Drilling talks split Floridas D.C. delegationadmin
A rift is emerging in Florida’s once-united congressional delegation over a contentious election-year offshore drilling debate, with Democrats grousing about being left out of ”backroom negotiations” that are occurring among Republicans.
In a letter to the delegation chairman, Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, the state’s seven Democrats complained Friday that closed-door, Republican-only talks will erode the state’s united front. They called for a delegation meeting to discuss the issue.
”A divided delegation could leave Florida with irreversible environmental and economic damage,” read the letter, circulated by Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
”There’s enormous pressure on the Republicans from the [GOP] majority on this issue,” Davis said. “This letter was written to say that we need to do negotiations in the sunshine and we need to work together to counter that pressure.”
SHAW FIRES BACK
But Shaw retorted with a letter of his own, noting he has “always maintained an open-door policy.
”To suggest that the delegation has not met to discuss this critical issue is disingenuous and inaccurate,” Shaw wrote. “I hope you would agree with me that offshore drilling is too important to be overshadowed by political motives.”
The rare public spat comes as pressure to open the Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration grows, and several members of a delegation once mostly united against all drilling have suggested it may be time to compromise.
Florida lawmakers have long opposed opening state waters to drilling, fearing that a spill could tarnish the state’s beaches and hurt tourism. But industry groups and some in Congress are eager to explore areas they say could alleviate an energy crunch.
Shaw accused the seven of seeking to politicize an issue that has long transcended party lines. He acknowledged that several Florida Republicans have been talking with Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee and is interested in expanding offshore oil drilling. But Shaw suggested the Florida Democrats should be talking to their counterparts, the ranking Democrats on the resources panel.
”That’s the way the system works. You network with the people you can work with,” Shaw said.
BUFFER REJECTED IN ’05
Florida lawmakers last year rejected a compromise with Pombo that would have created a permanent drilling buffer out to 125 miles from shore.
Shaw noted that none of the Democrats approached him to tell him about their concerns and he took a swipe at Davis, who has taken hits in recent days for missing congressional votes as he campaigns for office.
”On one of the days when he shows up for a vote, he ought to come over and talk to me,” Shaw said. “We sit on the floor for hours sometimes, and I’d be glad to talk to him or any other member about some things that might bring us together.”
And he suggested that the letter could do more harm than any closed-door talks.
”To take one of the things we really agree on and make it a wedge issue,” Shaw said. “That’s destructive and foolish and partisan to a fault.”
PRESSURE ON SHAW
But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, suggested it’s up to Shaw — the chairman of the delegation — to plot strategy for the state.
”He’s the delegation chair. It’s his responsibility to lead the delegation,” she said.
Davis said the letter was not meant as a rebuke to Shaw.
”This letter is appropriate to counter the pressure to negotiate in the backroom by pointing out that it’s happening,” Davis said. “It’s the best way I know to bring the whole issue into the sunshine again.”