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Guest op-ed from Darden Rice: 8 things I know about Florida’s special session on the referendum to ban offshore oil drilling in state waters

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1) Media coverage on partisan bickering and Florida Senate horserace implications is hurting the cause. Instead of ‘political jockeying’ news reports, how about we focus on how the ballot amendment to ban drilling in state waters is itself an important civic opportunity. This is the chance for the citizens of Florida to grasp a teachable moment and cast a vote for an amendment to enshrine permanent protection for our coasts in the state constitution. It is no more reactionary than making sure you have a good spare tire before you put your family in the car, and no less prudent.

2) This is not the governor’s special session. It is the public’s special session. It is the timely civic opportunity for the public to weigh in on the future of our state economy and coastal integrity. The better issue to report is why some legislators want to take the oil industry’s desperate position to limit the public’s right to vote on permanent coastal protection.

3) Beyond Hypocrisy: Are we really supposed to believe legislators like House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senator Mike Haridopolos, who claim that the ballot amendment is not needed because it is already against the law? Cretul and Haridopolos themselves have been leading the wrecking crew to dismantle those protections and open state waters for drilling. (!) So, yes, a constitutional drilling ban amendment is exactly what is needed to protect us…from politicians like them. (Politifact ruled TRUE Progress Florida’s claim that incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon and incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos have said they plan to champion efforts next legislative session to allow oil rigs off Florida’s coast.)

4) The first grouping of stronger coastal protection laws in Florida were passed in 1990 as a response to the Exxon Valdez tragedy. In the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon devastation, and the display of industry wide corporate neglect and recklessness, it is time for the next step. It is time to enshrine the coastal protections of our state in the state constitution.

5) Prudence and caution has always been the responsible approach, not putting our coasts at risk. Until recently, Florida had wisely benefited from strong bipartisan legislative and administrative support for coastal protection from drilling for 25 years. The recent partisan sniping is not the historical norm for such an important issue that could put a stake in the heart of our tourism industry. We need a constitutional amendment as a safe backup system for coastal protection to remove this issue from the shaky vicissitudes of partisan politics.

6) What is at stake: our $65 billion a year tourism industry and our conservation heritage. Remember, Florida does not have a state income tax. We absolutely depend on tourism. Why would we trust the oil industry to jeopardize the very things that sustain us?

7) In the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, we sadly witnessed the depth of the failure of planning, security, and caution. This crisis has proved the breathtakingly irresponsible gap between the technology to drill deeper and the technology to clean up an accident. This failure is not limited to just one oil corporation; the carelessness and hubris is industry wide.

8) There are lots of opportunities to get to Tallahassee to make your voice heard.http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=139118996115669 If you can’t make the trip, take a few minutes to call your House and Senate representatives. Leaders know that people who make the effort to call or write stand in for many, many others who feel the same way. Do not underestimate the importance of your voice. Call today. Special session is July 20-23, 2010 in Tallahassee.

Darden Rice is the Florida Program Director for Gulf Restoration Network

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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