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Weekly Roundup: Gov, Lawmakers in 'Special' Relationship

July 9, 2010 - 6:00pm

The courts were in session in the busy week that was and the Legislature will soon be, too.

There was no LeBron James-style ESPN special when Gov. Charlie Crist jilted the Republican Party this spring, but tensions have been running high between the governor and his former political party ever since. Crist fanned the flames this week, giving up on waiting for lawmakers to agree to come back to Tallahassee for a special session to ban offshore oil drilling.

Instead, he ordered them to.

Crist called a special session for July 20-23, saying that not doing so would have meant he was not doing his job. But Republicans said again that the job Crist had in mind by calling the session was the one he hopes to win this fall: U.S. senator.

"I'm going to be governor for about six more months and I think I would not be doing my duty as governor if I didn't call for this special session," Crist said.

Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla disagreed, saying the only future Charlie Crist is concerned about is his own political one.

Yet again, Crists biggest friends seemed to be Democrats.

"I commend the governor for agreeing to call for a special session to ban near-beach oil drilling, despite the resistance from special interests and some members of the Legislature," presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink said, leaving little doubt there would be unhappy elephants in the room when the session is convened.

Sink and other Democrats didnt get everything they wanted from Crists special-session call, however. They had pressed him to include other issues, including renewable energy and tighter rules on reimbursements to small businesses from BP, but Crist said the session was a rifle shot to beat an early August deadline for constitutional amendments.

Republicans were taking incoming fire from the courts this week, as well.

Before voters could register an opinion on Amendment 7, which is the Legislature's proposed constitutional amendment dealing with redistricting standards, a Tallahassee judge registered one. And it wasnt a particularly favorable opinion. Circuit Judge James O. Shelfer said he couldn't easily understand what it would do, so it was unreasonable to expect voters could.

The amendment, which was put on the November ballot by lawmakers earlier this year after two other amendments dealing with redistricting were cleared to go before voters, had been a contentious fight in the Legislature this spring. The group behind the redistricting amendments, FairDistricts, accused lawmakers of purposely trying to hide the ball, as the lawyer for groups that challenged the initiative said this week.

Republicans, who were joined in pushing for the measure by a couple of black Democrats, could only say they hoped the same fate would await Amendments 5 and 6.

It will be interesting to see how this ruling impacts the judicial review of Amendments 5 and 6, House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon said in a statement. If the judge here found Amendment 7 confusing, Amendments 5 and 6 probably are as well since they are far more complicated and have far greater impacts on present constitutional powers and rights."

The win for opponents of Amendment 7 may not be final. The case is expected to go to the Supreme Court.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott was hoping this week the scales of justice would tip in his favor. Scott asked a federal judge to throw out Florida's public financing law, which could soon help his opponents better keep pace with him something theyve had trouble doing as hes spent more than $20 million to vault ahead of Attorney General Bill McCollum in polling.

Scott, who spent more in his first few days on the campaign trail than McCollum had raised in a year, is brushing up against the states $24.9 million spending cap, after which other candidates would be funded dollar-for-dollar. Citing a 2008 Supreme Court case, Davis vs. FEC, Scott said that his First Amendment rights would be trampled by the campaign finance law. McCollums camp said the lawsuit proved Scott was trying to buy the election.

Given Mr. Scott's continuing need to communicate his positions to Florida voters via television and radio advertising, in-person campaigning, and other voter education efforts, Mr. Scott has come to the realization that he will have no choice but to exceed, and is likely imminently to exceed, the act's $24.9 million limit," Scotts lawsuit says.

At least Rick Scott admits he needs to spend millions more to hide his own record," McCollums campaign manager Matt Williams retorted.

AN OILY APOLOGY: With the wind pushing the slick in the Gulf of Mexico west this week, there wasnt much news on the oil front. There was, however, a very public apology from one of the biggest supporters of a plan that would have allowed drilling in the areas now fighting off oil.

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, who in pre-spill days mixed with the environmental lobby like oil and water, told a Clean Energy Summit in Orlando that it was time to turn the page to their preferred energy solution: renewable energy.

Dean (Cannon) and I tried to take the conventional route. We tried to look at oil and natural gas production in the Gulf," he said. But guess what? Things change. We went to verify the scenario and it didn't work for Floridians. So we need to try the unconventional way, the alternative way.

That was music to the ears of supporters of a renewable-energy bill that was approved in 2009 by the Senate, but not the House, though Haridopolos was not completely singing their tune.

There's a necessity to take real, significant action that's much broader than the conversation we're hearing so far," Florida Business Network for a Clean Energy Economy Director Susan Glickman said. "What we need and what we're not hearing is we need a requirement (for utilities to meet renewable goals). We need to set a market. This idea of some voluntary goal that a utility, if they so choose, can put up some amount won't create the kind of market we need to be a game changer."

But the fact that the discussion about clean energy was now taking place with the incoming Senate leader was a pretty big change in the game.

Elsewhere, all roads for supporters of transportation led to Orlando, where a group of road builders, public transit supporters and driving safety officials gathered in the Magic Kingdom for the Floridians for Better Transportation Summit. U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene, no-party gubernatorial candidate Lawton Bud Chiles and Attorney General McCollum addressed the group.

McCollum assured them he would not use the state Transportation Trust Fund to balance the state budget if he is elected governor, which was a road lawmakers tried to go this year to balance the $70 billion state spending plan. Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the $160 million, and McCollum told the transpos he would protect their money too.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Charlie Crist decided its better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission and called the Legislature back into a special session to ban offshore oil drilling July 20-23, over the objection of the Republican leaders who control it.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: As an attorney, he should be aware that you cant make something doubly-illegal, Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, speaking about the fact that offshore oil drilling is already banned by a moratorium, which didnt stop Gov. Charlie Crist from officially calling the special session to ban it in the Constitution.

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