By Jim Saunders & Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE | Bipartisanship is hard to come by these days.
But President Donald Trump found a way to bring together Florida Republicans and Democrats this week when his administration proposed allowing offshore oil and gas drilling in areas of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico that have been off-limits.
The proposal drew howls of protest from Republican and Democratic leaders in Florida, where offshore drilling is something of a third-rail political issue.
Meanwhile, the race to replace Gov. Rick Scott got a little more interesting Friday, when Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis formally entered the race. DeSantis’ announcement wasn’t a surprise, but the GOP primary is looking more and more like a big-money slugfest.
OIL RIGS AND TOURIST-FILLED BEACHES
If Scott challenges U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in this year’s election, it will be a nasty race. That much is almost assured.
But Scott and Nelson rushed Thursday to criticize the Trump administration’s announcement that nearly all of the nation’s outer continental shelf —- a jurisdictional term describing submerged lands 10.36 statutory miles off Florida’s west coast and 3 nautical miles off the east coast —- will be considered for drilling.
“Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling —- which is something I oppose in Florida,” Scott said in a prepared statement shortly before Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled the drilling proposal. “I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.”
Nelson described the plan as “an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment.”
“This proposal defies all common sense, and I will do everything I can to defeat it,” he said.
Pointing to the state’s all-important tourism industry and fears of oil washing up on beaches, Florida politicians have long railed against the idea of expanded offshore drilling. Drilling opponents raised the specter Thursday of a Deepwater Horizon-type disaster.
“As the state with the longest coastlines in the continental United States, Florida is especially vulnerable to oil spills,” U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said. “Have we forgotten so soon the devastating damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010?”
But David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the Trump administration proposal would benefit consumers and the economy.
“Allowing us to explore our offshore energy will boost our state economy and spur investment —- all while safely coexisting with our agriculture, tourism and fishing industries as well as U.S. military operations,” Mica said in a statement. “The administration has recognized that the ability to access our abundant offshore resources in a safe and environmentally responsible way will help our nation meet our energy needs well into the future.”
GETTING READY TO RUMBLE
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has long looked like the front-runner in this year’s race to replace Scott. Putnam has been elected statewide twice, can raise piles of cash and knows how the levers of power work in Tallahassee.
But DeSantis’ formal entrance into the race Friday sets up a battle for the Republican nomination —- a battle that could grow more intense if House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, gets in the race.
DeSantis has been publicly praised by Trump and has lined up some heavy hitters as financial supporters, including Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.
DeSantis, of Palm Coast, has served in Congress since 2013 and is a former Navy lawyer who received a history degree from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.
“As somebody who is a military officer, an Iraq veteran, a proven conservative, and then with the support of the president, I’m in a position to exercise the leadership that can build on the great work that Gov. Rick Scott has done to advance economic opportunity, reform education and to drain the swamp in Tallahassee, which needs to be drained just like Washington,” DeSantis said during an appearance Friday on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends.”
But the Putnam campaign immediately went on the attack.
“Floridians need a Florida first conservative like Adam Putnam to serve them as their next governor, not a Washington D.C. insider,” Putnam spokeswoman Amanda Bevis said in a statement. “In true Washington insider fashion, Congressman Ron DeSantis announced his latest campaign from an empty TV studio to broadcasters in New York. DeSantis is a typical Washington politician who is focused on nothing more than his next promotion.”