Democrats fail again on guns while ignoring political realities … Explanations needed


Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) is right about a lot of things, but not his position or tactics regarding guns

As my colleague Ryan Ray demonstrated again on Friday, the Democrats in the Florida House of Representatives failed on the gun issue once again. The gun lobby year after year finds new creative ways to chip away at any restrictions on ownership or use of firearms in this state, and year after year they find Democrats from liberal areas willing to help them.

The premise that Democrats must vote to liberalize gun laws in most districts currently represented by members of the party is completely flawed. In the mid 1990s Democrats represented most of the rural districts in the State House. In these seats, voting against the gun lobby would indeed be politically foolish though personally courageous. Two decades later Dems do not represent a single rural district in the House. Yet this past Thursday, on three different floor votes, at least a dozen Democrats crossed over and voted with the right-wing gun lobby. Why?

Before we get to looking at specific current House Democrats who have crossed the line on this issue, a little history

In the mid ’90s, as conservatism was surging around the country, Florida was being overrun by those who were more interested in pushing ideology than good public policy. In 1994, Jeb Bush embraced the NRA mantra accusing Lawton Chiles of being soft on crime — and then lost in his bid to unseat Chiles. In 1996, Bill Clinton touted his strong record on gun control and he crushed GOP nominee Bob Dole who was closely allied with the NRA. In 2000, Bill Nelson defeated Congressman Bill McCollum, one of the NRA’s most celebrated champions in Congress, for election to the US Senate. Also that year Al Gore ran the most pro-gun control campaign in the history of the United States Presidential Elections: Gore was denied Florida’s electoral votes by court intervention and other political games, but he was without question the choice of the majority of Floridians who turned out on November 7. While Gore’s strong stand in favor of gun control likely cost him New Hampshire, West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee (all of which had voted Democratic in 1992 & 1996) it probably won him Florida.

President Obama twice carried Florida while being perceived (perhaps wrongly) as a strong advocate of gun control. This seems lost on many Democrats, even though all but three current caucus members sit in districts the President carried in 2012. The nine Republicans who sit in districts carried by the President in 2012 all voted with the gun lobby on the floor votes Tuesday.

Chiles, Clinton, Nelson, Obama and Gore all won the majority of urbanized I-4 corridor counties, yet legislators representing those counties often times sat at the forefront of any NRA-led effort to weaken Florida’s gun laws. Republican legislators, aided by weak-willed Democratic allies, literally proved they could not read policy papers, studies about crime rates, poll numbers or election results. The only sources of information that mattered to them were the GOP platform and NRA (and Unified Sportsmen of Florida) legislative bulletins.

This process has intensified recently with Democrats. For the votes on Thursday let’s excuse first off Rep. Mike Clelland from Seminole County who represents a very difficult district and a member I understand was given the freedom to vote the way he needed to in order to try and compete for reelection.

I will give partial passes to five other House Democrats. First off, Rep. Carl Zimmerman, who represents a Republican-oriented district in northern Pinellas County. Zimmerman is facing a very difficult reelection fight and he may think he needs to cast this vote to increase his chance of survival. However, in the past the areas Zimmerman currently represent have elected Republicans who have actually voted for gun control legislation.

Secondly, Rep. Katie Edwards, who in fairness has no excuse for voting the way she does based on the liberal bent of the Broward County district she represents. But Rep. Edwards has never hid her views on firearms, and I respect a member who votes based on personal conviction and is honest about where she stands far more than others who make excuses for how they vote or do it based solely for reasons related to the internal politics of the body.

Rep. Amanda Murphy got elected from a somewhat conservative Pasco district in a special election. While her district is more liberal than Rep. Zimmerman’s district, it is similar in demographics and thus I can see a case for voting the way she did.

Rep. Karen Castor-Dentel voted wrong on HB 89 but she is also in a tough reelection fight. More importantly, she voted correctly on a leadership amendment (which we will discuss shortly) and on HB 7029 which was another bad gun bill related to schools. Rep. Larry Lee represents an area (St Lucie County) that has never supported gun control legislation, yet like Castor-Dentel he voted correctly on two of three roll call votes on the floor. Lee’s area though is growing more liberal with time, but historically it is not an area where you cast a vote against a gun bill.

That leads us to the rest of caucus. Most importantly, Rep. Darryl Rouson, whose removal as Democratic Leader-designee last year seems to have created a lasting division in the caucus. On Thursday. Rouson confronted on the floor his own Leader, Rep. Perry Thurston. Thurston had offered a common-sense amendment to the expansion of Stand Your Ground (HB 89). Rouson in an open defiance which would not be tolerated by Democrats in Congress let’s say, attempted to humiliate the leader in front of TV cameras, reporters and ultimately the citizens of the state. When Thurston’s amendment came to a vote, a large segment of the bloc that had backed Rouson for Leader voted AGAINST their current leader and with the Republican leadership and Governor Scott. Again, such a show of defiance would be crushed were it to happen against Minority Leader Pelosi in the Congress on the floor.

On final passage of the bill even more Democrats crossed over, and then on passage of another piece of gun legislation the majority of the Democrats in the House voted the wrong way. From liberal Broward County, Rep. Rick Stark was the only white Democrat to NOT cross over and support the Republican/NRA position on HB 89. As a Broward resident, I thank Rep. Stark for his vote but am infuriated by the other white members of the caucus.

We at TFS would love to hear explanations from the Democratic House members from urban and suburban areas that voted the way they did. Is it simply because these legislators want to have bills passed by a GOP House and feel they should “trade” votes? Do they feel that past gun control measures have failed and thus they need to go in another direction? Is it due to internal Democratic Caucus politics, as I suspect it might be? Or do they simply not know what they are doing out there?


Rather than list who crossed over, a shorter and easier list is those Democrats who held the line and voted against the wishes of the extremist gun lobby on all three votes Thursday. The list is below and we would hope our readers would thank each of these Reps. for their courage if they get the opportunity. Below that, we are listing those who held the line on two of the three votes Thursday.
We do not seek to impugn the integrity of those Democrats not on the below list, or any of the six members I exempted above. But again, we would love to hear explanations for the vote from the members that crossed over in the comments or by reaching out personally.


Members who voted against the gun lobby on all three votes Thursday:
Rep. Lori Berman
Rep. Randolph Bracy
Rep. Janet Cruz
Rep. Joe Gibbons
Rep. Kionne McGhee
Democratic Leader-designee Rep. Mark Pafford
Rep. Ricardo Rangel
Rep. David Richardson
Rep. Hazelle Rogers
Rep. Cynthia Stafford
Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston
Rep. Barbara Watson
Rep. Clovis Watson
Members who voted against the gun lobby on two of three votes Thursday:
Rep. Karen Castor-Dentel
Rep. Gwen Clarke-Reed
Rep. Reggie Fullwood
Rep. Larry Lee
Rep. Bobby Powell
Rep. Kevin Rader
Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez
Rep. Joe Saunders
Rep. Rick Stark
Rep. Dwayne Taylor
Rep. Victor Torres
With Rep. Elaine Schwartz and Rep. Michelle Rewinkel-Vasilinda missing the votes Thursday, that means only 23 of 43 present  House Democrats opposed the NRA and the GOP leadership on the majority of floor votes. Again, we would love to hear explanations from the rest of the caucus.


  1. So basically you are saying only celebrities, bankers, and politicians should have the right to self defense.


  2. shewolf884 · · Reply

    Well, this is Flori-duh, after all and if these folks don’t have guns, they can’t really feel manly and powerful. Those so called “responsible gun owners” who are killing innocent children or family, think that those deaths are just collateral damage. I call BS on them, the politicians with no guts, the gun lobby and any gun owners who think this is OK. BTW, I am a gun owner as is my husband, and we think these losses are totally unacceptable and must be stopped. The NRA has become the handmaiden/mistress of the Gun lobby and do their bidding, not what most of their members have requested. And the politicians who follow the NRA’s biddings are now OWNED by them and no longer listen to the people who voted for them.

    I, for one, will remember the folks above the next time I vote and thank each one for their votes AGAINST.


  3. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    While this is a great piece from a propaganda standpoint one thing kartik knows yet absolutely fails to mention is that the strong advocacy of gun control by Clinton and Chiles is what flipped the legislature here and congressional seats throughout the south. The Gingrich Revolution happened because Clinton forced gun control measures far and wide. Brady Law, Crime Bill, Assault Weapons Ban. He didn’t stop. He was nuts on this and we payed the price and have been a minority since.


    1. While this is partially true, A lot of suburban/urban Republicans crossed over on all these votes (including Florida’s Bill Young and E. Clay Shaw) in order to hold their seats. In today’s climate, Republicans representing Clinton/Obama seats would vote with the NRA, thus giving Ds an election issue. Yes Clinton’s pushing of gun control did flip a number of rural southern seats where Republicans had never won post Carpetbagger rule of the 1870s. But still, the net gain for the Ds was that Clinton re-alligned the suburbs which had been Nixon/Ford/Reagan/Bush territory from 1968 to 1992 into safe Dem areas in Presidential elections since. So gun control worked and by the way, Florida has voted more D in Presidential elections post Clinton’s aggressive gun safety legislation than before.


  4. While I agree with the sentiments of this piece kartik you know that Thurston is a BAD leader.

    His decision to offer an amendment to this SYG expansion knowing half his caucus opposed him and then his failure to get many to back him absolutely smacks of his weakness.

    The party and the party caucus are becoming obsolete post Rouson ouster. Members are all on their own.

    Things are disastrous.


  5. I don’t think the HB 7029 vote matters honestly. But on HB 89 you are spot on and the Ds that crossed over on those votes need to be held accountable.

    My rep Jared Moskowitz has a HORRIBLE record on everything. If people really knew his record he’d lose a primary.


    1. Because of his daddy people are afraid to challenge him. Not to mention that he is one of Ron Book’s whores. The sad fact is that he doesn’t even want to be in Tallahassee. Check out his attendance record in committees.


  6. Love this site and this may be the best piece yet.

    This needs to be plastered all over DEC message boards etc throughout the state!


  7. Rouson is a former GOPer whose views on issues have never been clear.

    It is possible now liberated from the shackles of leadership he’s voting his conscience. Much like Katie Edwards whose constant right-wing votes you want to excuse.

    Thruston is right on the issue but wrong on tactics. He did this on purpose to embarras Rouson and his opponents in the caucus.


    1. RE: Rouson he has a great story and I think he can be helpful to our party even in the future. But I do not like how he handled himself Thursday at all.


  8. Fla Dem Insider · · Reply

    Kartik you are right on this. Rouson is acting like a jilted bitter and angry sore loser.

    As for your list of exempt Ds only Clelland and Zimmerman represent districts Mitt Romney won.

    I don’t buy any excuse for the rest. Obama carried their districts and in the case of Katie Edwards R-Broward by a very wide margin. She ought to switch parties and see how long she’d last in that district.


    1. She should switch parties? I don’t think a lot of her views on social issues would fit in the GOP caucus. I do agree her views on guns and environmental issues are troubling but as I said at least she’s honest about them unlike some of the other members I encounter.


  9. The Legislature flipped due to redistricting and older members retiring; flipping to collect promises from the GOP. It’s patently outrageous, that after the murder of Jordan Davis and the Chad Oulson, who was killed in a movie theater, we couldn’t make changes to the license to kill that is the Stand Your Ground Law. However, supporters of gun safety should stop talking about gun “control,” “restrictions” and “bans” (unless we actually want to ban guns outright, which I think few do, or certain weapons, in which case we should be specific, ie, cop killer bullets, assault rifles). It is far more effective and to the point, to address these issues as “gun safety,” efforts.


    1. I would argue the realignment of the suburbs on the Presidential level beginning with the 1996 election had much to do with Clinton’s aggressive pushing of gun safety measures. Clinton also won the state of Florida by a larger percentage than any Democrat since FDP that year. That was even though the GOP made guns the largest part of their campaign that year.


  10. Moskowitz and Waldman are bad news. Trading votes for favors. Katie Edwards despite Kartik’s really pathetic justification of her is awful. I wish she was a republican. Hey K, good article except for that and the failure to actually list the names of those who voted wrong!


  11. […] discussed at length the floor debate on two bills related to firearms from last Thursday. As we discussed Democratic […]


  12. […] bills were an ideological mire for Democrats. And for Republicans, it was another opportunity to manipulate the very real and […]


  13. […] House Democrats though had good scores from the NRA, something that  bothers us but  since we have spoken at length about previously , we have no need to rehash these concerns […]


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