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Letter may show Spano advocated oil drilling off Florida

Through a congressional office spokesman, Spano declined to comment on whether the letter is authentic or was ever sent.

The Adam Hattersley congressional campaign is criticizing opponent Rep. Ross Spano over a letter that appears to show Spano advocating about four years ago for oil drilling off the east coast of Florida.

In the letter, addressed to then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and apparently written around 2016, Spano asks that the South Atlantic region, which extends south to Melbourne, be included in a five-year program of oil lease sales.

But it’s unclear whether Spano ever sent the letter, and Spano himself refuses to confirm or deny that he did.

A Hattersley campaign staffer said she found the letter left behind in the Tallahassee Capitol office Spano occupied as a state House member before being elected to Congress, in a binder of materials dating from 2016. When Spano vacated the office, Hattersley, who replaced him, temporarily moved in.

The letter, provided to the Times by the Hattersley campaign, is signed but not dated. Through a congressional office spokesman, Spano declined to comment on whether it is authentic or was ever sent.

Hattersley and his opponent in the congressional District 15 Democratic primary, Alan Cohn, both criticized Spano and emphasized their own stands for environmental protection and against offshore drilling.

Spano’s Republican primary opponent, Scott Franklin, said he “adamantly” opposes drilling off the coast of Florida.

Spano declined to discuss his current stance on drilling. His Congressional record on the issue is mixed but may show some change from the letter.

He’s one of 19 Florida Congress members co-sponsoring a bill to impose a 10-year moratorium on drilling all around the state, and voted for a bill by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, permanently extending a moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

But he voted against a Democratic-sponsored bill in 2019 to ban drilling off both U.S. coasts, and has voted for drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

League of Conservation Voters legislative analyst Laura Forero called Spano “lukewarm” on protecting Florida from drilling, and its scorecard gives him a 10 out of 100 rating on the environment.

The Spano letter said he favored including the Mid- and South Atlantic regions in the 2017-2022 federal drilling lease sale program then being formulated. He said Florida would “realize significant economic benefits from future Atlantic energy development,” which would “secure access to affordable, reliable energy” and “lead to good-paying jobs and generate substantial economic activity.”

Jewell was interior secretary under President Barack Obama, replaced by President Donald Trump in 2017.

The lease sale program, approved as she was leaving office, didn’t include any Atlantic sales, according to a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website. An existing moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is set to expire in 2022.

An Interior Department spokesman said records checks revealed no evidence that Jewell ever received the letter.

Hattersley campaign spokeswoman Amy Bolick said the campaign decided to release the letter because of a Politico story two weeks ago based on unnamed sources that the Interior Department is preparing to open the door to drilling off Florida, but waiting until after the November election to avoid political backlash.

Interior officials denied that.

Holt backs Hillsborough judicial challenger

In an unusual move, Hillsborough County Public Defender Julie Holt is endorsing a challenger to a sitting circuit judge.

Hillsborough County Public Defender Julie Holt is endorsing a challenger to a sitting circuit judge. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Holt is backing Wendy Joy DePaul against Judge Steven Scott Stephens. Holt’s move is uncommon, political insiders say, in part because her office could end up trying cases before Stephens if he moves from his current civil court assignment to a criminal bench.

In the only other county race involving a challenge to a sitting circuit judge, Holt is endorsing incumbent Michael J. Scionti against challenger Ashley Ivanov.

In a news release from the campaign, Holt praised DePaul’s “22 years of legal experience, desire for public service, judicial temperament, and extensive volunteerism,” and DePaul called the endorsement “the highest compliment I could receive.” But Holt didn’t respond to several messages seeking further comment.

In an interview, Stephens said Holt had not spoken to him about the endorsement.

“I’m sure she had her own reasons,” he said. “I think she’s a good public defender and has a very well-run office.”

Dems compete for precinct rep seats

On the Aug. 18 primary ballot, local Democrats will see nine contested races for precinct committeemen and committeewomen seats, an unusual number that party Chairwoman Ione Townsend said is a sign of building enthusiasm in the local party.

Republicans, meanwhile, will see one precinct committeewoman race and one race for state committeewoman.

Hillsborough County Democratic Party chair Ione Townsend [ WILLIAM MARCH | Photo courtesy of Ione Townsend ]

The precinct committeemen and committeewomen represent their precincts on the local parties’ governing committees. The state committeeman and committeewoman represent their county on the state party’s governing committee.

State law sets the number of precinct representatives, and if more people than the prescribed number want the seats, the races go on the party’s primary ballot. Any registered voter in the party is eligible, but the parties rarely fill all the available spots, much less see competition.

“It’s a measure of interest in the party,” Townsend said.

Contact William March at