Questionnaires draw a dodge from Crist

Three advocacy groups have gotten position papers, not answers, from the GOP candidate.

Published October 19, 2006

TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Charlie Crist is quick to give out his cell phone number, bumper stickers and hugs. And he insists that people call him “Charlie.”

But good luck getting the Republican candidate for governor to answer a specific question.

For at least the third time, Crist, who tells voters he’ll be the “people’s governor,” has avoided answering questionnaires for voters guides circulated by prominent advocacy groups.

The latest example came Wednesday when frustrated leaders with the bipartisan group Aging with Dignity chastised Crist for not answering its questions.

The group’s list of seven specific questions dealt with health care for seniors and end-of-life issues. The candidates were asked to check a box declaring support or opposition to the issue outlined in each question.

For example, Democratic candidate Jim Davis indicated he opposes physician-assisted suicide and supports increasing nursing home funding through Medicare.

Crist? The Aging with Dignity group said it doesn’t know his position because Crist didn’t check any of the boxes.

“Charlie Crist responded to our questionnaire with vague statements we view as nonresponsive,” said the group’s president, Doug Malley. “He said these questions are 'best left to God and family.’ But they shouldn’t be left to chance.”

The Crist campaign’s response included a broad statement that the candidate “believes that end-of-life decisions are ultimately best left to God and family” and said he encourages Floridians to execute living wills. The campaign also referred to its six-page policy paper on “empowering and protecting seniors” that touches on many of the same themes.

Earlier this year, Crist’s campaign used the same strategy with questionnaires from the Christian Coalition and AARP.

While campaigning in Orlando on Wednesday, Crist responded to the criticism by saying his silence last year during the Republican-led attempt to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case should tell voters all they need to know about where he stands on end-of-life issues.

Gov. Jeb Bush and the state House unsuccessfully pushed legislation to overturn a court decision to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube after the courts had determined that she would never recover from a brain injury.

Crist was silent during that debate and has since confirmed that he opposed the effort. “They should look at the Terri Schiavo case,” Crist said. “I think I spoke loudly.”

But Malley argued that candidates owe voters more information about their positions on health care and end-of-life issues as the nation’s first baby boomers head into retirement: “Many are more concerned about getting enough medical attention rather than refusing medical treatment.”

And at least one other group said Crist’s lack of clear, concise answers makes it harder for people to become informed voters.

Jeff Johnson, advocacy manager for AARP, said voters crave simple answers to candidate positions. He said the group received complaints a few years ago when it didn’t ask candidates to state a position for or against particular issues.

“Members said, 'I can’t figure out if they agree with you or not,’” said Johnson. “I think it’s true of all voters. … They’re used to the rhetoric, but they want to see something more concrete.”

Crist was unfazed. “I’m running on my agenda. … I don’t like to be pigeonholed into what the box may say. It’s more honest and its better for the voters to have the information that’s in my heart and in my head.”

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Joni James can be reached at jjames@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.