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Nancy Smith

House Boys Club Can't Hide Katie Edwards' Light

May 2, 2014 - 6:00pm

It's the same lousy deal for a woman in the Florida House. Year after year the same. Doesn't matter their party, women seated in the lower chamber invariably fight for a meaningful role, take abuse and get ignored.

Did I just see that happen to Katie Edwards?

Observing the medical marijuana debate Thursday on the House floor -- when it came time to congratulate all parties who helped bring this once-unthinkable bill to the brink of victory -- I heard bill sponsor Matt Gaetz lavish syrupy compliments onthe "killer B's of the Senate, Sens. (Rob) Bradley, (Aaron) Bean and (Jeff) Brandes." I heard him thank Edwards for her research, Charles Van Zant for his drive, Cary Pigman for his competence, "every member of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee for their trust," and Speaker Will Weatherford, Dennis Baxley and Steve Crisafulli for all kinds of support.

But research? Really? One or two anemic words, is that the best he could do?

On the other hand, Gaetz was more generous than Weatherford, who didn't mention Edwards at all. He did, of course, pay tribute to Gaetz's "courage, leadership and maturity."

Here's how I see it: Edwards, a woman (strike 1), a Democrat (strike 2), only in her second year (foul-tip), nevertheless found a way to elevate the 2014 Legislature with passion, energy and intelligence. She was a lesson in what all legislators should be doing, given their privilege to serve.And I don't think the boys liked it much -- I mean, they certainly weren't looking for accomplishment.

Next to the families with sick children -- Edwards was probably more responsible for the legislation in the House, where it originated, than any other member.

I know this because I remember the work she did after the 2013 legislative session, when her medical marijuana bill went nowhere. She was smart enough and determined enough to lean into research, look at studies, assess results and figure out how to get a bill heard. She had promised constituents answers.

I also know because at a March 31 forum, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee gave prime co-sponsor Edwards the lion's share of the credit. Was that just a moment of weakness, I wonder?

"Rep. Edwards can be annoyingly persistent," Gaetz said, explaining why he came to sponsor the House CBD medical marijuana bill. "She pestered me with emails every day for about three months."

Certainly Edwards needed Gaetz's heft to pull it off and appeal to House Republicans. And without a doubt Gaetz brought himself up to warp speed on cannabidiol, masterfully so, taking the bill on the "slow and cautious walk" he promised. But without Edwards, without her passion and pushiness and refusal to give up, he wouldn't be savoring this virtual victory lap now.

There's something about the boys in the Florida House. Run down the list of women representatives. See for yourself how many -- with the exception of Speaker Pro Tempore Marti Coley -- have positions of real responsibility. A handful. It's a time-honored thing -- a culture of gender discrimination that doesn't exist in the Senate.

Funny how a woman can languish for years in the House, then go to the Senate and shine. She magically develops talent. Same woman, different side of the building.

The House does pick a token woman to favor year after year. But in the end, when the boys get together, they make sure the plums stay locked up in the club safe.

Gaetz and Edwards together have given this monumental medical marijuana bill a bipartisan flavor. What a shame it was to hear so little mention of that cooperative spirit on the House floor Thursday. Only Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, referenced Gaetz and Edwards as a team, and the importance of bipartisanship in debate.

It was the House's head start on the Senate that awakened the upper chamber to the belief that they could actually cast a vote that could instill a never-before quality of life in 125,000 sick Florida children. Senators were primed and ready when patients told their stories of fear and the sense of futility that led many to give up on Florida, head for greener, medical marijuana-friendly pastures in Colorado.

The boys can like it or not, Katie Edwards didn't come to Tallahassee to sit on her hands.

During a 2013 interview with Sunshine State News, she recalled the 2012 House race. I had essentially a four-year campaign, while working full-time as executive director of the Farm Bureau, campaigning, and going to law school at night, she said. Looking back, I dont know how I was able to do all of it, but somehow it came together.

She knows how to play the game, she's a fighter, and I don't think anybody is going to hide the light she brings to the Florida House.

The Democrats claim they're looking hard to run winning candidates for state office. If that's true, they're going to discover Katie Edwards and run her for commissioner of agriculture and consumer services as soon as Adam Putnam is done. Remember, you heard it here first.

By that time, watch how high her stock will have risen.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

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