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Nancy Smith

Perry Thurston's Lamentable Leadership Lapse

March 21, 2014 - 7:00pm

House Democrats are poorly served when their leader puts personal ambition ahead of the good of the caucus.

Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston waited until 8:50 a.m. Thursday to file an amendment toHouse Bill 89 to repeal the 9-year-old Stand Your Ground law.

The candidate for attorney general knew in the Republican-dominant House the amendment stood a snowball's chance.

He knewgrandstanding over Stand Your Ground was a good move for any "notice-me" political campaign.

He knewthe 44 members of his caucus would be forced to declare themselves for or against SYG -- leaving more than a few Florida political consultants cringing like a cat in the closet, knowing Thurston had just opened these folks up to questions they're sure to be asked between now and November.

And Poor Mia Jones, minority leader pro tempore, was so flummoxed by the eleventh hour harangue on the House floor that she voted "up," or "yes" for everything -- for Thurston's amendment and later for HB 89.

Thurston also knew Alan Williams had worked on Stand-Your-Ground repeal legislation literally for years. Williams introduced his bill last year in a six-hour marathon meeting. What a slap in the face that Thurston would push Williams aside Thursday to disrupt HB 89 -- nicknamed "the warning shot bill" -- and introduce the repeal amendment himself.

And he knew the warning shot bill was bipartisan -- that Republican Neil Combee wasn't the only bill sponsor; Democrat Katie Edwards was, too. In fact, Edwards has been working on HB 89 since July 2013. Have a look at Edwards' comments about the bill during a Florida Channel interview. The bill may not exist today if she hadn't telephoned Judiciary Committee Chairman Dennis Baxley last year to tell him the Legislature had to address threatened use of force.

Right on schedule, of course, Thurston's amendment failed; he got his political exposure and the caucus' liberal-moderate split grew more pronounced.

Darryl Rouson -- until September 2013 a hair away from becoming caucus leader himself -- was one of the 12 members who voted against repeal.

"Initially, I might have thought about repeal," Rouson told Sunshine State News on Friday. "But I landed on the side of clarify and repair. I happen to know black men and women gun owners who believe if somebody invades their home and threatens them, they want to be able to shoot them right between their eyeballs. They don't favor repeal."

Rouson said Stand Your Ground, as expanded in 2005, was confusing. It resulted in misapplication. The warning shot bill is not perfect, it doesn't go far enough, he said, "but I've challenged the author of HB 89 to go back after the session and take another crack at it."

Both Rouson and Edwards, like Republican Matt Gaetz on the House floor, reminded me that an overwhelming number of Floridians -- Republicans and Democrats both -- like Stand Your Ground and want to keep it.

To clarify, HB 89 was introduced in response to the case of Marissa Alexander, who received a 20-year sentence after being caught up in Floridas 10-20-Life statute when she fired a warning shot to ward off her abusive, estranged husband. After serving 21 months, an appeals court has granted Alexander a new trial.

House Democrats who defied their leader by voting against his amendment Thursday were Karen Castor Dentel, of Orlando; Michael Clelland, of Lake Mary; Mark Danish, of Tampa; Dwight Dudley, of St. Petersburg; Edwards, of Plantation; Dave Kerner, of Lake Worth; Jared Moskowitz, of Coral Springs; Amanda Murphy, of New Port Richey; Jose Javier Rodriguez, of Miami; Rouson, of St. Petersburg; Irv Slosberg, of Boca Raton; and Carl Zimmermann, of Palm Harbor.

Two Dems missed the vote: Elaine Schwartz of Hollywood, and Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee.

For me, the bottom line is this: Perry Thurston may have been a fine leader of the Democratic Caucus before Thursday and he may be after. But on this day, in this important setting, the commander put his own needs -- adding splash-and-dash to his campaign -- ahead of his troops', handed them a paralyzing morning-coffee surprise, wasted their time, and abruptly left the House chamber for the airport and his flight home, having delayed everybody else's.

That's not leadership.Thursday's meeting was hard to watch.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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