It begins: Crist vetoes education reform bill he once backed

Earlier today, Quinnipiac reported that Charlie Crist’s only hope of winning the Senate race in Florida would be to run as an independent.  In what was widely seen as a harbinger for that decision, Crist vetoed an education-reform bill strongly supported by Republicans in the Sunshine State, including his highly-popular predecessor, Jeb Bush.  In fact, Crist himself had supported the bill at one time, apparently just before the last-ditch independent bid became his only escape from Marco Rubio:

After weeks of protest and a deluge of messages, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday vetoed a bill that would link teacher pay to student test scores and wipe out tenure for new teachers.

“I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do,” Crist said of his veto.

His decision, announced shortly after noon in a Capitol news conference, came as little surprise. Although Crist initially voiced support for the bill, he had distanced himself over the past week as protests mounted. …

“I’m disappointed that after sending his top policy staffer to the House Committee to testify in support of the proposal, Gov. Crist would change his mind and now veto the bill,” House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, said in a statement.

What changed Charlie’s mind? The St. Petersburg Times reported earlier today that the teachers union offered Crist a quid pro quo for support in the election:

Gov. Charlie Crist got some new supporters this week in his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

The question is whether he can keep them.

On Wednesday, teachers from Hillsborough County began canvassing neighborhoods on behalf of the Republican governor, urging voters to support him — as long as he vetoes the bill that would overhaul teacher tenure in Florida.

Will he keep the teachers union in his back pocket? Not a chance, at least not in the general election if he runs as an independent. Unions will line up behind likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meeks, a traditional Democrat in terms of labor policy.

The bigger question will be whether this pulls Jeb Bush into the race now. Bush pushed hard for this education reform bill, and he’s not likely to forget Crist’s transparent flip-flop on the issue. Bush’s approval ratings at the end of his term were in the mid-to-high 60s, pushed upward by plenty of support from independent voters. If Bush starts campaigning against Crist, then any hope Crist has of winning independents for a three-way race in November will evaporate faster than Crist’s support of education reform.