Crist names former aide as next Senator

08/28/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Governor Charlie Crist today announced he will appoint George LeMieux to serve the remainder of Senator Mel Martinez’s term upon Martinez’s official resignation.

The 40-year-old LeMieux has been working at a law firm in Tallahaseee. He’s best known as serving as campaign manager for Governor Crist’s 2006 campaign. After Crist beat Jim Davis, LaMieux then served as his Chief of Staff, before going back to the law firm where began his career out of college.

Crist and LeMieux have been friends since the mid 1990’s. Crist asked him to serve as Deputy Attorney General after Crist was elected Attorney General in 2002. In his remarks upon being introduced as the new Senator of Florida, LeMieux made certain to credit his friend.

LeMieux said he has learned from Crist that public servants need to be problems solvers.

Although he’s been in private practice working for a law firm since leaving the Governor’s office last year, LeMieux has remained close to the policies of the Governor. His firm, Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, brokered the deal with U.S. Sugar for the Everglades purchase.

LeMieux has said he's representing the Florida Department of Transportation in negotiations with Florida East Coast Railroad and he's negotiating the Seminole Tribe of Florida gambling agreement on behalf of the Govenor for free.

But others question that relationship.

Eric Jotkoff is a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party. He accused Charlie Crist of playing politics with the public trust.

Mel Martinez stunned the political world when he announced earlier this month that he intended not to return to Washington after the Congressional break ended in early September. The Governor, running for the GOP nomination for Senate himself, then immediately announced that he would not appoint himself to the position.

Among those Crist had interviewed and ultimately bypassed included former Congressmen Lou Frey, Clay Shaw, Mike Bilirakis, and Lincoln Diaz Balart.

Miami area Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek may face Charlie Crist next year for the Senate seat LeMieux is now filling. In a statement, Meek said Crist placed his own personal ambitions over Florida's needs.

And Meek criticized the very public process that Crist undertook in the past week in interviewing the men and women who made up his short list.

Chris Ingram is the President of 411 Communications, a GOP political consulting firm. He called it a safe pick by the Governor.

Previously, LeMieux has called himself a “Charlie Crist Republican”, which for the first two years of Crist's term in Tallahassee could be classified as moderate.

But with the challenge coming from his political right in the person of former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Senate race, Crist has noticeably veered away from his centrist stance in recent weeks.

GOP consultant Chris Ingram says that means LeMieux will probably now be a more reliable conservative in the Senate.

But conservatives might still be unhappy. The St. Petersburg Times reported today that in September of 1998, when LeMeiux was running for a state legislative seat, he said that gay couples in Florida should be allowed to adopt children. Florida remains one of the few states in the nation that does currently not allow that to happen.

He also said he favored domestic partnership laws to extend health care and other benefits enjoyed by married couples. He said unmarried partners should be permitted to be listed as beneficiaries on insurance policies.

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