Accusing the Gov. Charlie Crist of “playing politics,” the Florida House of Representatives made good on its threat to “gavel and go,” ending its portion of the special session after just 49 minutes of deliberations.
Just before the session began, Florida’s self-fashioned People’s Governor accepted the warm embrace of the angry mob.
Chants of “let the people vote” thundered from the Capitol steps, and Gov. Charlie Crist joined in, flanked by environmentalists and Democratic legislators intent on pressuring the Republican-dominated Legislature into passing a joint resolution to allow voters to decide whether to enshrine a ban on offshore oil drilling in the Florida Constitution.
“Those aligned with oil interests can cry ‘politics’ all they want,” said Dave Rauschkolb of Hands Across the Sand, the group that has staged massive protests on Florida’s beaches.
“It’s not grandstanding,” he said. “No, our governor is standing with us.”
Minutes later, House Speaker Larry Cretul introduced a motion from Rep. Adam Hasner to adjourn the session.
“As a co-equal branch of government, it is our duty to consider the Governor’s suggestion and to dispose of it in the manner that we see fit,” Cretul said.
After a final vote of 67-44, the House approved the motion to adjourn at 12:51.
But first, Cretul announced the creation of six working groups to study the economic impacts of the spill, which he said would “likely” be convened in September, noting that there was little the Legislature could do immediately to assist the residents of the Florida Panhandle.
The six working groups will be:
- Short-term assistance to impacted communities, led by Rep. Marlene O’Toole
- Private-sector claims and compensation, led by Rep. Steve Crisafulli
- State and local government damages, led by Rep. Matt Hudson
- Strengthening civil and criminal penalties for environmental injuries, led by Rep. Christ Dorworth
- Long-term recovery and economic diversification, led by Rep. Paige Kreegel
- Disaster response and future preparation, led by Rep. Trudi Williams
“I would expect the work to be too serious to garner much publicity,” Cretul said.
After the adjournment, Rep. Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg) pointed out that members could be working on those issues this week, while they were in Tallahasse anyway.
Cretul and other House Republicans argued that the constitutional amendment was not necessary, because drilling is already banned by Florida statutes. An amendment could be considered later, after careful consideration.
In the closing remarks of the debate to adjourn, Rep. Tom Grady warned against making decisions “in the shadow of a disaster,” drawing a parallel between the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and the explosion of Apollo 1, which he said prompted some people to call for an end to manned space flight.
Kriseman and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, both of whom co-sponsored the resolution to place the ban on the November ballot, echoed Crist in arguing that the measure could benefit coastal businesses and property values by sending a signal to markets that “Florida is not an oil state.”
Kriseman arrived at the session wearing black, as did several other Democrats.
“I’m mourning the potential loss of our gulf,” he said.
The Senate adjourned less than an hour and a half after the House did.
Republican Sen. Mike Fasano said he was disappointed in the House’s decision to adjourn, acknowledging that the spill has changed his mind about the virtues of offshore drilling. The House was trying to embarrass Crist, he said, but had wound up embarrassing itself.
“How arrogant can a legislature be?” asked Crist at a press conference after the session.
He said he saw no point in calling lawmakers back in a last-ditch effort to shame them into approving the measure before the Aug. 4 to place the proposed ban on the ballot.
He also said he expected voters to punish their representatives in November.
“Why wouldn’t you? They sure didn’t do their jobs.”