Columns

Perry Thurston's Lamentable Leadership Lapse

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: March 22, 2014 3:55 AM
Perry Thurston

Perry Thurston

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 to House 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 knew grandstanding over Stand Your Ground was a good move for any "notice-me" political campaign.

He knew the 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.

Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith

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 Florida’s 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 nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.


Comments (8)

Jessie
7:45AM MAR 23RD 2014
The Bible and the Constitution should be the extent of any laws Americans need to government themselves, I say again "themselves". But thanks to all the whiners, they've turned people into sheep to be led.
Frank
10:32AM MAR 24TH 2014
Gee . . . . just exactly what is it that you don't understand about the non-imposition of your particular religious beliefs (i.e. the Bible) in the American brand of democracy . . . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
Billy Boy
10:48AM MAR 22ND 2014
Political leaders, I use that loosely, at their worst. Putting their own goals ahead of the citizens of the state. I'm a florida democrat and while i'm 100% for common sense gun control, i also believe that we have a right to protect ourselves.
Susie Copeland
9:26AM MAR 22ND 2014
I am a democratic and I totally support repeal of Stand your Ground, I don't know of any democrat who supports SYG, at least in my circle. I would love to know the names of those Dems who support it.
Repubtallygirl
1:59PM MAR 24TH 2014
How about these Democrats??
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.
Rich7553
7:49PM MAR 22ND 2014
Susie Copeland, would that be the "circle of potential victims"? Don't hold your breath. SYG isn't going anywhere.
mike33901
8:48PM MAR 23RD 2014
Rich, you have my pity. I cannot imagine how terrible it must be to go through life scared of your shadow
Repubtallygirl
1:57PM MAR 24TH 2014
Nonsense, why should he be scared? He is carrying. (pssstt...there are over 1.5 million of us here in FL who carry everyday!)

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