’s demand — in the interest of transparency, Rick Scott says — that he disclose his wife’s tax returns.
Sunshine State lefties mocked Scott’s appeal as the height of cynical irony. Was it transparent when he copped the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a deposition that involved the medical services company he’d once headed? Was it transparent when his administration fired a whistle-blowing employee at the Department of Economic Opportunity? Is it transparent that much of Scott’s schedule remains off-limits to the press and public?
Well, is it? Huh? Huh?
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Meanwhile, good-time Charlie mustered up rare umbrage. “It’s outrageous,” he told a Tallahassee reporter. “It is hitting below the belt. He has no honor, no decency. To drag my wife into a political ad is beyond the pale.” Of course, Crist’s outrage, like everything else about him, is visibly synthetic, as manufactured as his party switch. His campaign might even have polled it first. Such a thing wouldn’t surprise Susan McManus, the Land O’ Lakes political sage, who reasoned Crist’s refusal would appeal to financially independent women who, like business-owner Carole Crist, also file separately.
Gosh, ain’t politics fun?
Still, it’s not like what Scott and his Let’s Get to Work campaign are seeking lacks precedent. Scott and his wife, Ann, file jointly, so their returns — through 2012; they got an automatic extension on their 2013 return (which requires their taxes to be paid, but postpones filing the supporting paperwork) — are out there. During his runs for governor, Jeb Bush also disclosed his returns, filed jointly with wife Columba.
The more appropriate parallel, however, involves Alex Sink and her late husband, lawyer Bill McBride. Like the Crists, Democrats Sink and McBride married later in life, when their finances and assets were already well-established. Accordingly, they maintained their financial separation, extending to their tax returns. When he challenged Bush in 2002, McBride supported Sink’s initial refusal to disclose her taxes. He also didn’t squawk when, two months before Election Day, she changed her mind.
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What a spokesman for the McBride campaign said in September 2002 applies, precisely, now: “I think Alex understands that when you are the nominee of a major party in a general election, there is probably a high level of expectations. She was willing to do it. Basically, what she is learning is there is no right to privacy.”
In 2010, when Sink tussled with Scott for the governor’s mansion, she and McBride showed they’d embraced the lesson hard-learned eight years earlier, executing — without whining or claims they were warding off low blows — a team release of their still-separate returns.
Clearly, a dozen years is a long time in politics. Look around at all the other attitudes about things that have changed, from our desire to fix the Middle East to same-sex marriage to what constitutes watchable TV. Maybe, also, given our heightened sensitivities about privacy in this increasingly snoopy world, Crist will find a critical mass of empathetic observers.
But he shouldn’t count on it. The rest of us have been worn raw by unwelcome probes — by the whole alphabet soup of government agencies, Internet service providers and wireless carriers, to name only a few — for which we were drafted. Changeling Charlie Crist volunteered for this, and like it or not, when his hand went up, Carole Crist’s rose with it.
Scott’s ad hints darkly about what Crist might be hiding. The answer is nothing, probably. After Jim Norman, will an office-seeker ever again accept an Arkansas lake house in (wink-wink) his wife’s name? Come on, man.
Nonetheless, Rule No. 1 in the race to be governor of America’s third-largest state is “probably nothing” isn’t good enough. Rule No. 2 is, no amount of foot-stomping will change Rule No. 1.