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Crist dodges questions while on tour

Gov. Charlie Crist, top left, is offered a pork rind during a visit at a restaurant in Miami on Thursday.

Associated Press

Gov. Charlie Crist, top left, is offered a pork rind during a visit at a restaurant in Miami on Thursday.

First Gov. Charlie Crist paid a visit to a soul food restaurant in Orlando. Thursday it was a Colombian eatery in Miami.

He's back from Europe and back in campaign mode, visiting mom-and-pop businesses and showing compassion.

"It's important that I continue to get out," Crist said, "to make sure that we're in touch with what's happening with people and what their concerns are, and how we in state government at least might be able to help them out."

Charlie's charm offensive isn't working as planned. The Florida media increasingly ignore vapid photo ops and fire questions.

Lately when Crist goes on MSNBC or Fox, he's treated like royalty, with softball questions about the VP short list. Surrounded by the state press, he's asked for specifics to help people who are hurting.

Even the straight-down-the-middle Associated Press called Crist's Florida stops "heavy on image-boosting and light on listening."

The most revealing stop on the listening tour was at a barber shop in Tallahassee, where Crist paid $11 for a trim Monday.

Trapped in a barber's chair for 15 minutes and surrounded by reporters, Crist got question after question. (His typical exchanges with capital reporters last three to five minutes).

Snip, snip.

Offshore oil drilling. High cost of insurance. Record job losses. Prodded by Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald to cite a new plan or initiative, Crist used a cliche, "rolling thunder," to describe his idea of "continuing to be doing things."

So Crist favors a "tweaking" of current programs? Caputo asked.

"I would dare say, though, that if this Amendment 5 were to pass in November, which I hope it does, people will look at that as a lot more than a tweak. A 25 percent reduction in property taxes … that's more than a tweak," he said.

Dropping his previous reservations, Crist had fully embraced Amendment 5. The tax swap would be a huge cut in property taxes (25 to 30 percent) but also force the Legislature to replace the $10-billion in lost revenue for schools by raising the sales tax or eliminating tax exemptions.

A 1-cent sales tax hike would raise only $4-billion.

"Are you going to campaign for that?" Crist was asked. "I don't know," he said.

Troy Kinsey of Bay News 9 asked Crist how he would plug the "hole" of lost property tax money.

"I don't look at it as a hole," Crist said, not addressing the replacement money question.

Asked about a possible services tax — a tax on haircuts — he said: "I don't think that's necessarily the case."

The barber's portable radio was tuned to an oldies station playing, of all songs, Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone ("How does it feel to be on your own? With no direction home?").

So far, the pro-Amendment 5 effort is pretty much limited to Crist and the Realtors association. A poll shows just 40 percent of voter approve the measure, which needs 60 percent to pass.

Next week, more than two dozen groups — representing business, education, health care and retirees — will ask a judge to knock 5 off the ballot, calling its language "grossly misleading" to voters.

Crist says the measure, which takes effect in 2011, "could be a significant stimulant to Florida's economy," but many Republican legislators and lobbyists don't agree with him and will fight him every step of the way.

The fact that Amendment 5 is on the ballot is good, because it forces a debate over how to pay for this state's future. That's an issue many legislators would rather avoid, and Crist shouldn't let them get off so easy.

He can show strong leadership by making the case for Amendment 5 over the next three months by expending political capital educating people on the many faults in the state's tax structure.

Somehow you wonder, looking back, if Crist wished he had skipped the haircut.

Crist dodges questions while on tour 08/08/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 2:45pm]
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