Florida's Crist Dealt Blow Over Offshore Drilling Ban Lawmakers refused to vote on the governor's proposal to put a constitutional amendment banning drilling on the November ballot. The House speaker said the move by the former Republican -- and former drilling supporter -- was more about politics than helping Floridians.
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Florida's Crist Dealt Blow Over Offshore Drilling Ban

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Florida's Crist Dealt Blow Over Offshore Drilling Ban

Florida's Crist Dealt Blow Over Offshore Drilling Ban

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly, in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In the waters of the Gulf, BP's damaged oil well remains capped. But on land, there's still plenty of political fallout.

We have two reports this morning on the politics of the oil spill. On Capitol Hill, House lawmakers question members of the Bush administration about how it dealt with the oil industry, and we'll hear more about that in a moment.

KELLY: First, though, we go to Florida, where tar balls are washing up on some beaches in the Panhandle, and parts of the tourists industry appear to have taken a hit.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist called a special session of the state Legislature, and it met yesterday to talk about a possible amendment to the state constitution that would ban offshore drilling in state waters.

NPR's Greg Allen reports from Tallahassee.

GREG ALLEN: Floridians don't like offshore drilling. Polls show a majority in the state support the governor's call to put a ban on drilling in state waters on the ballot. But that wasn't always the case. Two years ago, with high gas prices and accident-free drilling in the Gulf, a majority of Floridians and their governor, Charlie Crist, supported drilling off Florida's coast. But as the saying goes, that was then.

Unidentified Group: Let the people vote. Let the people vote. Let the people vote.

ALLEN: Yesterday, outside the Capitol, a couple of hundred people gathered for a rally calling on the Legislature to let the people vote and put the drilling ban on the ballot. There, in the middle of the protestors, helping lead the chanting, was Charlie Crist. He's not just a former drilling supporter. He's also a former Republican, now running as an independent for the U.S. Senate.

Since he left the party a few months ago, among most Republicans, Crist has been about as popular as oil on Florida beaches.

State Representative LARRY CRETUL (Republican, Florida; Speaker of the House): Please take your seats, members. Please take your seats. All right, I'm going to ask now the clerk to read the proclamation.

ALLEN: Inside the Capitol, House Speaker Larry Cretul, a Republican, reluctantly convened the special session. But he soon made it clear that he wasn't there to do Crist's bidding.

The drilling ban, Cretul said, does nothing to address the BP spill and the economic damage it's brought to Florida.

Rep. CRETUL: The governor's sole proposal to amend the Constitution will not put a single new skimmer off the beaches of our coast, won't produce any new boon to protect our coast, won't save a single business or create a single job.

ALLEN: Republicans pointed out that Florida already has a ban on drilling in state waters. That's true, but a bill lifting the ban passed the House last year, and, before the BP spill, was gaining ground in the Senate.

Drilling proponents now promise they won't push to lift the ban for at least two years, so there's no reason to put it on the ballot in November - all of which left Governor Crist momentarily at a loss for words.

Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Republican, Florida): I mean, you know, how arrogant can a Legislature be?

ALLEN: Since he dropped out of the Republican Senate primary and declared himself an independent, Crist has increasingly reached out to Democrats. And yesterday, in his anger and frustration, he recalled a Democrat.

Gov. CRIST: When President Truman was president, he called the Congress the do-nothing Congress. Well, today, I call this Legislature the do-nothing Legislature, and I'm going to give them hell for it.

ALLEN: Florida's Republican-led Senate yesterday took a little longer to adjourn, but eventually follow the lead of its brethren in the House. After the adjournment, the leading proponent of offshore drilling in the House, Republican Dean Cannon, denied the action had anything to do with spite against Crist.

State Representative DEAN CANNON (Republican, Florida): People want to make this about politics and Governor Crist, and listen, he's got to, you know, do what he thinks is best. The Legislative branch, I believe, is committed to getting real relief to the people who have been and are being injured by this ongoing crisis, and I'm not going to speak to the politics of it.

(Soundbite of reporters)

ALLEN: Although the Republican leadership carried the day and Governor Crist went away mad, it's not clear yet who the winners and losers are.

Ron Saunders, the incoming House minority leader, says he'll wait till November to tally the score. He says this vote may make a difference in coastal districts, where he believes House Republicans are vulnerable.

State Representative RON SAUNDERS (Republican, Florida): I would say anytime members of the Legislature ignore the will of the people, they do it at their own peril. And I think today, you know, we obviously have a record now of who we feel ignored the voices of the voters, and I think that we're going to make that an issue.

ALLEN: Republican leaders are making plans for their own special session on the oil spill. They plan to return, maybe in September, to consider measures that could help people and businesses hurt by the economic fallout. That would be too later, however, to put anything on the ballot for voters in November, including a drilling ban.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Tallahassee.

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