Commentary: Is pardoning The Doors' Morrison really going to be Crist's legacy?

The Miami HeraldNovember 12, 2010 

The Lizard King's pardon would be the emblematic achievement of an insipid career.

No one still cares whether a drunken Jim Morrison dropped his pants on stage at Dinner Key Auditorium on March 1, 1969. The subsequent fit of civic outrage, long faded from popular memory, has aged into the perfect non-issue issue for Lame Duck Charlie.

After 41 years, the public has become utterly inured to the antics of raunch and roll. An old, quaint controversy over the deportment of The Doors' long-dead front man has become politically safe for the likes of Charlie Crist.

Crist has mulled this weighty issue since 2007. Finally, as he approaches his last weeks as governor, he's finally amenable to revisiting Morrison's arrest for indecent exposure.


When Crist and the Board of Executive Clemency (an all-lame-duck gang with out-going Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, out-going Attorney General Bill McCollum and out-going Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson) meet next month, they could rescue a famous Floridian from eternal ignominy without risking popular backlash.

A pardon would represent yet another meaningless gesture for the politician who burst out of obscurity in 1995 as Chain Gang Charlie, the state senator behind the legislation to reprise old-fashioned prison work gangs.

Chain Gang Charlie passed his chain gang bill. Except he failed to calculate the expense of providing armed guards to shepherd the strung-together felons around public settings. The Department of Corrections kept the chain gangs working inside the prison walls. Which denied the unhappy Crist his photo-op.

In 1997, he tried again, introducing a bill that would require chain gangs along major highways, where passing tourists could gawk at a modern variation of Cool Hand Luke. Charlie called chain gangs the ``will of the people.'' The Department of Corrections called them costly and counterproductive.

His 1997 bill never made it into law and Chain Gang Charlie's chain gangs never amounted to more than political abstraction. The illusion was enough, however, to get him elected attorney general, then governor. Hey, this is Florida.

But by 2010, when Crist made his ill-considered run as an independent for the U.S. Senate, all voters really knew about Chain Gang Charlie was that he didn't fit his nickname. Rather, Crist was seen as pleasant, affable, eager to please, and -- as far as the voters could tell -- not much more.

Defeated, with no political party affiliation, with no discernible political philosophy other than wanting to make folks like him, Chain Gang Charlie is now plainly ready to tackle a forgotten transgression committed four decades ago by a moldering rock 'n roller.

Jim Morrison died in his bathtub in Paris in 1971 without ever resolving the indecency charges back in Miami.

Let me clarify that statement about no one caring about a pardon. Kerry Humphreys, an online Doors memorabilia dealer from Orem, Utah, who has been campaigning for a posthumous pardon for more than a dozen years, told me Wednesday that he has indeed run into opposition -- from Doors purists.

``They think of the arrest as part of Jim's persona. They don't want a pardon.''

Maybe they don't want it, but Crist needs it. Chain Gang Charlie needs a legacy.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service