Monday, November 24th, 2014

Mailer compares Charlie Crist and Nan Rich in Democratic primary for governor

Mailer fails to cite Crist's full record on these topics
Mailer fails to cite Crist's full record on these topics

A shadowy group has sent out mailers that challenge Charlie Crist’s image as a Democrat on hot social topics.

The mailer from Progressive Choice promises a summary of "progressive litmus test results" on Crist and urges voters to "decide for yourself who’s the real Democrat." It shows a headshot of Crist next to the label "Republican" and declares that Rich is "a true blue Democrat."

While the group portrays itself as left-leaning, there are questions about who is behind the funding of it. A spokeswoman for the group told PolitiFact Florida that the mailers were sent two months ago; however, a West Palm Beach reader contacted us after receiving the mailer the first week of June.

Crist was elected governor as a Republican in 2006, became an independent during his U.S. Senate race in 2010 and is now running as a Democrat. Rich, who lags behind Crist in fundraising in the primary for governor, is a longtime Democrat and a former state lawmaker from solidly Democratic Broward. Crist is favored to win the primary and face Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the general election.

The mailer compares Crist’s and Rich’s record on abortion, guns, education, and gay marriage and adoption. PolitiFact Florida has previously checked similar claims about Crist’s record on these topics and placed some on our Flip-O-Meter, which tracks to what extent candidates change their stances over time.

Specifically, the mailer says that "Charlie Crist’s record proves he is ....

• Pro-Life

• NRA A+ Rated

• Implemented Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan and diverted money from public schools to vouchers from private schools

• Signed petition banning gay marriage and hurt families by opposing gay adoption."

Here are summaries of our previous findings on these claims -- plus we have added some more recent information:

• "Pro-life." Crist has been inconsistent on abortion and called himself both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" in the past. Even before he switched parties, Crist voted both for and against abortion restrictions. In the 1990s, he opposed a waiting period for adults but also backed restrictions that included a waiting period for minors and a ban on partial birth abortion. In 2010, he vetoed a bill to require women to undergo ultrasounds before they have an abortion.

If he's shown a kernel of consistency, it’s that he often -- but not always -- talked about being personally "pro-life" but wanting to respect the right of women to make decisions with their doctors and without government interference.

On his campaign website, Crist states: "Charlie supports a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions — as governor, he vetoed a measure that required women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, a law that Rick Scott signed. Charlie believes that government should stay out of personal health decisions between a woman and her doctor."

Crist’s stances on abortion earned him a Half Flop on our Flip-O-Meter.

• "NRA A+Rated." Crist stood firm on gun rights for many years. In one of his first high-profile gun battles, then-state senator Crist blasted Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles' last-minute effort to require criminal background checks and a waiting period for purchases made at gun shows in 1998. The proposal died.

As attorney general, Crist nominated Marion Hammer, former president of the National Rifle Association, to the Florida Women's Hall of Fame, and she was inducted in 2004. Hammer is also the longtime president of the state’s NRA affiliate Unified Sportsmen of Florida.

In his 2006 primary against Republican rival Tom Gallagher, Crist ran an ad calling Gallagher "anti-gun" and highlighting Crist’s endorsement from the NRA. As governor, Crist signed into law legislation that allowed 500,000 concealed weapons permit-holders to bring their guns to work as long as the weapons remained in their vehicles.

In 2010 Hammer told PolitiFact Florida, "He has always throughout his career been a strong advocate for the Second Amendment and the rights of law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen, never voted against us, always voted with us as governor. He signed every piece of legislation gun owners asked him to sign and vetoed every piece of legislation negatively impacting gun owners and sportsman that gun owners asked him to veto. He has an outstanding record of support."

Hammer said Crist earned an "A" rating as a political newcomer, the highest grade bestowed to a rookie candidate by the NRA, and subsequently received an "A+" in future years based on his voting record.

After the Newtown, Conn. school shootings occurred in December 2012, Crist told the Tampa Bay Times that he supported a renewed assault weapons ban, a size limit on ammunition clips and tougher background checks.

"We need to have some restrictions, that's pretty obvious to most people," Crist told the newspaper prior to testifying before a Senate panel on voting laws. "What do you need a 30-clip magazine for? Not to go hunting deer. I can tell you that because I hunt deer."

When asked what changed, Crist replied: "We had a wake-up call."

In response, Hammer said, "I’m not surprised that Charlie Crist is now joining the gun ban chant of anti-gun Democrats. Recently, Charlie Crist has been systematically turning his back on many things in which he has claimed to believe. He currently claims to be a deer hunter. I suspect that the only thing he has actually ever hunted is political office."

• "Implemented Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan and diverted money from public schools to vouchers for private schools." Not long after Bush was elected governor, he announced his A+ Plan for Education. The plan required annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for grades 3 through 10 each year, with a passing grade required for promotion. Students at F schools could transfer to private schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the plan in 1999.

Crist won a statewide election for education commissioner in 2000. One of Crist’s duties was to implement the A+ plan approved by Bush and the Legislature. In a 2000 Orlando Sentinel voter’s guide article then-candidate Crist said, "I am an ardent supporter of Gov. Jeb Bush's A+ plan, which provides for an even balance of testing and accountability and has proven to improve performance in our public schools."

Critics of Bush’s plan were especially vocal about the vouchers, saying it would take much-needed funding away from public schools. The state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program created in 1999 gave students at failing schools state-funded vouchers to attend a different public or private institution.

While campaigning in 2000, Crist told the Tiger Bay Club in Tampa Bay, "I support opportunity scholarships. It's a courageous, bold new move. My hope is that our public schools will raise to the level of doing better in the spirit of competition."

But in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to allow state money to pay for private school tuition and that element of Opportunity Scholarships was removed.

A 2012 Tampa Tribune article paraphrased Crist as saying that he had taken some stances he now felt were wrong, including when he sought a major expansion of private school tuition vouchers in 2001.

Crist states on his campaign website that he supports the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program which was founded in 2001 to provide an income tax credit for corporations that contribute money to nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations that award scholarships to poor students. That’s not the same as a state-funded voucher, but it does direct money to students to attend private schools.

• "Signed petition banning gay marriage and hurt families by opposing gay adoption."

As a Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006, Crist signed a petition to help get a gay marriage ban on the Florida ballot and said he supported "traditional marriage."

While governor, he appeared to soften on the subject, saying he was a "live and let live" kind of person. But he voted for the ban nonetheless. As a Senate candidate, he said he supported civil unions that afforded the legal benefits of marriage.

We gave Crist a Full Flop on gay marriage after he posted this on Facebook in 2013: "I most certainly support marriage equality in Florida and look forward to the day it happens here." As a candidate this time, Crist has repeatedly made it clear that he supports gay marriage.

We also gave Crist a Full Flop on whether gays could adopt. During his 2006 Republican race for governor, Crist repeatedly supported the state’s ban on gay parents adopting and argued in favor of the "traditional family" adopting.

By June 2010, Crist had ditched the GOP and was running as an independent -- and he made statements in support of Floridians adopting. That September, he became vocal about his support in September in a position paper on gay rights.

Our findings

The mailer attacks Crist for being pro-life, NRA A+ rated, implementing Jeb Bush’s A+plan and signing a petition to bay gay marriage and opposing adoption by gay adults.

Those positions reflect what Crist held at certain points in time, but they are mostly outdated. The mailer fails to account for his full record -- most notably he now supports the rights for gay adults to adopt children and to get married.

In other words, the mailer doesn’t provide voters a complete picture of his views -- because Crist has famously changed his stance on key issues.