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Exclusive: Text of New Rule to Purge Moderates from Florida House Democratic Caucus

June 10, 2013 - 6:00pm

Sunshine State News has obtained the text of a draft proposal circulating among Florida House Democrats, which would alter caucus rules so as to impose penalties on members who do not vote the way leaders want them to.

Those penalties would includ[e] but not [be] limited to expulsion from the Caucus, according to the draft.

[Scroll below to see the complete text of the House Democratic rules, with proposed amendments highlighted.]

According to sources, the draft obtained by SSN has not yet been approved as the final text that House Democrats will vote on when they assemble for their annual Jefferson-Jackson Gala June 15-16.

The proposal that has some centrist Democrats concerned is what would be a newly-added Rule 8.8, which codifies existing custom insofar as it sets down in writing the conditions under which House Democratic leadership can adopt a caucus position (with the approval of 2/3 of members in attendance at a caucus meeting), and gives the Democratic leader authority to dispense a member from having to vote with that caucus position.

But subsection (5) of the rule goes well beyond existing practice by laying down penalties for voting against the caucus position without prior permission:

Failure to abide by a Caucus position without prior approval shall subject such member to sanctions imposed by the majority vote of the officers, including but not limited to expulsion from the Caucus.

The rule change is the brainchild of Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, who heads the committee rewriting the Caucus rules. The rules governing the House GOP caucus impose no such penalties on its dissenting members.

House Democratic leader Perry Thurston did not return a request for comment before this story went to press.

Confronted with the proposed rule change, freshman Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, a self-styled centrist, declined to take a definitive stance on it, but she reiterated her earlier concerns, adding, I was elected by my constituents, I'm accountable to my constituents; if my constituents are not pleased with the way that I vote, then I'm sure they'll make a change when the time comes on election day.

Fellow freshman Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, who has also received criticism from progressive bloggers for some of his votes, suggested the caucus already functions well with its existing rules.

When we did have a caucus call [last session], everyone voted with the caucus, he said, referring to the positions the Democratic caucus took against the budget and the manufacturing sales tax exemption, and in favor of the read-aloud delay tactics adopted the last week of session. I think right now, the system's been working. Then again, I've only had limited experience, just one session.

He added: I prefer a person's word [to threats and penalties]. You give your word about what you're going to do, and you stick with your word.

Edwards and Danish are among a handful of Democratic legislators, all freshmen, who have been singled out by progressive bloggers for center-leaning votes on some combination of economic, environmental, and gun issues. The others are Reps. Mike Clelland of Lake Mary, Jared Moskowitz of Coral Springs, and Dwight Dudley of St. Petersburg.

"I thought Democrats are trying to add people to the caucus, not remove them; I thought that was our mission, Moskwotiz previously told SSN. I want to hear the rationale. What is the rationale for penalties? Obviously, they are a deterrent from people dissenting from the caucus, but doesn't that sound like leadership can't hold the caucus together, so we have to penalize [dissenters]?

The system seemed to work well [last session], he continued. Leadership had to work hard convincing everybody why these were the right things to do, but that's OK; that's their job. I thought that worked fine, and nobody deviated [without permission from leadership].

This may be a solution in search of a problem.

This is not the first time Democratic Party leadership has taken steps to pure moderates and centrists from elected office; last year, Haitian Reps. John Patrick Julien and Mack Bernard of West Palm Beach were ousted in Democratic primaries -- victims of "political ethnic cleansing," according to one prominent GOP consultant -- after incurring the ire of party officials and unions for their votes in favor of small business and school choice.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

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