THE VILLAGES, Fla. — Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson gave no opinion Thursday when asked about efforts by President Bush and Congress to keep Terri Schiavo alive, saying he does not remember details of the right-to-die case that stirred national debate.
Thompson was asked in an interview for Bay News 9's "Political Connections" program whether he thought Congress' intervention to save the life of the brain-damaged woman two years ago was appropriate.
"I can't pass judgment on it. I know that good people were doing what they thought was best," Thompson said. "That's going back in history. I don't remember the details of it."
Congress passed a bill after Schiavo's feeding tube was removed in March 2005 to allow a federal court to review the case, and Bush returned from his Texas ranch to sign the bill into law. But a federal judge refused to order the tube reinserted, a decision upheld by a federal appeals court and the Supreme Court.
Thompson, a former Tennessee senator who left office in 2003, did say, "Local matters generally speaking should be left to the locals. I think Congress has got an awful lot to keep up with."
Earlier, Thompson told a crowd in Jacksonville that Bush's signature education program isn't working and that he would provide federal education money with fewer strings attached.
"We've been spending increasing amounts of federal money for decades, with increasing rules, increasing mandates, increasing regulations," Thompson said. "It's not working."
He added that there are problems with Bush's No Child Left Behind program, which requires annual testing and punishes schools that don't make progress.
"No Child Left Behind _ good concept, I'm all for testing _ but it seems like now some of these states are teaching to the test and kind of making it so that everybody does well on the test _ you can't really tell that everybody's doing that well. And it's not objective," Thompson said.
Instead, he said the federal government should be providing block grants as long as states set up objective testing programs.
He said his message to states would be, "We expect you to get objective testing done and publicize those tests for the local parents and for the local citizens and suffer the political ramifications locally if things don't work out right."
The former star of NBC's "Law & Order" was responding to a question as he began a three-day bus tour of Florida, his first visit to the state since announcing his candidacy last week. A woman asked what he would do for education. He told her decisions on how schools are run should be made by local and state officials, not dictated out of Washington.
Thompson voted for the No Child Left Behind law in 2001, as did most of his fellow senators.
"It's your responsibility," he said. "If you don't like what's going on, don't get in your car and drive by your school board and maybe drive by the capitol and get on an airplane and fly to Washington and say, 'I don't like the way the school down the street is being run.'"
Later, in Celebration, he was asked why he was not participating in the Values Voter debate in Fort Lauderdale on Monday. He said he will do his best to participate in debates, but he can't make all of them.
"Debates are important, but let's don't let the tail wag the dog here. Standing up there 10 in a row, you know, like a bunch of seals waiting for someone to throw you the next fish is not necessarily the best way to impart your information to the American people," Thompson said. "I'm not above acting like a seal every once in a while and waiting for the next fish. I just don't want to do it all the time."