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Update - Thurston: Cannon tried to make a deal to win bi-partisan support for court bill

House Speaker Dean Cannon’s attempt to play hardball on the budget Monday with his top priority court reform bill wasn't the first time the speaker has used political pressure and deal-making to advance his priority bill.

Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation, the incoming Democratic leader, told the Herald/Times Monday that Cannon called him into his office April 12, two days before the court reform bill was to be debated on the House floor.

He wanted to know if Thurston, as incoming Democratic leader, and the Democratic caucus “could get him 10 to 15 votes for his court packing bill, and five people to speak on behalf of it,” Thurston said. “He said your ability to deliver will affect redistricting and the budget.’’

Thurston told him he would consult with his members and respond. Thurston consulted with Reps. Jim Waldman, Franklin Sands, Mark Pafford, Richard Steinberg, Mia Jones and Democratic Leader Ron Saunders.

“Several members said we should go to the press but we decided not to – this was a negotiation, what was he willing to offer?’’ Thurston recalled.

He met back with Cannon at his Capitol office later that night -- after Thurston and Rep. Jim Waldman had dinner and Cannon had been home “to tuck in his kids.”

Thurston said the offer from Cannon came back: “You get back in my good will,’’ a reference to Thurston’s critical press release calling Cannon’s court reform plan “a veiled attack on the third branch of government.”

Cannon explained that the attempt to bring the matter before voters would happen during the August state primary, not the February presidential primary, thereby ensuring that the new judges named to the bench wouldn’t be in place before the redistricting maps go before them, Thurston recalled.

Thurston left and called the next day telling Cannon: no deal. “It would not be in the best interest of the people of the state of Florida for us to support this bill,’’ he said.

Cannon asked them for a counter offer and Thurston said he responded, “Sorry, but no.” Cannon has since barred Thurston, the House Democrats' chosen lead legislator on redistricting matters, from the redistricting committee.

Cannon told the Herald/Times that Thurston is just mad because he failed to get his paperwork in on time to meet the committee appointment deadline. It's a charge Thurston denies. He did not deny that he offered Thurston a deal.

“There are 120 members and I don’t have time to babysit those who can’t follow simple instructions, particularly someone who is supposed to be his party's leader in less than two years,'' Cannon wrote. "Rep. Thurston missed a deadline and is now trying to blame others. That's embarrassing.”

As Cannon negotiated with Thurston, several members of the Democratic Party were being contacted by outside pro-voucher organizations urging them to support Cannon’s bill because they feared their bills wouldn’t get heard, Thurston and Waldman said. The Democrat's response: to take a caucus position, urging members to vote in bloc against Cannon’s bill.

“We’re looking at unnecessarily heavy-handed dictates by leadership trying to push this Supreme Court-packing agenda,’’ Thurston said. “Quite, frankly, the people of the State of Florida deserve better.”

Cannon has since barred Thurston, the Democrat’s chosen lead legislator on redistricting matters, from the redistricting committee. Waldman, another vocal critic of the court reform bill, was also not appointed to the committee.

Said Waldman: “It’s a sign of disrespect not to have Perry, the incoming leader, on the committee,’’ he said. "Our members will be fine, but we should be allowed to have our chosen leader on it."