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Crist, Culver Contemplate Humbling Transition to the House

Crist, shown here debating Rubio during their 2010 Senate campaign, is considering a run for the House. (Getty Images File Photo)
Crist, shown here debating Rubio during their 2010 Senate campaign, is considering a run for the House. (Getty Images File Photo)

It’s not easy to transition from governor to become one of 100 senators. But former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver are contemplating something even more humbling — jumping from chief executive to become one of 435 in the House.  

Earlier this month, my Roll Call colleague Kyle Trygstad sat down with some of the “recovering governors,” a 10-member caucus of former chief executives serving in the Senate, to talk about the challenges of transitioning to a legislative body.  

“What brings us together as governors is an orientation toward results and a frustration with an institution that generally isn’t very good at getting results,” independent Sen. Angus King of Maine said.  

Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware put it this way on the Senate floor in December: “We’re sort of a support group for one another — men and women who used to be somebody and be special.”  

The former governors caucus in the House is much smaller, a caucus of one to be precise. But the transition from governor to the House couldn’t have been a shock to South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford, who served in the chamber for six years before getting elected chief executive of the Palmetto State. Sanford came back to the House in a special election in 2013.  

Crist is poised to run in a re-drawn 13th District in Florida, if it includes his Pinellas County home. He left the governor’s office nearly five years ago after he was forced out of the GOP Senate primary by insurgent Marco Rubio and lost the general election as an independent. Crist also lost a 2014 bid for governor as a Democrat. He would start as the favorite for the House seat, presumably as a Democrat.  

Former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver hasn’t announced whether he will challenge freshman GOP Rep. David Young in Iowa’s 3rd District. Culver has also been out of office since early 2011 after he lost re-election to Republican Terry Branstad. National Democrats haven’t been shy about their preference for another candidate in the race, but Culver would start the race with a name identification advantage.  

Both men could find it challenging to serve in the House.  

“It was a simpler transition for me than it would be for someone coming from a state with multiple members,” former Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle told me recently. He served eight years as governor of Delaware before 18 years in the House as an at-large member. “I didn’t have to watch the scoreboard to see what other members of the delegation were doing.”  

Crist would be one of the 27 members from Florida, while Culver would be one of four from Iowa. And unlike Castle and Crist, Culver never served in the state legislature before becoming governor, although he is the son of former Democratic Sen. John C. Culver, if that counts for legislative experience.  

But Castle never planned on serving nearly two decades in the House. He thought he would serve a single term, “get used to the way things worked in Washington,” and then run for William V. Roth Jr.’s open seat in 1994. But Roth ran for re-election (and won) in 1994 and ran again in 2000, when he lost to Carper. Castle infamously lost a 2010 bid for the Senate in the Republican primary to Christine O’Donnell.  

“You’re a smaller fish in a bigger pond,” Castle explained, “But the training as governor is as good as you’re going to get,” particular when dealing with budgets and policy issues, such as Medicaid.  

There are frustrations, including rule-making, hearing schedules, constant fundraising, lack of relationships and Congress abdicating its own constitutional powers, cited by the former governors in the Senate. There are also potential lifestyle changes including the lack of a security detail and figuring out your own housing and whether or not to move your family to Washington, mentioned by Castle.  

“Governors have resources and are significant players in the local community,” Castle added. “In Washington, you’re less so. You’re just one of a number of people.”  

Correction August 21, 10:30 a.m. An earlier version of this story omitted Charlie Crist’s history in the Florida legislature.  


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