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Behind the prison wars, Bullard got pushed, then protected

Tampa Bay Times reporter Lucy Morgan chronicles the tactics used behind the scene during last week's prison privatization push. Here's her column:

What are things in the Florida Legislature coming to when one senator needs protection to walk on the Senate floor?

The debate over privatizing much of Florida's prison system last week probably marks one of the few times a couple of senators provided an escort for one of their colleagues — from the opposing political party, no less.

It attracted little attention last week when Sens. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, and Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, walked onto the Senate floor before the debate on privatizing prisons with Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, between them.

Bullard, who has been seriously ill with a recurring heart condition, had been in tears after days of pressure from Senate leaders and lobbyists who wanted her to be the deciding vote in favor of a bill that would have privatized 27 South Florida prisons.

"I told everyone to leave her alone,'' recalled Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston. "Stress is not good for her. ''

Bullard ultimately withstood the pressure and voted against the bill. The 21-19 vote against privatizing South Florida prisons was a rare defeat for the Senate leadership. In the Legislature, bills are rarely brought up for a vote by the full House or Senate unless the leaders are certain of victory.

This defeat was a particular public embarrassment for its supporters, who included Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne; incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville; Rules chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine; and Budget Committee Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

They don't take defeat well. More here.