by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 20, 2010
THE FISH PLATE
BRADENTON, Fla., May 18, 2010 -- Gov. Charlie Crist may not be so independent after all.
Fla. State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, a high-ranking two-term Sarasota Democrat, told the Federation of Manatee County Community Associations Tuesday night that judging from comments Crist made Tuesday afternoon, Republican House speaker-designate Dean Cannon of Orlando appears to be near success in persuading the newly-re-registered governor to abandon his call for a special session of the legislature that could place a constitutional amendment on the November 2010 ballot to forever ban offshore oil drilling in Florida waters.
Crist had said earlier he wanted to call the session in response to the devastating oil spill that began April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico.
"He's getting cold feet," Fitzgerald said after talking with Crist at a bill-signing ceremony in Southwest Florida's coastal Manatee County, about an hour south of Tampa.
Late in the 2009 session, at the instigation of Cannon (R-35), the Florida House of Representatives passed a resolution to encourage offshore drilling in state waters anywhere from three miles to 10.3 miles out, where federal laws take control.
The Florida Senate rejected the measure, which Cannon introduced again in April 2010. A House panel was considering the new Cannon measure but put off further action on April 16 of this year.
After a vast oil slick that threatens Gulf tourism was created by an April 20 explosion at a BP offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, Cannon looked like one of the greatest political goofballs in American history.
Cannon had dropped his pro-drilling proposal four days before the oil rig explosion, but vowed to reintroduce it in 2011. That appears unlikely now.
Rubio, who was House speaker when the new resolution was re-introduced, is the leading Republican candidate for U.S. Senate whose lead in the polls recently forced Crist, also seeking the Senate seat, to depart the Republican Party and register last Wednesday as an independent.
The House speaker before Rubio, Republican Ray Sansom, may face criminal charges for grand theft after he took a job that appeared to be based on his support for legislation, news reports said Tuesday. Sansom was forced to resign. Rubio took his place as Speaker, only to resign to run against Crist for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL).
Now, as Rubio's replacement, new speaker-designate Cannon's long-time support for close-in offshore drilling could embarrass Rubio, already tainted by a credit-card spending scandal that toppled the GOP's state party chairman this spring. Rubio had been a supporter of offshore drilling.
Meanwhile, as coastal county officials and tourism-dependent businesses on the Gulf Coast await the likely arrival of dreaded tar balls on their world-famous white beaches, the pressure to do something to prevent oil-rig catastrophes in the future is stymied by Cannon's reluctance to eat crow over his two ill-fated resolutions.
Cannon has told Crist "he will not allow it," apparently because he feels the special session on offshore drilling "would throw it in his face," said Fitzgerald, who also teaches political science at the top-rated New College of Florida in nearby Sarasota.
Cannon appears to be winning the fight against the proposed special session, Fitgerald said, urging FMCCA members to call Crist and Cannon to gett the session on the House agenda.
The governor doesn't need Cannon's permission to call the session, Fitzgerald noted. At the bill-signing, as Crist discussed Cannon's resistance, Fitzgerald said he told Crist "You ought to go ahead and call it." In six or seven years, as people's memories begin to fade, efforts to permit drilling would arise once more, Fitzgerald predicted.
"[Cannon] is a big boy and he can take it," Fitzgerald said last night. It might sting, he added, but a special session would offer the incoming speaker "redemption" and the opportunity "to correct the error he made last year," when the Cannon offshore drilling resolution passed.
Fitzgerald, a member of the special House council on tax and strategic planning that considers oil drilling and other big issues facing the state, spoke with Crist at the signing of a bill that would permit counties to mount cameras at intersections to police red-light traffic violations.
The red-light camera bill is named after Mark Wandell, a Manatee County man killed five years ago by a driver who ran a red light at a busy local intersection.
Much of the income from camera-based fines would go to the companies that installed them. A law enforcement officer, however, would have to verify any violations alleged by the so-called robot cameras, Fitzgerald said.
Update: 5/20/2010 Gov. Crist has decided not to call for a special session on offshore drilling for now, he said Wednesday.
Update: 7/20/2010 Gov. Crist called the special session, but Republicans brought it to an end without action on an ofshore drilling constitutional amendment just 45 minutes later - at a cost to taxpayers of $200,000.