Democrats seize on Crist's '93 gun vote

Published September 28, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Democrats have unearthed a 13-year-old vote by Charlie Crist they plan to use to attack the Republican gubernatorial nominee's record on public safety, a centerpiece of his platform.

As a state senator in 1993, Crist was the only legislator who voted against a bill that raised the fee for criminal background checks for gun buyers from $5 to $8. Some of the money might have been used to buy bulletproof vests for police.

"Inexcusable," the Florida Democratic Party said, calling Crist "the only lawmaker to vote against bulletproof vests for police."

Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature at the time. The bill passed the House 115-0 and the Senate 36-1, and Crist cast the lone dissenting vote.

Many conservative Republicans voted for the bill. Gov. Lawton Chiles allowed it to become law without his signature.

The sponsor was Sen. Ron Silver, a North Miami Beach Democrat and a leading advocate of stricter gun control laws.

In Crist's 1994 re-election campaign, his Democratic opponent, Dana Maley, criticized Crist's vote. Crist told the St. Petersburg Times: "I can't see any justification for any tax increases because I don't believe that we're getting a dollar's worth of services for a dollar's worth of taxes."

Democrats said the $3 increase was a fee, not a tax. They questioned the vote on a day when Crist received an endorsement from former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the presence of firefighters and police at a fire station in Fort Lauderdale.

Crist is endorsed by 28 sheriffs and the state's leading law enforcement organizations: the Florida Association of State Troopers, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Benevolent Association.

David Murrell, the Police Benevolent Association's executive director, said the bill said state funds "may" have been used to buy vests if the background check fees generated at least $2.5-million more than the cost of doing the checks.

Crist, 50, the state attorney general, will face Democrat Jim Davis, Reform Party candidate Max Linn and three unaffiliated candidates on the Nov. 7 ballot.