Outgoing Florida governor is concerned about partisan divisions

ST. PETERSBURG -- Outgoing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who steps down in January after losing an independent bid for the U.S. Senate, says he is concerned that political divisions are preventing elected officials from both parties from working together to address the nation’s problems.

“It’s been a real polarization, and I think it’s unfortunate for the country. I’m concerned about consensus and common ground being able to be found to help America move forward,” Crist said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s fine to be proud of being a Republican and proud of being a Democrat, but not to the extent that you don’t work together for the betterment of the country as a whole.”

Crist said he has no regrets about running for the Senate instead of seeking re-election, or about leaving the Republican Party earlier this year. He said he plans to keep his independent voter registration, and that he hopes Republican Gov.-elect Rick Scott and the Legislature don’t just think about the GOP over the next four years.

“Even though the Democrats are in the minority -- significant minority -- in both the House and the Senate, there still are more registered Democrats in our state than there are Republicans and independents, so I think they need to take that into account and I’m sure that they will. I hope so, for Florida’s sake,” said Crist, widely viewed as a moderate.

Crist steps down on Jan. 4, ending his political career for now. He said he plans to seek a job outside of government and that he isn’t thinking yet about whether he’ll return to politics.

“I think about the future. I’m entering a new chapter pretty quickly now and I’m looking forward to the private sector,” Crist said. “I’ve been very blessed to have a number of offers and it’s very gratifying.”

Crist finished second in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate to Republican Marco Rubio, a conservative candidate with tea party support. The third candidate was Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.

His loss came just two years after Republican presidential nominee John McCain considered Crist as his running mate. When Crist entered the Senate race, most thought he was a lock to win -- though a re-election bid would have been easier.

The governor said a bad economy and a massive shift in political attitudes contributed to his loss after winning three straight statewide elections as education commissioner, attorney general and governor.

“It was the roller coaster of my life. Think about it, you decide not to run for re-election, you run for the U.S. Senate and it’s all humming along just fine and then it becomes very, very difficult -- that’s not a lot of fun. Then going independent,” Crist said.

Crist said he is comfortable with the choices he made, including switching to run as an independent during the Senate campaign.

“I think it was the right thing to do at the time or I wouldn’t have done it. And the reason I did it was because I felt the country needed some Florida common sense,” Crist said.

He has been talking to Scott weekly during the transition and said he’s optimistic about the new governor.

“During the course of a campaign, it’s hard to get a sense of the person,” Crist said. “So much of it is the advertising and maybe a few debates. It’s sort of hyperactivity and you’re not sure how much of it is real and how much of it is not real. A lot of marketing occurs and I think the people will be pleased with the new governor.”