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Thurston beats Gibbons for House Democratic leader

In a contest between a pair of Broward County lawmakers, Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation defeated Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach Tuesday to win the post of House Democratic leader for the 2012-2014 term.  The vote was 28 to 11, as Thurston, a Broward County defense lawyer, got three more votes than the 25 he predicted he would receive.

The 39-member House Democratic caucus assembled over the lunch hour and members cast secret ballots for the race to succeed Rep. Ron Saunders of Key West.

Thurston and Gibbons, his vanquished foe, embraced briefly after the vote in a gesture of unity. Thurston now faces the daunting task of raising money and recruiting candidates for the House heading into a reapportionment cycle, when all 120 House districts will be redrawn.

"I'm humbled by the confidence that you, my colleagues have shown in me," Thurston said, "but I'm equally excited at the challenge your confidence has bestowed." Thurston nearly won the minority leader's post two years ago, losing to Saunders by two votes.

Just before the vote result was announced, Democrats disagreed over whether to take a unified caucus position in opposition to a bill reducing jobless benefits to the unemployed -- the first major bill to get to the House floor. Several members urged a delay, but with two labor union leaders in the room, the caucus took a voice vote in favor of a bloc-vote against the bill. 

-- Steve Bousquet