Crist hopes his independent U.S. Senate candidacy will break Washington gridlock

Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, left, Independent Senate candidate Charlie Crist and Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio, right, pose for photos before their first debate in Miami, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, left, Independent Senate candidate Charlie Crist and Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio, right, pose for photos before their first debate in Miami, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist addresses the media and a crowd of his supporters at a qualifying event in Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg on Thursday, April 29, 2010.  Crist announced that he will break from the Republican party and run for the United States Senate as an Independent candidate. Photo by Tristan Spinski

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist addresses the media and a crowd of his supporters at a qualifying event in Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg on Thursday, April 29, 2010. Crist announced that he will break from the Republican party and run for the United States Senate as an Independent candidate. Photo by Tristan Spinski

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio spoke during his Reclaim America TownHall on Saturday, September 25, 2010 at Pagelli's Italiano in Estero.

Photo by ALLIE GARZA

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio spoke during his Reclaim America TownHall on Saturday, September 25, 2010 at Pagelli's Italiano in Estero.

Candidate U.S. Senate Kendrick Meek addresses attendees during a town-hall style meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, FL. on Thursday, June 17, 2010 at the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors/Florida Press Association annual conference. BRIAN BLANCO/Special to the Daily News

Candidate U.S. Senate Kendrick Meek addresses attendees during a town-hall style meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, FL. on Thursday, June 17, 2010 at the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors/Florida Press Association annual conference. BRIAN BLANCO/Special to the Daily News

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Elections 2010: Charlie Crist, U.S. Senate

Florida governor Charlie Crist seeks election to ...

Gov. Charlie Crist admits he’d be a minority in Washington if elected, but maintains his independent stance means he could be the swing vote that would free the political gridlock and give Florida citizens the most input.

Crist made those comments Monday during a campaign stop in Naples, where he was interviewed by the Daily News editorial board, which will decide whether to endorse Crist, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate, or U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami. They’re vying for the U.S. Senate seat vacated last year by Republican Mel Martinez.

Crist, who later headed to a Fort Myers school, spoke on a range of topics, from the lawsuit against him seeking campaign refunds, to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, to Arizona’s law against illegal immigrants. He also expects California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to come to Florida to endorse him.

Although Crist believes the nation must secure its borders, he doesn’t support amnesty and likens his stance to that of former President George W. Bush and senators Martinez and Arizona’s John McCain.

“I do believe in a pathway to citizenship, to earn citizenship,” Crist said, calling that the only productive way. “We’re a nation of immigrants, for crying out loud, yet you hear some on the far right say you’ve got to send them all back.”

“Send them all back to where?” he asked, calling that inappropriate. “I’ve got to send my family back to Greece?”

He noted his grandfather, who came here from Greece in 1912, joined the Army and fought in World War I, allowing him to become a citizen.

Crist supports immigration reform, such as the proposed Dream Act, which would allow immigrant students who graduate from U.S. high schools, don’t get into trouble with the law and arrived here as minors, to earn citizenship if they complete two years in the military or college.

Allowing roughly 14 million immigrants now here to become productive members of society, he said, would let them realize the American Dream while adding productive taxpayers to help the economy.

Crist said he could be the swing vote on health care, immigration reform and environmental and alternative energy legislation, a vote that could break the gridlock.

“The Democratic president of the United States of America proposes tax cuts and the Republicans say no,” Crist said, adding, “That’s how insane it’s gotten up there.

“I think the opportunity (is there) to break through all that and have a chance for the state the size of Florida ... to be able to say ‘Enough is enough, we’ve had it with the way you do it in Washington, it is crippled, broken, doesn’t work and we want an independent voice for the people first, instead of the parties first.’ ”

Crist said he’d avoid being part of the process, as his opponents are, allied with their parties, which frustrates Florida’s citizens. He believes Bush’s tax cuts need to be permanent, the nation needs to find energy alternatives and protect the environment. The Deep Horizon oil spill firmed his position against drilling near Florida’s coastline.

“If that didn’t wake up and jolt your mind as to the potential devastation ... I don’t know what would,” he said, calling Florida fortunate in terms of damage.

Being an independent in Congress would give him a “unique opportunity” to listen to both the Republicans and Democrats, Crist said, and ask tough questions to decide what’s best for Florida.

“I’ve literally sort of jumped out of an airplane without a parachute,” he said of switching from Republican to run as an independent. “This is not the normal way to get elected.”

But he maintains it’s the only way gridlock will end.

“Unless people step forward to do this — as Senator Lieberman did and Mayor Bloomberg did and others in our country — we’re going to be stuck with this system where people are in their foxholes — be they Republican or Democrat — and fear coming out of it,” he said of going against their parties.

“We would have the opportunity to be the swing vote,” he said of himself and Lieberman voting on health care, alternative energy and immigration. “We have the opportunity to have enormous input on a range of issues that will directly impact Florida.”

Citing a recent Harper’s article, Crist called George Washington the nation’s last truly independent president, one who cited concern over bickering between Democrats and Republicans in his farewell address.

“If we allow these political parties to gain too much strength, we may literally cripple the country we just created,” Crist said of the speech, adding, “We’re there now.”

He noted: “For the sake of this country, we need to get off this partisan, shrill finger-pointing that goes on all the time and rise up.”

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