August 5, 2010

August 5, 2010 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

Obama Showers Attention on Florida in Wake of Oil Spill

A day after the Obama administration declared victory over the oil spill, the White House is moving swiftly to shore up its image in the Gulf, particularly the political battleground of Florida.

Even though Louisiana is ground zero for the spill -- the Deepwater Horizon was located just 50 miles off its coast -- the White House is paying much closer attention to Florida these days. It’s the one Gulf Coast state Obama won in 2008, but where his disapproval rating is at 50 percent.

There’s mounting evidence that the White House is worried. Carol Browner, the top White House aide on energy and climate change, is in Florida today for meetings with key local officials. She’ll visit Panama City, Pensacola and St. Petersburg. Her stops include a speech to the Bay County Economic Development Alliance and roundtable meetings with community members.

Browner’s visit is significant. She’s a high-level administration official with strong ties to Florida from her time leading the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Browner also served as former President Bill Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

The fact she’s in Florida might have something to do with complaints from state Democrats about the White House’s handling of the oil spill response. Politico recently revealed the administration’s decision to dispatch political and communications aides to the region amidst grumbling from high-profile Democrats. Florida received four of them compared to one each for Alabama and Mississippi. Politico didn’t report the number of aides sent to Louisiana.

Earlier this week the White House sent Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to Panama City and Tampa for meetings about the long-term restoration of the Gulf. Unlike Browner’s visit, however, Mabus also visited Alabama and Mississippi. He’s in Louisiana today and will stop in Texas tomorrow.

Florida will continue to be showered with attention when Obama takes his family there for a two-day visit as part of his summer vacation. After a brief trip to Panama City Beach by first lady Michelle Obama in July, the administration faced criticism for telling others to vacation there but failing to do so themselves. The family’s subsequent decision to vacation in Florida comes in addition to a longer getaway planned for Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Louisiana, which marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina later this month, apparently didn’t make the president’s cut for a vacation destination. According to The Washington Post, the state could use the boost in tourism:

In the Louisiana tourist haven Grand Isle, it has been the worst summer ever for Emma Chighizola, owner of the Blue Water Souvenirs shop. Cleanup crews have rented nearly all of the summer houses, and there are few places for tourists to stay. Not that it matters much -- the only folks who have come to Grand Isle this summer have been drawn not by blue water and beaches but curiosity.

Each of the Gulf states is struggling with the oil spill. The appearance that Florida is getting preferential treatment from the Obama administration suggests the president is politicizing the cleanup for his own benefit.

Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

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