Gulf Forestry Camp is for nonviolent inmates. Greer does not live in a cell and instead sleeps in an open dormitory-style area with bunk beds for inmates. He buys Diet Cokes and tuna sandwiches at a prison canteen, and the party chieftain who used to bask in the glow of media attention enjoys his anonymity.
Prison food is tolerable, he said, until he speaks to his wife Lisa on the phone in suburban Orlando and hears that she is serving lasagna and French bread to their children.
“Whatever it is, I eat it,” Greer said. “Spinach goulash or something.”
Just another inmate
Many fellow inmates don’t know who Greer was, but that is likely to change.
He’s scheduled to be released from prison next July, just as Florida voters begin to pay more attention to the 2014 governor’s race. He knows his notoriety makes him an obvious target for negative TV ads, especially if Crist runs as a Democrat against Gov. Rick Scott, as is widely expected.
Greer was once Crist’s close ally, but ironically, the disgraced former GOP leader may be an effective Republican weapon against Crist.
“I expect to turn off the TV as often as I can so my kids don’t have to see the commercials,” Greer said. “I suspect that next year I will be a major part of the election.”
The Republican strategy is summed up by the party’s current chairman, Lenny Curry: “The reality is that Charlie Crist and Jim Greer are tied together. Charlie Crist picked Jim Greer and now Jim Greer’s in prison,” Curry said.
Greer laughed loudly when asked if prostitutes attended a Republican Party fundraiser in the Bahamas that included Crist in 2008. The claim originated from the state GOP’s former executive director, Delmar Johnson, who was the chief witness against Greer and was Greer’s partner in the consulting firm Victory Strategies. Johnson turned against Greer to avoid prosecution.
“I don’t know who exactly was there. There were a lot of people there, and I didn’t ask the occupations of who was there, but I had no personal knowledge of prostitutes being in the Bahamas,” Greer said. “That’s another one of those stories.”
Greer said he has cards and letters of support. The logs from the Department of Corrections show his only visitors have been his wife Lisa, their children and a relative. Lisa Greer, who lives more than 300 miles away, paid a visit in June, and he said they talk on the telephone daily.
Greer still identifies himself as a Republican and criticized his party for a lack of voter outreach, dismissing the current chairman, Curry, as a figurehead leader who answers to Scott, party staff members and “a few lobbyists.”
“The idea that any political party would take advice from Jim Greer is absurd. It’s almost laughable,” Curry said when told of Greer’s comments. “He had his opportunity and now he’s in prison.”
Curry said the party spent the past two years in a rebuilding mode because Greer had mismanaged its finances.
“We almost couldn’t pay to have the garbage taken out,” Curry said.
The coming campaign for governor means Greer won’t be able to bury the past. He will remain linked to Crist, even though the two men are estranged and Greer’s career in politics appears over.
“Charlie’s a cut-and-run kind of guy. Don’t go up the hill in a battle with him, because you may turn around, and he’s not there with you,” Greer said. “Charlie’s a loyal person when it benefits his self-interest.”
Told of Greer’s comments, Crist said: “Everybody has a right to their opinion. I think it speaks for itself.”
As he talked, Greer recalled driving with Crist to the Orlando Sentinel for an editorial board meeting during Crist’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Along the way, Crist said he wanted to make it easier for convicted felons to regain their civil rights so they can vote.
Crist streamlined civil rights restoration, but Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet imposed new restrictions in 2011 that required felons to wait for five years after their release before they can seek clemency.
Those restrictions will prevent Greer from casting a vote in 2014, and for many years to come.
“I hope to someday get my rights restored. We’ll just have to see,” Greer said. “When I get out, I’ll just start over again as best I can.”