Gov. Charlie Crist's schedule shows many blank days
Gov. Charlie Crist was center court at the Miami Heat game for the retirement of Alonzo Mourning's jersey one Monday evening in late March.

It hadn't been a difficult day for Crist. Earlier, he'd visited the Miami set of a TV series, Burn Notice, and announced a health insurance initiative in Hialeah, his schedule shows.

He'd had no events slated the previous Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

As Floridians struggle with job reductions, home foreclosures and dwindling bank accounts, Crist has enjoyed a jet-setting lifestyle, mixing with celebrities, attending charity balls, staying at grand hotels and relaxing in his new wife's $4 million condo on Miami's Fisher Island.

"I'm never not governor," Crist said this week. "I have no days off. I'm working all the time."

But a Sun Sentinel review of the governor's detailed schedules for the past two years found he had no events or appointments on 62 weekdays -- the equivalent of three months. On another 74 weekdays -- or nearly four months -- his schedule shows him working only part of the day.

The records, from January 2007 through February 2009, list his activities as governor and not his political or personal commitments. The calendars include meetings, flights, public appearances and details such as "downtime" and "depart for residence."

Crist's spokeswoman, Erin Isaac, said the governor begins his days at 5:30, and his schedules don't include "the hours of reading and research on a wide variety of policy, budgeting and current event issues in our state; the dozens of phone calls and unscheduled meetings that can take place on any given day. . . .

"Whether in line at the grocery store, out at a restaurant or wherever he might be, Governor Crist is visiting with, listening to and learning from Floridians he meets."

Crist rarely spends weekends in the state capital, preferring instead his hometown of St. Petersburg or South Florida. His calendar shows events scheduled in those areas on more than 40 Fridays. He typically flies back to Tallahassee on a Monday or Tuesday.

As governor, Crist has devoted considerable time to politics: stumping for John McCain for president, entertaining talk of his own vice presidential nod and more recently contemplating a run for U.S. Senate next year.

In good times, the governor's schedule might not draw scrutiny. But these are not good times for Florida.

Crist, who is paid $132,932 a year, is presiding over a historic collapse of the state's housing market, banking sector and construction industry, and a slowdown in tourism. Lawmakers in Tallahassee are wrestling with a $6 billion budget gap and possible funding cuts for police, schools, health care and the poor.

The governor remained aloof in the early weeks of the legislative session. But legislators and top aides said he is now becoming more involved on issues ranging from a Seminole gambling deal to the budget. On Friday, he visited the House floor as Republicans and Democrats debated the state's $65 billion budget. He's also appeared in committee meetings in recent weeks to pitch another pet cause, a tax break for first-time home buyers.

Still, the governor's budget plan submitted before the session has been virtually ignored by lawmakers. It relied on outdated, overly optimistic revenue projections -- and the governor never updated it.

He's also steered clear of the debate over a $1 hike in Florida's cigarette tax.

"Governors have different types of approaches -- some are very involved, some are hands-off,'' Rep. Ron Saunders, a leading Democrat from Key West, said Friday. He said former Gov. Jeb Bush's "approach was, I'm running everything."

In his bid for governor, the Republican Crist, 52, skewered his opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, for missing votes in Washington. In a TV ad, he portrayed Davis as an empty chair, rolling around the U.S. capital.

Now some Florida Democrats call Crist "Empty Chair Charlie" for his own missed days.