By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST. PETERSBURG – In such a large and diverse state as Florida, it is often difficult to craft a singular political message that will win statewide.
It becomes easy to cater to certain groups where support is perceived as very high, limiting the scope of debate to issues that are addressed ad nauseam in only a certain fashion.
Such is the case with energy issues, vastly important for Florida families and noticeably absent from the campaigns of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, both vying to represent the fourth-most populous state in Congress’ most powerful chamber.
Mack, hoping to reclaim his father’s Senate seat, has instead pressed Nelson on his wishy-washy support of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, scheduled to deliver oil from Canada’s oil sands to the refineries on the Texas coast.
He denigrates Nelson for being in “lockstep” with President Barack Obama and “environmental extremists,” owing to his decision to verbally support the pipeline but vote against it in a key vote on Capitol Hill.
“If it weren’t so serious, Bill Nelson’s Keystone Kop routine might be humorous. Instead, it’s wrong. It’s sad. And unfortunately for the people of Florida, it’s the same Bill Nelson we’ve all come to expect,” Mack said in a news release this week.
Supporters of the pipeline have touted claims of up to 20,000 jobs and domestic energy independence, the idea that the United States would no longer depend on oil exports from countries around the globe.
“I support the pipeline — just not in an area where it runs over an entire region’s water supply, which the folks in Nebraska don’t want either,” Nelson said in March. “Instead, you move a portion of it to the east to parallel the existing pipeline that comes from Canada.”
But while both Senate hopefuls bicker back and forth on the Keystone issue, a pipeline which won’t be built for another few years, real energy concerns back home are being left being in the dust.
“There is a relationship between energy and the economy which is the principal issue, and the principal federal issue,” said Robert Sanchez, policy director at the James Madison Institute, the nonprofit free-market think tank based in Tallahassee.
“Having reasonable energy prices is especially important to Florida because it affects the modes of transportation that people use to get here as visitors and tourists, the foundation of our economy,” said Sanchez.
The average price for a gallon of gasoline is $3.70 in Florida, according to the AAA, placing it in the upper tier of states with high prices.
Both candidates have steered clear of tackling subsidies or putting more of their support behind offshore oil drilling, in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. They prefer to attract voters to their side with mutual promises to “avoid gutting the military” and “protect seniors,” both subjects of the latest ads from the two campaigns.
Sanchez said that attention to energy costs is not only essential in the federal discourse, but also for Florida, which relies heavily on energy costs in order to fund its number one revenue source — tourism.
“Whether people pile the kids into a minivan in Ohio and drive down or whether they fly in from London on planes with airfares affected by the price of fuel, the cost of energy is releveant,” said Sanchez. “If energy is very costly, it eats into the discretionary income of people who might want to bring the kids to Disney or Universal Studios. It has a double whammy effect on Florida.”
Neither Mack or Nelson’s office returned calls to Florida Watchdog.
Yaël Ossowski is Florida Bureau Chief for Watchdog.org. Contact at Yael@FloridaWatchdog.org.