It’s not about Cuba; it’s the Florida economy, stupid

MIAMI – “The economy, stupid.” Three simple words used by James Carville, a Bill Clinton strategist during the 1992 election, as backdrop for the presidential campaign. The then unknown former governor from Arkansas rode the strategy behind the phrase, plus an undeniable charm and charisma, to oust an incumbent president more than two decades ago.

That campaign, and those specific words, came to mind the other day when my thoughts turned to the Florida governor’s race. Come November, republican incumbent Rick Scott, having traversed the worst of a bad economy, will most likely face a former republican governor turned democrat, Charlie Crist. And if you believe the polls, the economy is the decisive factor on who voters choose to lead them going forward.

A Quinnipiac poll conducted earlier this year asked voters to prioritize determining issues in the Florida governor’s race. The economy blew away the field at 29%, followed by education at 9%, health care at 8%, and taxes at 3%.

It’s no surprise then that Crist came out early in favor of doing away with the Cuban embargo. Because if you look at it carefully, it is all about the economy, stupid! Especially when it comes to Florida.

During a television interview on the Bill Maher TV show, Crist said “lifting the 52 year embargo would be a boon for his state.” During the same interview he admitted to a policy that “I don’t think … worked.”

Four years, new attitude

In spite of his 2010 statement when he opposed removing the trade embargo, it does not surprise me now to hear Crist say: “As a Floridian, I’d like to see that [lifting of the Cuban embargo] happen because a lot of construction would be required on the island, and South Florida could be the launching pad for all of that and really create a lot of jobs.”

Currently Florida has an unemployment rate of 6.3%, about 606,000 people out of work, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. And although our joblessness has been headed in the right direction lately, people are not about to forget the hardships of the past eight years. The Quinnipiac poll bears that out.

A Cuba without the embargo would be, as Crist himself said, a boon to OUR economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates from $1.2 billion to $3.6 billion injected to the country’s economy, along with thousands of new jobs. Dr. Kenneth Lipner, a retired FIU economics professor, issued a report in 1999 that opined that Miami (not Florida, and not the rest of the country) would gain 40,000 new jobs and a billion dollars to its economy.

And although Florida is at 6.3% unemployment, the Labor Bureau’s statistics point out that construction here is at almost 10%. It should therefore be no surprise that Crist, an astute politician and campaigner, mentioned that “a lot of construction would be required on the island.” He might as well have said: Who do you think would help provide the materials and expertise to re-build Cuba?

Why the Cuban embargo?

Some have questioned the wisdom of Crist throwing the Cuban embargo into the arena that is the Florida governor’s race. I, for one, think it was smart. Let me explain:

Now that he is a Democrat and seen as closely allied to President Obama, his campaign must have deduced that sooner or later the Cuba issue would surface in the Florida election. His decision: better to deal with it early. Also, poll numbers are showing he is on the right side of how Floridians feel on the issue.

There was talk that he would travel to Cuba before the election. I never thought it would happen. I believe he wanted to see the reaction.

Crist knows that he should win South Florida in November. The super conservative northern part of the state belongs to Rick Scott. The now very well known I-4 Corridor in the central part of the state will crown our next governor. That area is populated by large groups of mostly non-Cuban Hispanics. African Americans, along with no-party affiliated white voters.

When Crist spoke of the economic benefits of no embargo on Cuba, it was the first time in the past 50 years that any politician seeking statewide office had mentioned Florida and Cuba together and considered the benefits derived for all Floridians, not simply the wishes of Cuban Americans. That was a smart move. The independents reacted positively, and the other groups, some who do not view Crist as a true democrat, may be swayed into believing that finally there is someone who will cater to them, instead of playing politics with Cubans in South Florida.

Finally, as for those who say Charlie Crist is constantly switching on issues in order to win, the fact is they’re both doing it. Sure Crist has switched his position on the Cuba issue. But I can bring up education and teachers, Medicaid, and a host of other subjects where Scott had a diametrically opposite stand only four years ago.

All politicians lie. It’s the one who convinces you that he’s not lying who usually wins. Charlie Crist, although most definitely not a Bill Clinton, has been known to schmooze with the best.

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