Governor Charlie Crist: RINO of the Year (so far)

Remember when President Bush nominated the politically moderate Harriett Miers for Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 and then, under withering pressure from conservatives, reversed course and nominated Samuel Alito instead? Florida Governor Charlie Crist did just the opposite on January 2, 2009, when he gave in to media pressure and turned his back on known conservative Frank Jimenez, then appointed Appellate Justice Jorge LaBarga for the Florida Supreme Court.

It looks like we’ve bagged our first RINO of 2009.

When it became evident in late 2008 that Crist was leaning toward Jimenez, “a conservative Hispanic,” as a replacement for retiring Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, the Left went crazy. An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times referred to Jimenez as “the least qualified and most ideological nominee available.”

The emphasis on an “ideological nominee” was part of the Left’s attempt to shame Crist into abandoning Jimenez because they knew that the addition of one more conservative to Florida’s Supreme Court would swing the court to the right. So they weren’t really against an “ideological nominee,” just a nominee that held an ideology with which they did not agree.

In no uncertain terms the editorial (and the shame tactics) continued: “A Jimenez appointment would make a mockery of the state’s judicial nomination process, which was initially designed to ensure meritorious and non-political picks for the state’s appellate courts.” So, when Republican governors who claim to be conservatives nominate conservatives to justice positions it’s a “political pick,” but when Democrats nominate liberals it’s “non-political”?

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul G. Cantero III, who served from 2002-2008, could not stomach the description of Jimenez as unqualified and wrote a counter-editorial on December 23, 2008: “The Times condemns [Jimenez’s] nomination despite [his] sterling credentials: distinguished Yale Law School and Wharton Business School graduate, partner at a well-respected Miami law firm, deputy chief of staff and acting general counsel to Gov. Jeb Bush, chief of staff to then-HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, top litigation counsel at the U.S. Defense Department, and now general counsel of the Navy, one of six civilians of four-star rank who help the secretary of the Navy oversee the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.”

After reading Jimenez’s credentials and accomplishments, you may find yourself doubting that he was “the least qualified” candidate Crist could have chosen. And if that’s what you’re thinking you’re right. He was in fact, not only highly qualified but also the one known conservative among those whom Crist was considering as a possible replacement for Anstead according to Ed Whelan at National Review.

In fact, when Crist jettisoned Jimenez for LaBarga last week, he traded a known, accomplished conservative for a man whom Whelan described as a “journeyman trial judge [who] has shown no evidence of having a well-formed conservative judicial philosophy.”
While Senator John McCain might be proud of Crist’s “non-political” nomination of this “journeyman trail judge” (yes, the same McCain who voted for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and confessed he had no litmus test for justices during the 3rd presidential debate) conservatives should be outraged.

Consider that Florida Republican State Senator Alex Villalobos “praised the Labarga pick” according the Miami Herald. Yes, that’s the same Villalobos who opposed Governor Jeb Bush’s efforts to establish a “tuition voucher” system and who is listed on the ACLU’s official website as one of the few Republicans that support restoring voting rights to convicted felons in Florida.

Crist went from nominating someone Ronald Reagan could be proud of in Jimenez to nominating a man supported by the kind of people opposed to choice in education and who are held in high esteem by the ACLU. Has Crist no conservative convictions at all?

Just pay attention and time will show that Crist’s pick of LaBarga over Jimenez is the real “mockery of the state’s judicial nomination process” because it is LaBarga rather than Jimenez who seems to have a soft spot for criminals.

For example, on December 13, 2006, political watchdog gave LaBarga the “Knucklehead of the Day Award” for calling attorneys to his bench during the sentencing phase of convicted child molester Noel Schultheis. Once they approached the bench LaBarga played “a white noise sound” to drown out the recitation of charges against Schultheis in order to “protect [him] from the wrath of other inmates” once he was sentenced.

Need another example? In March 2007 road rage shooting charges against Vishnu Persad were unilaterally tossed out by LaBarga. Although Persad had already been “convicted of…shooting [Beth Wolter while she sat on the back of a Harley Davidson] and spent two years in prison and years on house arrest,” LaBarga decided the eyewitness account wasn’t valid during an appeal and Persad was freed on March 1. Robert Dziadik, Wolter’s husband, was the eyewitness: he was driving the Harley Davidson on which Wolter was sitting when she was shot.

LaBarga’s decision freed an attempted murderer who had been sentenced to 43 years and sentenced his victim, Beth Wolter, to a life of fear that Persad may find her again. Susan Spencer Wendel of the Palm Beach Post described Wolter as “devastated.”

Nonetheless, although Crist had “twice bypassed LaBarga as a finalist for the state’s highest court,” his inability to stand against the complaints of the power-hungry Left caused him to cast aside Jimenez, a gifted and qualified conservative, and nominate this “journey man trial judge” and defender of criminals who has the support of politicians viewed favorably by the ACLU.
Is there any way Crist could look like a bigger RINO than he does at this point? Perhaps there is: On April 22, 2007, he received a letter from Bill Clinton wherein the former president thanked him for his “leadership in restoring voting rights to convicted felons.”

So the second president in American history to be impeached is thanking Crist for the work he’s done to restore voting rights to felons?

Crist has proven himself a RINO. The biggest one this year (so far).