Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Oil spill gives Florida politicians an election-year platform

PENSACOLA — The sight of politicians has become as normal as the tourists, the tar balls and the TV crews on Pensacola Beach.

Trailed by cameras, they walk the white sand, shaking a few hands and giving a lot of interviews where they describe themselves as "outraged'' and "appalled." They point fingers over the oil spill and who is — or isn't — cleaning it up.

And they insist they are absolutely not campaigning.

"This isn't political," Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican running for governor, said last week in his second visit to Pensacola in five days. "This is about what's best for the state of Florida."

They may not want to admit it, but it's also about having a platform for state and national exposure in the middle of a hot election year.

Cameras flocked to Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who visited Pensacola separately on June 5 but wound up on the beach at the same time (along with Crist's friend, singer Jimmy Buffett).

McCollum flew over the spill site with Crist on June 3 and then returned on his own four days later. In a news conference with U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, a Panhandle Republican, the two held up the perfect photo-op prop: a glass jar filled with gooey brown tar.

Not to be outdone, Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer and a Democratic candidate for governor, met with a couple dozen small business owners in a Pensacola marina last week and promised to push BP to pay for their lost income.

"We'll get to the bottom of this," she said, speaking in back-to-back sound bites. ''BP needs to start writing some big checks."

It's not all hot air: The politicos keep attention on the ailing Panhandle. They try to persuade tourists to keep their vacation plans, and they put pressure on BP and the federal government — and each other — to do more.

Sink successfully lobbied Crist to let the state offer loans to businesses to cover their spill-related losses. Crist, McCollum and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, repeatedly asked for more oil-skimming boats; Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, has promised 20 more.

But as the novelty of the tar goop washing ashore wears off, and with the federal government and BP coordinating the response to the Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill, there is little else for Florida politicians to do than seek free air time. They ramp up the number of visits to disaster-struck or soon-to-be struck areas — Crist visited a Miami command post Wednesday — and show off their common-man appeal by getting angry.

"Why is the Coast Guard waiting? Why is President Obama waiting? Why is BP waiting?" McCollum asked before news conference microphones.

Meanwhile, politicians stuck in Washington to cast votes in Congress, like Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Senate hopeful, issue news releases and participate in conference calls asking for more information. Meek, who has seen Crist poach Democratic voters, spoke at a liberal activists' event in Washington on Wednesday — which is not the same as being in the Panhandle, but gave him a chance to promote that he has consistently opposed oil drilling.

Candidates who are not in office yet can't do much of anything — something Jeff Greene, a Democrat vying for the U.S. Senate post, plainly admitted to six business owners meeting Tuesday at the Crabs We Got 'Em restaurant on Pensacola Beach.

And he scoffed at the suggestion that the spill is not a political issue to campaign on.

"Absolutely it's a political issue: It's a political issue because the oil companies are in the pockets of all the people in elected office," said Greene, a billionaire real-estate tycoon.

Miami Herald staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Washington.

Oil spill gives Florida politicians an election-year platform 06/11/10 [Last modified: Sunday, June 13, 2010 10:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.