Flipping positions on Schiavo

Attorney general hopeful Campbell has misrepresented his votes on Terri Schiavo .

Published October 29, 2006

State Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, the Democrat running for attorney general, voted twice to re-insert the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo and nearly cried on the floor of the state Senate when he realized she ultimately could not be saved.

Yet now, 19 months after Schiavo's death, Campbell has positioned himself as the candidate who rigorously opposed the unpopular state intervention.

At campaign events across the state, Campbell has consistently decried Gov. Jeb Bush's involvement in the politically tinged court battle.

He also at times has misrepresented his own voting record, using the Schiavo issue at newspaper editorial board interviews and television appearances to draw a distinction with Republican candidate Bill McCollum.

In a BayNews 9 Political Connections interview airing today, Campbell says he was not a sponsor of the original 2003 Schiavo legislation; records show he did co-sponsor the bill. And in the same interview, Campbell said he did not vote to intervene in the Schiavo case as part of the Judiciary Committee in 2005, when in fact he did.

"You check on that," Campbell said in the taped interview, which airs at 11 a.m. today on BayNews 9, along with interviews with chief financial officer candidates Tom Lee and Alex Sink. "Because I did not vote for that in committee."

Campbell repeated those false statements during a pre-election meeting with Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, Schiavo said this week. Campbell had been seeking Schiavo's endorsement.

'No credibility'

"He lied to my face," said Michael Schiavo, who has formed the political action committee TerriPAC to support candidates who fought the intervention. Schiavo is not formally supporting Campbell.

Campbell conceded this week that he misspoke in the interviews. He said he only voted to intervene as a courtesy to bring debate to the full Senate, where he switched his vote.

It is common practice, he said, to move the important legislation to the full Senate and that he cannot precisely remember the tally of every committee vote.

And he only voted for the 2003 intervention, Campbell said, because it included a court-appointed guardian, who was to detail Terri Schiavo's chances of recovery.

"It was probably one of the toughest (issues) I have ever had," said Campbell, who wanted to keep Schiavo alive, but believed government action was unconstitutional. "I know what I did, and in my opinion, it was very clear."

To Republicans, the misstatements further characterize Campbell's willingness to say one thing and do another. Campbell, Republicans say, told members of the National Rifle Association gun lobby he supported a bill that let employees keep guns in a car at work. At a recent political forum, he said he opposed the legislation.

He also stole credit, they say, for a payday lending reform law that has become a model for the country.

"Candidate Campbell, if he sees a chance at scoring political points, he will forget all facts and his political record," said Jeff Sadosky, a spokesman with the Republican Party of Florida. "He tries to be all things to all people. And in the end, he ends up being a candidate with absolutely no credibility."

Trying to save Schiavo

Campbell, a Catholic who studied six years at a Miami area seminary, worked with Republicans in 2003 and 2005 to find ways to save Schiavo. She had spent 15 years in what most doctors considered a persistent vegetative state after she collapsed in 1990.

As his and Republicans' efforts failed, Campbell spoke directly to Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, from the Senate floor. Schindler had begged the government to intervene.

"In my religion, we have a prayer that says, 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,' " Campbell said. "I pray, Mr. Schindler, that you will forgive us if we're doing the wrong thing. God bless you, and God bless your family."

His Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, also has taken differing stances on the Schiavo issue. McCollum said in April he supported the governor's efforts to keep Schiavo alive.

"Well, I can tell you I feel very strongly that he should have intervened," McCollum said then. "I supported the actions Jeb Bush took, but I don't want to prejudge, just like a judge doesn't want to do that, what I would do as attorney general in any given case."

Hoping for better

In later appearances, McCollum softened his position, saying the courts had ruled. "As your next attorney general, my obligation is to uphold the law, regardless of what I personally might feel," McCollum said at an event in St. Petersburg this June.

Though neither candidate's record is necessarily attractive, Michael Schiavo said, he will vote for Campbell.

"We go from bad to worse," said Schiavo, contrasting the records of the two men. "I guess you have to go with the bad and hope for better."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 892-2273 or asharockman@sptimes.com.

Quote timeline:

"I voted with the majority that said that people have the right to privacy, people have the right to die with dignity. The state never should have been involved in this very personal family situation. It's a legal issue for the courts. The courts decided, we should have followed the law.

"Skip" Campbell, this summer on WFTS-28 ABC.


"We're allowing a person to starve to death and that's unacceptable."

"Skip" Campbell, Miami Herald, Oct. 23, 2003


"This is a compromise to get you in the right direction, to recognize that life is sacred and that (denying) sustenance and hydration are not the ways that we like people to die."

"Skip" Campbell, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 16, 2005