It probably didn't get much notice outside of Leon County, but Gov. Charlie Crist did something last week that may have given him an edge in at least one Democratic stronghold.
Crist on Friday vetoed a state retirement bill that would have reduced the interest earnings paid to state workers who enter a special kind of program known as the Deferred Retirement Option Program or DROP. This program is basically designed to offer additional retirement benefits to veteran state workers with the catch that most of them have to retire within 5 years of entering DROP. (The logic behind offering this benefit is that once veteran workers get close to retirement they have maxed out their benefits in the normal retirement system and have no reason to keep working. It's attractive because workers can either get a lump-sum payment or can roll it over into other retirement accounts.)
The governor's veto of this bill got a huge front-page headline in the Tallahassee Democrat on Saturday. This now marks the second year in a row that Crist has taken an action that spares state employees. Last year he vetoed a proposed pay cut for workers earning more than $45,000 a year.
Leon County is nowhere near the size of Democratic strongholds like Palm Beach or Broward counties. But it has more than 100,000 registered Democrats and it has more than a two-to-one registration edge over Republicans. There are also nearly 24,000 registered independents. In a divided three-way race the vote in this county could be crucial especially if the path for victory for an independent Crist is to siphon off votes from the winner of the Democratic primary between U.S Rep. Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene.
Democrat Jim Davis - who ran against Crist for governor in 2006 - took just eight counties statewide and four of them were in the shadow of Tallahassee: Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson and Madison. Davis took Leon by more than 22,000 votes.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson won Leon County by nearly 45,000 votes during that same election when he was challenged by former Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
This year isn't a presidential year - but suffice to say Democratic candidates for president including Barack Obama, Al Gore and John Kerry won Leon County in the last decade. Former Gov. Jeb Bush lost Leon County by more than 32,000 votes in the 2002 governor's election.
Crist said on Monday that his decision to veto bills that would have affected state employees has nothing to do with trying to win votes in Leon County.
"The rationale behind it was not motivated by that factor, but rather again the economy,'' said Crist. "It just seems to me that when you are at a time when everybody is struggling, everybody has got to eat the last thing I want to do is make it harder for them to survive."
Crist - noting that the DROP change would also have impacted all sorts of retirees including police officers - said that the bill he vetoed "just seemed like it was too dramatic, bordering on Draconian."
The governor did let stand last Friday another change that would require roughly 27,000 state workers - including legislators and legislative employees - to pay a health insurance premium for the first time. The charge is relatively small: Just $100 annually for single coverage, $180 a year for coverage including a spouse or $360 a year for family coverage."I didn't think that it was unreasonable,'' said Crist.
These actions still may not ensure Crist a victory in Leon County, especially since Meek has long-running ties to the area, including a stint on the Florida A&M University football team as a star linebacker. Plus black voters do make up a sizable chunk of the registered voters in Leon, Jefferson and Madison.
But Crist could have done enough to neutralize whatever Democrat does win. And if Greene pulls off the upset of Meek then it would be easy to see a scenario where the governor does exceedingly well in Leon.