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Politics

Weekly Roundup: Celebration and Tragedy in Tallahassee

November 21, 2014 - 6:00pm

A week that began with scripted formality ended with an event for which no one can write a script.

Monday and Tuesday brought a sort of celebration to Tallahassee, as members of the House and Senate gathered to officially elect their leaders and set in motion the next two-year term of the Legislature. Well, at least Republicans were celebrating, as they moved to formally swear in a two-thirds majority in the House and prepare for the inauguration of Gov. Rick Scott for a second term.

If there was any positive feeling on the Democratic side of the aisle, it might have been relief. Senate Democrats dodged the fate of their House counterparts, clinging to enough seats to avoid irrelevance. And nothing more than battered feelings ultimately came of a threatened rebellion against House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

Then came the early hours of Thursday, when an attorney who graduated from Florida State University in 2005 opened fire at the campus library, injuring three people, including one critically, before he was killed by police. Classes reopened a day later, but it was a solemn and shocking end to the week.

SPOILER ALERT: LEADERS STILL WON

House Democrats were set up for a showdown Monday, after Rep. Dwayne Taylor of Daytona Beach had threatened to challenge Pafford for the right to lead the minority caucus during the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions. Taylor based his case on the loss of six Democratic seats in this month's elections, giving the GOP a free hand in how it runs the House for the next two years.

But after some strong pushback, including a comment by Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant that those backing Taylor were "bed-wetters" who "need to shut up," Taylor announced he wouldn't run because he couldn't work with the party's leadership.

That set the stage for a less-gripping if still-tense caucus meeting Monday evening. Despite the infighting, Democrats tried to say they had come together.

"We have many differences amongst us," said Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens. "But we are united behind Mark Pafford this evening."

Signs of division still remained, including in a speech by Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg -- himself pushed out as Democratic leader after a fundraising clash with Tant -- that took a not-so-subtle swipe at the state party chairwoman.


"We were not elected to come here and be told to shut up," Rouson said.

A Republican vote, and the full chamber vote that followed Tuesday, were less dramatic. Rep. Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who rose to be in line for the top spot after a surprise election loss in 2012 by former Rep. Chris Dorworth, was officially named House speaker.

Crisafulli promised to respect all members equally, regardless of their party, but also tried to take an early stand against any Democratic shenanigans.

"I absolutely welcome robust debate on the issues between the majority and the minority parties," he said. "But I expect honesty and respectful discourse. We can all agree on so many of the issues that come before us in this chamber. So let's not play games and score political points; let's get it done for the constituents that elected us to represent them."

Across the way, Republican Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando was officially tapped for the Senate presidency.

Gardiner, a triathlete and father of three, was lauded by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, as a "servant leader" who will be able to unite Republicans and Democrats in the GOP-dominated chamber as lawmakers grapple with health care, education spending and other high-profile issues during the legislative session that begins in March.

"The Senate is in really good hands, folks. The state of Florida is in incredible hands because Sen. Gardiner will put families first before politics, and that's what we need in the Senate and the state of Florida," said Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

Gardiner, first elected to the House in 2000 and to the Senate in 2008, said he intends to shrink Senate committees, meaning senators will have fewer committee assignments.

"What I really envision is for (committees) to be smaller so that there will be close votes. I think that that's good. It empowers the minority. You may have a committee where it's a 5-4 vote," Gardiner told reporters. "The ideal thing would be for members to be on five or six committees and they know that they really have the opportunity to participate and really become a leader on them."

TRAGEDY AT FSU:

The rest of the week was supposed to be relatively calm in Tallahassee, with lawmakers leaving until early 2015 and the holidays right around the corner. But that was before a shooter, who police identified as Myron May, showed up at Florida State University's Strozier Library shortly after midnight and opened fire.

May died after being shot by university and Tallahassee police who responded to the scene, according to Tallahassee police chief Michael DeLeo.

"Mr. May was in a state of crisis," DeLeo said. "We have not found any information at this time to indicate why he chose this morning to act, or why he chose the Strozier Library as the place for his actions. Based on all our evidence at this time, we continue to believe that Mr. May acted alone, and there is no further threat to the students, the university, the workers or the community."

The story did reach into the Legislature, sometimes in unexpected ways. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and Florida State graduate, said on Twitter that May was an FSU student senator in 2002.

"Shocked that Myron May has been identified as the FSU shooter,'' Gaetz tweeted. "I knew him in undergrad. He was so kind. This is just awful for everyone."

Meanwhile, former Sen. John Thrasher was confronted with the crisis not long after taking the job as FSU's president.

"We are going to get back to normal tomorrow," Thrasher promised during a Thursday news conference. "Were moving ahead and continuing to pray for the victims and Florida State University, but we are going to get through this with the great family we have."

May, 31, had returned to Florida in recent weeks from Texas, where he graduated from the law school at Texas Tech University in 2009 and practiced law. He'd shown up twice in FSU police records, Perry said, once on suspicion of using marijuana in 2002 and as the victim of a vehicle burglary in 2003.

But a journal May kept and his recent postings on Facebook showed that "Mr. Mays sense of being and place in our community was not what most people would refer to as a normal status," DeLeo said. "He was in a sense of crisis, and he was searching for something.

Students returned to class Friday. Thrasher and Provost Garnett Stokes welcomed students at the doors of Strozier Library, while Thrasher praised a prompt response that likely saved lives. That included praising Dean of University Libraries Julia Zimmerman, whose security measures prevented the gunman from getting past the lobby of Strozier, where 450 students were studying at the time.

STORY OF THE WEEK: A gunman injured three people, including one critically, before being killed by police officers at Strozier Library at Florida State University.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Normalcy is a funny word, and I dont know that well get back to it or ever forget. But at least I think from a standpoint of some of the things that went on yesterday, I think our campus is alive and well and working toward the goals of being a great university." -- Florida State University President John Thrasher.

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