Now this was startling news at the time to anyone who watched the drilling question change in the past two years. Until 2008, this was the third rail of Florida politics (and we don't even have subways). Check this AP timeline. Democratic Gov. Bob Graham as governor in 1983 put a moratorium on any drilling in Florida waters, and Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in 1988 worked overtime to get Reagan's interior department to leave the Straits of Florida out of a drilling program. Interest wained after the Valdez disaster in 89, but not for long. The Congressional delegation in the 1990s, led by then-Sen. Graham and Republican Sen. Connie Mack, had to lock arms during the Clinton years to stop that administration from opening the gulf.
Then in the early '00s, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush fought his own brother's administration to stop it in the early '00s, and managed to convince the Interior to only lease out new land on the gulf as far from Florida as possible. Of note, that was when Deepwater Horizon was installed, so I must give Bush due credit here. If not for his fight regarding the Area 181 lease, this disaster may well have happened by Florida's panhandle.
And there was good reason for Florida to fight like hell in a unified, bipartisan way. This was the good bipartisanship, not seeking compromises but having people across a political spectrum stand up together to fight terrible proposals which offend regardless of ideology. In Florida's tourism economy, a spill could be devastating. We may learn that all too well very soon.
But gas prices went up in past decade, and global warming deniers found bigger soap boxes. Then John McCain, on the trail for president, put out an energy plan in 2008 calling for drilling. A dramatic shift occurred. Many Floridians, perhaps moderate Republicans trusting in their maverick nominee, suddenly felt more comfortable with oil. Mel Martinez, who a few years ago argued his support for drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve was based solely on the chance to distract from oil opportunities in the gulf, changed his tune on offshore. So did many Congressmen. And of course, so did Charlie Crist, then on a short list for McCain's VP slot. The polls started to shift and 2008 became the first year when any polls showed a plurality of Florida voters supporting drilling.
Earlier this year, some bizarre bug got in President Obama's head and he too announced he would favor drilling. Even Jeb Bush, fortunately out of office by then, changed his position. And somehow, this all brought us to where we were one short month ago, when more than six in 10 Floridians favored the drill.
They were always wrong. The evidence was always plainly there that drilling could still have devastating consequences, that technology to clean spills was still lousy and ineffective, and that plans announced by oil companies to drill safely from underneath the waterline was probably an outright lie. Still, the organized nonsense was enough to convince the Florida House last year to pass a bill allowing drills within a few miles of Florida's coast. Fortunately the Senate opted not to buy that logic bridge, and this year, no such a bill came to the floor in either chamber.
But with this black monster beaching in Louisiana and slowly extending its reach toward Florida's shores, you are suddenly seeing an enormous number of people reversing positions. Crist left oil island before announcing his independent candidacy last month. Incoming state House speaker Dean Cannon also sounded new skepticism.
This suddenly makes all those officials who held steadfast against oil drilling look really good. Even if 64 percent of the state, the governor, the president and a crazy percentage of state leaders were against them two weeks ago. I can't find any new polls yet on drilling, but I promise those numbers have shifted.
Unfortunately, a big black bob of environmental devastation makes it difficult to be too happy about this gloating opportunity. But every politician who gets to rub an opponent's past support of drilling in their nose will get their chance before November, and that chance will be well-deserved.