U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, running in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, has been urging the public to sign his petition calling for the Keystone XL Pipeline as part of his efforts to promote more domestic drilling.
"I have always said that I would be for drilling," Mack said at an event this month promoting the petition. "But I think that's an issue the state should have a say in — in determining how far it's going to be off the coast of Florida. We ought to allow the state to have a say in that decision."
We decided to put the issue to our Truth-O-Meter: Was Mack mischaracterizing his own past statements when he said he "always" was for drilling?
We soon found that when then-state Rep. Mack ran for Congress in 2004, he pledged to maintain the ban on drilling off Florida's coast.
In 2005, Mack issued statements criticizing a plan to allow drilling closer to Florida, saying that it would hurt Florida's "pristine" or "fragile" coastline. He described the proposal as "risky" and "reckless." And he called himself a "longtime opponent of drilling off Florida's coast."
Yes, Congress needed to take action to lower gas prices, he said then. "But allowing drilling off Florida's pristine coastline won't reduce America's pain at the pump."
Until about 2006, the Florida delegation had nearly unanimous bipartisan opposition to drilling, said Mark Ferrulo, executive director of Progress Florida, who has tracked drilling legislation since the 1990s.
In June 2006, a vote was held on the Deep Oceans Energy Resources Act, to create a smaller, 50-mile buffer on Florida's coast. Fourteen of Florida's 25-member House delegation voted in favor of the smaller zone, but Mack voted against it. He said he voted that way because an amendment wasn't included in the bill that would have given Florida control over drilling decisions.
In December, the House overwhelmingly voted for a bill considered a compromise: It opened up 8.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to drilling while protecting Florida's 125-mile buffer. Mack supported that, saying, "Without enacting these protections, Florida faced a precarious future on the question of drilling off our fragile shore."
Flash forward to the summer of 2008. Consumers were angry about $4-a-gallon gas, and the phrase "drill, baby, drill" was a Republican mantra. Presidential candidate John McCain called for lifting the federal moratorium along the Outer Continental Shelf and giving states incentives to lift the ban. Some Republicans, including then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who was a contender to be McCain's vice president, and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., ditched their previous opposition. And so did Mack.
He explained his change of mind in a June 17 press release: "For years I have said states should have the right to decide whether or not they want to allow drilling off their shores. But circumstances have changed, I have changed, and I believe the people of Florida have changed. We're facing a serious energy emergency, and we need to take real steps to bolster our energy independence and security."
Then came the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill in 2010. Mack took a cautious approach, saying before a decision is made on banning offshore drilling, the country must understand what went wrong. But generally, he still supported offshore drilling.
Mack campaign spokesman David James acknowledged that Mack's views have "evolved" on drilling.
Mack has supported drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and favors building the Keystone XL pipeline, James said in a statement. "At the same time there's no dispute that Connie has always wanted to make certain that we protect Florida's shores. That hasn't changed. But four years ago, in the summer of 2008, Connie announced that his position with respect to drilling off Florida's coast evolved as our national energy security needs changed, too."
In 2012, Florida's congressional delegation remains split on more drilling off the coast of Florida. "We have never gotten back to a unified front of opposition against expanding drilling," Ferrulo said.
Mack said, "I have always said that I would be for drilling." But that misrepresents his actual record on a high-profile state issue. In 2005, he repeatedly said he was against allowing drilling closer to Florida's shores. We rate his statement Pants on Fire!
This item has been edited for print. To read the full fact-check, visit PolitiFact.com/Florida.