NEW PORT RICHEY — Four months ago, Democrat Fred Taylor lashed out at state Sen. Mike Fasano for "fooling" Floridians with a "quick fix" solution by supporting oil drilling off Florida's coast.
A Florida Democratic Party official even called Fasano "boneheaded."
But during at least two October debates with Fasano, R-New Port Richey, Taylor has told crowds he would support offshore drilling under certain conditions:
The state would have to thoroughly examine developing alternative energy sources for cars, as well as solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower sources.
Oil companies also would have to pay fees to drill. Under Taylor's proposal — and borrowing a term from Al Gore — that money would go into a "lockbox" to pay for any damage to the environment. Taylor also would have drillers pay fees that could feed the state budget. He didn't know how much, but anticipated millions of dollars.
"I'm going to say I was against it because early on, it felt like a knee-jerk response," Taylor said in an interview Wednesday. "Drilling couldn't occur for years, how is that going to reduce the $4-a-gallon cost? … I was against it based on what I knew."
Taylor, a business broker from New Port Richey, easily won the Democratic primary in August. But challenging Fasano in the Nov. 4 election has been tougher. He has only $75,000 in campaign donations to Fasano's $600,000.
The district runs along the coast in north Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
"Mr. Taylor is flip-flopping for the purpose of getting votes," Fasano said after a debate Tuesday night when they sparred over the issue.
Fasano hoisted a Times report based on Taylor's previous opposition to offshore drilling.
"Which is it, Fred?" Fasano scoffed.
Taylor responded by asking if Fasano had ever been misquoted. Taylor said Wednesday he finished researching the idea and formed a final position near Labor Day.
On June 19, Taylor released a written statement saying Fasano and offshore drilling supporters "represent politics as usual." Recognizing people's "pain" over gas prices, he accused Fasano of "fooling Floridians into thinking we can drill our way out of this problem."
"The truth is drilling off our beautiful coastline will do nothing to lower gas prices and only distract us from the problem at hand," Taylor said then, promising to work to protect the "pristine coastline that my wife and I enjoy today."
At the time, some top Republicans dropped their opposition to drilling as gas prices hit $4 a gallon — and Fasano concurred.
That led to the "boneheaded" charge by then-Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bubriski, who now works for Barack Obama's campaign. Eric Jotkoff, Bubriski's replacement, ducked addressing Taylor's change and stuck by the "boneheaded" charge.
"Mike Fasano has not been straight with the voters of the 11th District. Fasano was against drilling before he was for it," Jotkoff said.
Fasano said Wednesday he "always" supported offshore drilling. But in his winning 1994 bid to be a member of the Florida House, the Times reported that he agreed with a ban on offshore drilling until it was proved safe. He said technology now exists to make it safe, and has for years.
"I haven't changed my mind overnight," Fasano said.
He said Wednesday he also wants the state to consider allowing refineries at a port, hoping to ease gas costs more.
Fasano also wants companies to have to pay fees to the state for drilling off the coast. Similar to Taylor, Fasano said that money should go toward the state budget for education and other services.
"The state of Florida should benefit from the rigs that are 100 miles offshore that are pumping oil out," Fasano said.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.