TALLAHASSEE — Since campaigning three years ago on a promise to work hard for Floridians, Gov. Charlie Crist has scheduled the equivalent of almost 10 weeks off annually.
A St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald review of Crist's official daily schedule is a telling indication of how he mixes governing, campaigning for U.S. Senate and taking enough personal time to, in his own words, "recharge."
On 81 regular work days, Crist had no events scheduled or took off personal time. On 129 other occasions, the schedule shows Crist worked half days — just a brief phone call sometimes — equal to at least 64.5 more days off, the Times/Herald found.
The most notable change in his schedule lately: Crist is phoning it in more often in meetings with staff. He also is spending more time away from the Capitol, holding news conferences in South Florida, the Tampa Bay area and Central Florida — big television markets where he has "after-hours" fundraisers.
Crist, 53, acknowledges that his schedule might show he has had an outsized amount of time off. But he says his office can't keep a list of how he spends every hour because it would be overwhelming.
"I'm like a doctor: I'm always on call," says Crist, the son of a physician. "As long as I have a cell phone on me, which I'm talking to you right now on, I'm working. I'm never not governor."
As he campaigns on his record, the official record of when he works takes on added significance in this recession-racked state where 1 million people have no jobs at all.
A day off here, there
Crist is intimately familiar with how a politician's work schedule can become a campaign liability. In 2006, the Republican hammered Democrat Jim Davis, his gubernatorial rival, for frequently missing votes in Congress.
"I'll come to work every day," Crist said in one debate.
His campaign attacked Davis with ads featuring an empty chair. Later, Democrats turned the tables with emptychaircharlie.com, a Web site to highlight what they say is Crist's lax effort.
The Times/Herald reviewed Crist's daily calendars from his first day in office on Jan. 2, 2007, through Friday. Days in which he worked four hours or fewer were counted as half days. Holidays and weekends were excluded, though Crist occasionally attends events on those days. And particularly during the spring legislative session, there are days that begin early and run late. Also, when disasters strike — like Lady Lake's killer tornadoes Feb. 2, 2007— Crist is quickly on scene.
As governor, Crist earns $130,273 a year. Unlike other state employees, his work hours aren't strictly defined or mandated. He is not limited to 22 days off yearly, as are senior managers and political appointees in state government.
Crist didn't take his time off all at once. He took a personal day here, a half-day there.
Add all the blank time together and Crist hasn't scheduled at least 29.1 weeks of work — about 9.7 weeks a year. On 173 other days, Crist's schedule shows he worked between four and six hours. And on his half days, he was scheduled to work an average of 2.5 hours.
Crist's schedule shows he's often on a campaign — whether it's touting low crime rates or seeking a spot last year on Sen. John McCain's presidential ticket. Crist has flown to spots around the state and nation more than 525 times, according to his schedule, which doesn't list everywhere he goes.
Many of his schedules feature the cryptically labeled "Work and Call Time." Crist said he uses it to talk to staff, return calls, read reports or just have a few moments to focus on what's important.
During such time on Sept. 16 this year, he was spotted shopping with his wife at Bloomingdales in South Florida.
Compared to Jeb . . .
At a glance, Crist's official schedule resembles that of predecessor Jeb Bush, with frequent news conferences, foreign trips, conferences at swank hotels, sporting-event cameos, movie visits, receptions, tours of disaster areas, funerals and meetings with staff and constituents from every corner of Florida.
Bush's schedule was also riddled with work-and-call time, though his former budget director, Donna Arduin, echoed other former staffers in saying that Bush's hours were devoted to rigorous budget and policy briefings.
"Jeb's schedule wasn't just ribbon cuttings," Arduin said. "When you saw work-and-call time, it was time he met with staff, hours of briefings on bills and policy. And after dinner, the e-mails would start coming at you.''
Bush received nearly 400,000 e-mails at firstname.lastname@example.org, which is still active, and personally responded to many of them, according to former staffers.
Crist, who relies on a cell phone whose number he regularly passes out, doesn't have an iPhone or a BlackBerry — a device that the tech-savvy Bush featured in his official portrait.
But Crist is thinking of getting one of the hand-held devices now that he's on the road so much.
"Lately I've thought it might be helpful," Crist said. "One of the things I like is to listen to the tone of someone's voice, the inflection. . . . I'm not the most avid user of e-mail. I try to return every call I get. It makes it challenging."
Short days, quick trips
On Friday, April 6, 2007, Crist had one event: the Tampa Bay Rays 6:15 p.m. home opener in St. Petersburg. Monday, March 23 this year was marked as the start of "uninsured week'' and began with a call to his chief of staff. He then had no scheduled events.
Crist took off a week in mid-December 2008 to honeymoon. But he worked, calling South Florida Water Management District board members to persuade them to vote to proceed with a buyout of U.S. Sugar lands in the name of Everglades restoration.
On Jan. 25, 2007, a few weeks after he was sworn in, Crist flew around Florida to tout the hurricane insurance bill he signed in hopes of stabilizing rates. Later that year, property tax-cutting fever gripped the Capitol and Crist promised that taxes would "drop like a rock." They didn't, but he hosted three more high-profile fly-arounds on the issue.
This year, Crist began visiting unemployment centers in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Kissimmee, Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Miami.
"One of the reasons I go to the offices is to look into people's eyes, and to hear what they're going through," Crist says.
On Feb. 19 this year, Crist's schedule shows his biggest political gamble: appearing on stage with President Barack Obama to support the stimulus package loathed by conservatives.
'Things come up'
Marco Rubio, Crist's U.S. Senate opponent, was House speaker during Crist's first two years in office and they often clashed. Rubio faults Crist for failing to push his plan to swap homestead property taxes for a higher sales tax.
"With his support of deficit spending, cap-and-trade climate-change legislation and $2 billion in new taxes and fees, we're probably better off with him not showing up to work," said the Miami Republican.
Said Crist: "Anybody can criticize your style. We've had to recalibrate what we do. . . . Things are changing constantly in this state and we have to react."
On Wednesday, Crist filled an otherwise-skimpy schedule by flying from Fort Lauderdale to Clay County for a news event with the local sheriff about a missing girl, Somer Thompson. Later that day, her body was found in a Georgia landfill.
The next morning, Crist had two events: a 7:35 a.m. briefing and a 9 a.m. meeting with chief of staff Eric Eikenberg, who's leaving the governor's office to work on Crist's campaign. The meeting was held by phone — as were two more on Friday morning.
At that very moment, Crist was at a New York breakfast fundraiser. He was then scheduled at a fundraiser in Orchard Lake, Mich.
"We can't schedule everything," he said. "It's called spontaneity. Things come up and if you don't have the time and flexibility to react, then you're not giving your full attention. If you overschedule just to look good then you're not doing good."
Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263. Marc Caputo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 222-3095.