In April 2010, Deepwater Horizon exploded, resulting in a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill raised questions about policy positions on oil drilling for several politicians, including then Gov. Charlie Crist.
At the time of the spill, Crist was struggling in a Republican U.S. Senate primary against soon-to-be Sen. Marco Rubio; he ended up switching to "no party affiliation." In 2013, Crist announced that he was running for governor again -- this time as a Democrat.
We decided to look back at Crist’s statements on oil drilling through his tenure and place them on our Flip-O-Meter, which evaluates whether a politician actually changed position. We leave it to voters to decide the significance of our findings.
Overall, Crist expressed opposition to drilling throughout much of his career, from state senator to education commissioner to U.S. Senate candidate to attorney general. A sampling:
June 20, 1998, in a Florida Times-Union interview during his first U.S. Senate campaign against Bob Graham: "Having grown up here, it's hard not to feel strongly about the beauty that is Florida. I would and already have fought offshore drilling in Florida, and would continue that fight in Florida."
An Oct. 10, 2006, interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Offshore oil drilling, I'm adamantly opposed to it. I think a lot of that has to do with growing up here. I'm a Gulf Coast guy. ... I remember when I was in elementary school, we had an oil spill in Tampa Bay. You may recall that. I literally remember cleaning birds off when that happened."
Oct. 20, 2006, at a press conference, on the qualities Floridians want in a president: "Making sure that we don’t drill for oil off our beautiful shore, and, of course, the other traditional things that go along with it."
In his inaugural address as governor in January 2007, Crist called for "clean rivers, beautiful beaches and coastlines free of oil drilling. This is a vision we can make a reality."
Crist as vice presidential contender in 2008
In 2008, with gasoline prices hovering near $4 a gallon and Crist being mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate (on a ticket that would popularize the phrase "drill, baby, drill!"), Crist backed off his previous unflinching opposition.
After Republican presidential contender John McCain gave a June 17 speech in Houston calling for opening up more waters to drilling, Crist said:
"We have to be sympathetic to the pocketbooks of Floridians and what they're paying at the pump for gas and balance that with any way that our state might be able to contribute in terms of resources to have a greater supply and therefore lower prices," Crist said. "I think an open-minded person understands that we ought to at least study (offshore drilling)."
Crist offered some caveats at the time: "It would all depend on the parameters," he said. "How far off the coast, how safe it would be, how much it would protect our beaches."
To environmentalists and Democratic leaders, Crist’s statement was a major reversal.
"It seemed that he would be the last person to change course on this," said Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida, at the time.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, called Crist's position "a 180-degree flip-flop."
"I don’t understand Gov. Crist’s Flip-Flop on this," she said. "The risk to our environment and to our economy -- I mean the governor, of all people, should know better."
The next week Crist delivered a speech at a global climate change summit in Miami. "We must have an open discussion – without compromising Florida’s sensitive ecosystems and natural beauty," Crist said of offshore drilling. "As I stated last week, only when we are able to do so far enough from Florida’s coast, safe enough for our people and clean enough for our beaches, should we consider increasing our oil supply by drilling off Florida’s shores. Let me repeat that – far enough, safe enough and clean enough."
Crist witnesses 2010 spill
But in 2010, after flying over the gulf and seeing the Deepwater Horizon spill firsthand, Crist withdrew his support for any form of drilling off Florida's coasts.
"It could be devastating to Florida if something like that were to occur," Crist said. "It's the last thing in the world I would want to see happen in our beautiful state."
Crist also repeated the criteria laid out in his 2008 climate change address, saying the gulf spill proved drilling isn't yet far enough away, clean enough, or safe enough.
"Clearly that one isn't far enough, and that's about 50 to 60 miles out, it's clearly not clean enough after we saw what we saw today - that's horrific - and it certainly isn't safe enough. It's the opposite of safe," Crist said.
Crist summoned legislators to a special session in July with hopes that they would put an oil drilling ban on the November 2010 ballot. But the Republican-dominated Legislature delivered him a defeat within hours of convening.
Crist lost his U.S. Senate race in 2010 and Republican Rick Scott became the governor. In February 2011, Crist returned to Tallahassee to stand with Democrat Alex Sink and environmentalists to announce his support for a state constitutional amendment to ban oil drilling.
"This puts it in the hands of the people and that’s exactly where it should be," Crist said.
At an October 2012 gathering with several former governors, Crist said Florida shouldn’t consider oil drilling.
He declared the BP oil spill to be "the greatest wake-up call of all time."
"There are just too many other ways to produce energy — solar, wind, things that the Sunshine State of all places should be leading in," he said, according to the Gainesville Sun.
Crist announced in November 2013 that he would run for governor again.
In an interview with Watermark, a central Florida publication that covers the gay community, a reporter asked Crist if elected if he would continue to support the ban on offshore drilling.
"Yes," Crist replied in the interview published in December. "How could you be governor during the BP oil spill and not get that right. That was a wake-up call."
We sent a summary of our findings to Crist’s campaign and received a response from former sen. Steve Geller, a Democrat advising Crist. Geller said the BP oil spill convinced Crist that nothing near Florida would be "safe enough, far enough, and clean enough."
Did Crist flip?
For most of his career Crist has opposed offshore oil drilling in Florida. He spoke against drilling repeatedly between 1998 and 2006. But in 2008, he was a potential Republican vice presidential contender amid high gas prices. At that time, Crist said Florida should study drilling and have an "open discussion" about it -- though in a speech he offered caveats that it would have to be "far enough, safe enough and clean enough."
Even that suggestion was enough to anger environmentalists, but in the end that’s all it amounted to -- a suggestion to study it.
The 2010 explosion put the lid on that discussion for Crist, and he again returned to his adamant stance against drilling -- a position he has reiterated as recently as late 2013.
Crist did wobble in 2008, but ultimately he went back to his original position so we rate him No Flip.