Charlie Crist becomes an independent. Ethical?

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist today announced his candidacy for Florida’s open Senate seat. Crist had been a huge favorite to win, but as the anti-incumbent fever grew Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio swept far past Crist in the polls of Republican primary voters.

Crist is a centrist Republican, a breed that is rapidly becoming extinct. Seeing no chance to win the Republican primary that had appeared his for the taking a few months ago, Crist announced today that he would contest the November election as an independent.

Is it ethical for a politician to change parties? It depends. When Pennsylvania voters reelected Arlen Specter to a fifth Senate term in 2004 they elected him as a Republican—an affiliation he had embraced ever since changing from a Democrat in 1965 to challenge the Democratic district attorney of Philadelphia. Specter saw his growing estrangement from the people who vote in the Republican primary, decided he had little chance to be nominated for reelection, so, Presto! He became a Democrat. Specter’s move was unethical: the voters elected a Republican and they deserved to have one. If Specter wanted to change parties he should have resigned and let the voters vote on whether to elect him as a Democrat.

Crist’s situation is different. There’s no issue of breaking faith here. Crist, a Republican governor, is giving the voters a chance to decide: do they want to elect Independent Crist to the Senate, or Republican Rubio? Or Democrat Kendrick Meek? It’s up to the voters. Nothing unethical about Crist’s move…

Except this one thing: less than a month ago he ruled out running as an Independent. Here’s the March 28, 2010 exchange with Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: So are you ruling out that you will file as an Independent by the April 30th deadline?

CRIST: That’s right. That’s right. I’m running as a Republican.

Changing parties isn’t necessarily unethical, but reneging on your commitment? That’s different. It’s unethical and unforgettable.

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2 Responses to “Charlie Crist becomes an independent. Ethical?”

  1. Judith Ellis Says:

    I totally agree, Bob.

  2. Ethics Bob Says:

    Hooray.

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