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Members of the legislature's tea party caucus meet for first time

Still stoked after an afternoon of rallies, tea party activists from around the state gathered in the old capitol building to meet the 13 inaugural members of the Florida legislature's tea party caucus. Rep. Mike Weinstein, a Republican from Orange Park, organized the event.

"You give us the political coverage to do what's right because there will be people up here who ask us not to do it because it hurts them individually," Weinstein told the crowd. This group, he said, will do what's best for Florida and the country. He predicted the Florida caucus would become a model for other states. Weinstein said he wants tea party leaders to communicate with the caucus once a week and meet in Tallahassee twice more before the end of the session.  "We will listen and we will respond as best we can," he pledged.

Among the 12 legislators who stood with Weinstein were Matt Caldwell from Fort Myers, Janet Adkins from Fernandina Beach and Scott Plakon from Longwood. Charles Van Zant, from Palatka, got huge applause when he told the crowd he had introduced bills to put prayer back in schools and ban all abortions in Florida. The only Democrat there was Ron Saunders from Key West, who is the House Democratic leader. Saunder elicited cheers when he said he had voted against high speed rail and higher motor vehicle fees. Saunders said that even though he's a Democrat, if he'll back tea party ideas he agrees with. Others there: Ben Albritton, Mike Bileca, Lake Ray, Paige Kreegel, Fred Costello and Larry Metz.

Weinstein said many more lawmakers expressed an interest in the tea party caucus, and he predicted more would participate.

"If we do this correctly I think we can get at a minimum every Republican in this caucus and perhaps one or two more Democrats," he said.

Michael Caprio, a tea party activist from Tampa, said he liked the idea of the caucus. "It puts a more direct line between the tea party and the Tallahasee legislators. We can connect with them as a group instead of having to speak with them individually," he said.