The extremist Tallahassee gun lobby is now several years into kicking the dead horse of liberalizing our gun laws. Unified Sportsmen of Florida Executive Director/NRA spirit animal Marion P. Hammer and her legislative surrogates in the Republican majority have ensured that gun control is off the table since the Jeb Bush administration, if not before. Floridians who wish to protect their community by enacting reasonable limits on the number, lethality, and manner of use of guns allowed by law find no quarter in the Florida legislature, and given the confluence of an arrogant RPOF and a callous Governor borne of the 2010 Tea Party wave election, it’s no surprise.
What galls us is the Democratic fellow travelers of this malignant coalition.
Yesterday’s floor debate, such as it was, on House Bills 89 and 7029 exposed the fault lines within the Florida House for all the world to see. Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St Petersburg) the ousted Democratic Leader-designate confronted his own current leader Rep. Perry Thurston (D-Plantation) on the floor. Thurston offered a common-sense amendment to HB 89, which expanded the scope of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. Rouson openly and defiantly sided with the Republicans and the NRA.
On this amendment, Rep. Rouson and several other Democrats, largely from urban areas, crossed party lines and voted with the GOP. Now, the amendment was not going to pass but in days gone by even if a member supported the final passage of a bill they would give their leadership the courtesy of voting for any weakening amendments the minority (Democratic) leadership offered.
But in today’s Democratic caucus, where institutional memory is almost non-existent and trading favors with Republicans is the norm, this should not have been unexpected. We expect Democrats from rural or exurban areas to defect on gun legislation. But we never expected so many Democrats from urban, even liberal urban areas to do so.
We understand internal Democratic caucus politics plays a role in this division, but it is impossible to create a real exchange of ideas and bolster the two-party system in the state when we see these sorts of displays.
Both HB 89 and HB 7029 passed with large bi-partisan majorities. My colleague Kartik Krishnaiyer will have much more on the passage of these bills and the Democrats’ divisions this weekend. But in the meantime it is important to note that the caucus still has not fully recovered from the leadership fight of last year.
Petulance is nothing new in the caucus, but Rep. Rouson took it to a whole new level yesterday. Certainly the bad legislation was going to pass but watching the caucus air its dirty laundry on the House floor was not acceptable.
These two pieces of legislation are classic Tallahassee status quo since the Republicans took over and adopted the same imperious attitude toward the voters that Reps. Matt Gaetz and Jamie Grant took toward Leader Thurston on the floor yesterday. The Democratic legislators that gave these Rs backup in their rhetorical assault on progressive social values are exactly the sort that will be left behind in the new Democratic majority a few cycles down the road.