On April 15, 2010, Gov. Crist vetoed Senate Bill 6, the teacher merit pay bill that was a top priority for Republican leaders of the Legislature and business interests. The Florida Education Association led the campaign against the bill, with support from associations of school administrators and school boards. The governor's office reported that he had received more than 100,000 calls and e-mails regarding the bill, the vast majority of which urged a veto. The major features of the bill were provisions that would have abolished tenure for teachers hired after the bill took effect, and provisions that based teachers' pay on a performance evaluation that included improvements in student performance as one of several factors.
The veto apparently reflected a change in the governor's position. He accused legislative leaders of ignoring the expressed will of the public. In announcing the veto, he said, “Quite frankly it reminds me of what happened with the health care bill in Washington where members of my party criticized the Democrats for sort of jamming something down their throat, and then here, about a month later after that happened, the very same thing happens here in education.”
The reaction from leading Republicans emphasized their disappointment with the governor's actions. Former Gov. Jeb Bush said, “I am disappointed by the veto of Senate Bill 6. By taking this action, Gov. Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade, which includes raising student achievement across the board, narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, and improving graduation rates.”
Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine), who sponsored the bill, said that while he did not expect any effort to override the veto, the issue was likely to come up again in the 2011 legislative session. “I'm confident that this is an idea that's going to sweep across America,” he said. Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) and House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) both referred to the extensive committee hearings and floor debates that preceded enactment of the bill.
Opponents of the bill, including House Minority Leader Rep. Franklin Sands (D-Weston), Chief Financial Officer and Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink, and Florida Education Association President Andy Ford all characterized SB 6 as “radical.” Mr. Ford said, “SB 6 was formulated without an ounce of input from anyone within the public school community. Teachers, administrators, and parents weren't consulted and their views of this radical legislation were dismissed repeatedly by many legislators.”
Gov. Crist's veto of a top Republican priority has fueled speculation that he may be on the verge of announcing that he will drop out of the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and instead run as an independent. Answering questions about a possible independent candidacy during a televised debate with his opponent, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-Miami) on March 28, 2010, the governor explicitly said that he was running as a Republican. By April 16, 2010, one day after the veto, he was not as clear. When asked the same question, he said, “I'm not thinking about that today. We'll look at that later on.” Many observers considered that response an indication that he is at least giving serious consideration to running an independent campaign.