TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Former Gov. Charlie Crist and last year's Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink were back at the Capitol Wednesday to launch a petition drive seeking to add a ban on oil drilling in state waters to Florida's constitution.
While they're also supporting legislation pushed by Democratic lawmakers that would put the ban on the ballot, they know Republican lawmakers aren't likely to support the idea. Such a measure would make it on the ballot if the Legislature puts it there, or if enough citizens sign petitions.
"We tried legislatively last time, and that didn't work out so well," said Crist, a lifelong Republican before going independent last spring. "So now it has to be in the hands of the people to make this happen."
Republicans criticized Crist for calling a special legislative session last summer that sought to put the same measure on last November's ballot. Republican leaders said that the proposed amendment wasn't needed because state law already banned drilling. The opened the session and quickly closed it without taking a vote.
A ban that's part of a constitutional amendment would be harder to change than state law.
Crist, at the time, angrily said, "I'm going to give them hell for it."
He and Sink, the former state chief financial officer, stood with Democratic lawmakers and anti-drilling advocates outside the old Capitol to announce the petition drive. Behind them, people stood with signs, some showing Florida's pristine beaches and others showing turtles and birds covered in oil from last year's BP spill.
"It just tears at your heart when you think about what happened in the Gulf of Mexico just last spring and summer and the prospect that something like that could happen again even closer to Florida's shore if we don't ban this," said Crist.
Before the BP oil spill last year, Republican lawmakers were pushing to allow drilling in state waters, which extend 10 miles from the coast. While that talk has stopped for now, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who defeated Sink in November, has said he's open to drilling as long as it's safe.
"It's only a matter of time before Republican leadership in the House and Senate again decide that oil drilling within eyesight is a good idea," said Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, who is sponsoring the resolution that would put the ban on the ballot. "It's not a good idea. It's a terrible idea and it makes no sense."
Even though very little oil reached Florida shores, the threat alone drove tourists away from Panhandle beaches during peak season. Some waters off Florida's coast were closed to fishing, hurting commercial and charter fishing businesses.
Sink recalled talking to people, tears in their eyes, who were on the verge of losing businesses they worked years to grow.
"You realized the real human toll and impact that the crisis we experienced last year was having on hundreds of thousands of Floridians," Sink said. "If there's one little thing that we Floridians can do, it is to maintain control of our own state waters."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)