The BP oil spill could decide who wins Florida’s U.S. Senate race, and Gov. Charlie Crist, one of the candidates, wants to let Florida voters decide whether to ban offshore drilling forever in a constitutional amendment.  To that end, Crist has called a special session of the legislature beginning July 20 and is pushing his former Republican allies to approve the referendum.

“The rightness of this is so clear, especially dealing with what we’ve experienced in the past 80 days or so in the Gulf of Mexico,” Crist said in announcing the special session.  But Senate President Jeff Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican, called the move “political contrivance.”

One reason Crist is running for the Senate as an independent is that his former fellow Republicans turned against him and picked Marco Rubio as their nominee.  Rubio has called the oil spill “horrifying” but continues to support offshore drilling as a necessary part of the nation’s energy policy.

Is Crist, who until recently supported offshore drilling himself, playing politics with the oil spill?  But, of course — and very smartly.    Florida already outlaws offshore drilling, but Republican leaders the past two sessions have tried to overturn the statute.  Will Republicans now vote against letting the people decide whether to write the ban into the state’s constitution, what with tar balls washing up on Florida’s sugary beaches?  Perhaps.

In supporting the special session, a St. Petersburg Times editorial declared, “Crist has broken the primary rule of special sessions — know the outcome before calling one. Ultimately, the greater political risk might be for any lawmaker who doesn’t give voters a chance to decide such a timely issue.”

FacingSouth.com reported that people in Louisiana and Mississippi are still divided over the oil drilling issue.   The online magazine for the Institute of Southern Studies declared that “even bona-fide environmentalists, were at best ambivalent about calls to ban drilling in ocean waters.” However, the FacingSouth report also noted that The Pew Research Center has “found a 19-point drop in support for increased offshore drilling since the spill: In February, 63% supported more offshore drilling; as of late June, a majority (52%) opposed it. A new Public Policy Polling survey in North Carolina, a state that was included in Obama’s earlier plans to expand offshore projects, finds that for the first time a plurality (46%) in NC now oppose offshore drilling.”

Visitors to the Gulf tend to be more alarmed than ambivalent.  “From my perspective, it’s an insult to God and a sin against creation,” said the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, an Episcopalian priest and environmentalist from San Francisco traveling with a group of religious leaders touring the damage in Louisiana.

Unlike Louisiana and Mississippi, Florida’s economy does not rely on oil drilling.  In fact, it depends on tourists drawn to pristine white sands free of tar balls.

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Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.