Op-Ed

Crist, Jolly are political foes, but agree on one thing: being opportunistic

During a debate in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional district, David Jolly pounced on Charlie Crist’s once hard-line stance on crime, reminding voters he was labeled “Chain Gang Charlie.”
During a debate in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional district, David Jolly pounced on Charlie Crist’s once hard-line stance on crime, reminding voters he was labeled “Chain Gang Charlie.” Tampa Bay Times

There are many sins incumbent Republican Rep. David Jolly can lob against his opponent, Democrat and former Gov. Charlie Crist in the race for the 13th Congressional District seat, but being ambitious would be a bit of a stretch.

This is a political campaign, which will land the victor in the midst of the most fractious, ego-driven cabal of chest-thumpers since Donald Trump last dined alone. It’s not a contest for the Thomas Pynchon Recluse of the Year Award.

Yet, there was Jolly at Monday night’s debate describing Crist’s decision to run for the seat as crass political opportunism.

Well, yeah.

Political campaigns by their very nature are exercises in timely self-promotion.

Name a single political figure in American history who was dragged kicking and screaming to throwing their hat in the ring.

And no, you can’t cite Jolly.

Jolly sits in Congress today because an opportunity arose with the 2013 death of Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young. He had represented south Pinellas since the Founding Fathers were in knickers. Jolly had once been a close aide to Young.

So when Young died, the poised and articulate Jolly, who looks like the congressman from central casting, was perfectly positioned to succeed his long-time mentor. And he did.

Carpe diem.

If things had turned out just a pinch differently, today Jolly just might be squaring off against Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy for a U.S. Senate seat.

When incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio announced he wouldn’t run for a second term because he expected to be moving into the White House, Jolly saw an opportunity to succeed Rubio and announced he would not seek re-election to his House seat.

But after his presidential aspirations withered and died, Rubio suddenly had a sudden paroxysm of public service and decided he wanted to return to Washington to a job he hates. But apparently not that much.

Meanwhile, Crist already had learned the boundaries of the 13th District had been redrawn and favored a Democratic candidate. It was right about here that Crist certainly thought to himself: “Hey that sounds like me!”

And before you could say “Happy Days Are Here Again,” there was Crist grabbing the opportunity to revive his political career. After having a congressional seat practically handed to him on a platter, it would have been political malpractice for Crist not to run.

Jolly was running out of time, and jobs to run for, when he decided to he didn’t want to face Rubio in a Republican Senate primary and wanted to keep his House seat. You grab your opportunities where you find them.

So the opportunistic two candidates found themselves debating last week. Jolly attempted to portray Crist as a soulless politican blithely doing and saying whatever it took to get elected to office. That may well be true, but the former governor is very good at it.

Crist painted Jolly as a congressman who hasn’t done much to help the good folks back home. And, oh by the way, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the two men could engage in a more civil discourse, which is really code for: “Please stop reminding people of all the stuff I said in the past when I was a Republican.”

Perhaps the oddest moment of the evening occurred when Jolly admitted he hadn’t decided yet whether to vote for his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Great heckling and laughter ensued. Debates are no place for candor.

Crist fared no better when he said he admired Hillary Clinton’s honesty, and his nose grew to 13 feet. This was obviously a scruple too far. The crowd guffawed.

Crist has been a highly visible figure in Florida politics since 1992. He is a known commodity, warts and all. Say what you will about him, but it probably already has been said many times before.

Until 2013, Jolly was influential behind the scenes. Until opportunity knocked. And he answered.

That’s the thing about opportunity. It doesn’t do you much good unless you’re willing to exploit it.

© Copyright 2016

Tampa Bay Times

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