Drill ban could rattle Fla. Senate race

May 5, 2010



A group of Florida Democratic legislators are expected to ask Gov. Charlie Crist to call a special session to take up a constitutional amendment banning drilling near the state’s shoreline, POLITICO has learned.

Details of the proposed amendment are still being worked out, but press conferences are scheduled in Miami and St. Petersburg Thursday to kick off what’s expected to be a high-profile anti-drilling campaign in the wake of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The issue will immediately place Crist and his two Senate race rivals—likely Republican nominee Marco Rubio and frontrunning Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek – in the middle of a contentious debate over the environmental risks and economic rewards of offshore drilling.

State Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, who is helping spearhead the effort, has already asked Crist to bring lawmakers back to Tallahassee—Florida’s regular 60-day legislative session ended Friday—to address the issue of public corruption. But in the wake of the devastating oil spill that’s stained nearly 2,000 square miles of Gulf waters, he said the pitfalls of drilling have never been clearer.

“There has been an unconstrained desire to deliver near-shore drilling to Florida and it’s happened now for the last two legislative sessions,” Gelber said, explaining the need for an amendment. “Near-shore drilling should be in our rear view mirror.”

Tom Eldon, a Democratic pollster who has been helping to craft the amendment, said the first step is to ask lawmakers to vote to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. If that effort fails, a coalition is prepared to attempt to acquire the necessary signatures to put the question directly to voters.

“We want to see the legislature stand up and cast votes. We will get the signatures, so they’re going to have to face it one way or the other,” Eldon said.

The proposed amendment is expected to focus on banning drilling between three and ten miles off of Florida’s shoreline.

Eldon said he’s hopeful Crist, who abandoned the Republican Party last week to run as an independent, will be receptive to the measure.

“I think Crist will be very responsive to it. I know people close to the issue have been talking to him about it. Given his situation, I don’t think he’s going to obstruct out of party loyalty,” said Eldon.

Gelber said the ballot push with put every politician running for office on the hot seat.

“Anyone who’s running for office in Florida is going to have to explain their previous position and their new position. I suspect after viewing the swath of the spill, that [Crist] will be against near-shore drilling and my hope is he becomes inalterably against off shore drilling,” he said. “You’re already seeing people moderate their language a bit.”

Rubio has been measured in his response to the oil spill, pinning the blame on oil giant BP and sidestepping questions about the Obama administration’s performance.

In Washington Tuesday, Rubio said while the spill raised questions about overall U.S. energy policy, “there is going to be drilling off the coast of the United States.”

A spokesman for the Meek campaign said the congressman was expected to issue a statement on the measure Wednesday.

A spokesman for the governor said Wednesday Crist hasn’t committed to a special session.

“We have not had any discussions with legislative leadership about calling a special session to ban oil drilling and the governor has not indicated he would call for one,” said Sterling Ivey.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0510/36817.html#ixzz0n50gpGtY

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