Don't look now, but California just got a lot closer to the Gulf of Mexico.
Some kind of earthquake-caused seismic shift? Hardly. Oil and its offshore problems have taken center stage in the special election battle between former Assembly Democrat John Laird and Assembly Republican Sam Blakeslee. The winner will fill the seat vacated by Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado in the 15th district of the State Senate.
There are dozens of distinctions between the liberal Laird and conservative Blakeslee, but oil seems to be the stickiest of them all.
Laird accuses Blakeslee of being a tool of the oil industry. That's pretty harsh, but there may be at least a relationship.
Prior to being an elected official, Blakeslee worked for Exxon in Houston. That's no political crime in itself. Where the story gets interesting is Blakeslee's role regarding oil in the state legislature, where he served as Republican minority leader. Blakeslee authored legislation that would have added 28 rigs to the offshore oil drilling area off Santa Barbara, while removing some platforms at an unknown future date. That's the same area where the nation's first major oil spill occurred in 1969. He also authored legislation that would have circumvented the state Lands Commission's ability to prevent offshore drilling, an effort that died in committee.
But do facts tarnish Blakeslee?
For his part, Blakeslee claims he's a victim of character assassination. After all, he's not a total loser with environmentalists; he has a 25 percent approval with the Sierra Club, compared to Laird's 100 percent. But that may not be enough to get Blakeslee out of the oil-friendly charge. Over the past six years, Blakeslee has received $65,000 in campaign contributions from Big OIl, compared to zero for Laird.
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All this is not to paint a halo over Laird's head when it comes to influence. Records show that he has received a ton of dough from organized labor and teacher interests as well as support from environmental groups. But the difference is that Laird doesn't hide his affiliations, where as Blakeslee would just as soon have the oil issue go back to the gulf.
It would be a mischaracterization of Blakeslee to describe him as a tool of the oil industry. Still, if campaign finance records are any guide, he seems to have much more in common with the industry than his opponent.
None of this would have even hit the political radar had the oil spill in the gulf not occurred. But with the spill and Blakeslee's background, Laird has been handed a campaign gift. And he's not about to turn down such good fortune.
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