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Sen. Don Gaetz blasts Crist's reaction to oil spill

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, opened Tuesday's meeting of the governor and Cabinet with an all-out blast against Gov. Charlie Crist for what the lawmaker considers a weak response to help the Panhandle economy deal with the effects of the oil spill. Gaetz, who has criticized Crist for abandoning the Republican Party to save his U.S. Senate bid, said fishing boat captains, hoteliers and restaurant owners are frantic as they anticipate what in past years has been a bonanza: the upcoming three-day Memorial Day weekend.

"It is now Day 35," Gaetz said, "and I regret to say that thus far, the state of Florida has not done enough ... to support Northwest Florida's tourism industry." Where is the television advertising blitz that was promised two weeks ago? Gaetz asked.

Crist insisted that "we're doing everything humanly possible" to help affected businesses who fear a catastrophic loss of revenue due to unfounded fears of oil washing ashore in Northwest Florida. But both Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink echoed Gaetz's concerns that the official state response has been too little, too late.

Speaking with reporters outside the Cabinet room, Gaetz was much more blunt in his criticism. He said the governor's office has not answered a May 5 letter from Northwest Florida legislators asking for details on the state's response. "We need help and we need it now," Gaetz said. "I think the (governor's) bully pulpit ought to be used. It's in days like this that I miss Jeb Bush."

-- Steve Bousquet

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