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Smith, Thurston take over as Democratic leaders at Capitol

In separate ceremonies in the historic Old Capitol Monday, Senate and House Democrats elected their leaders for the new term: Sen. Chris Smith and Rep. Perry Thurston, both of Fort Lauderdale.

Senate President-designate Don Gaetz and other GOP senators were on hand for the late afternoon event, and two busloads of community activists made the seven-hour trip from Broward County to witness the ceremonies. 

Smith, a lawyer, was elected to the House in 1998 and the Senate in 2008. He listed three priorities: improving Florida's schools, implementing President Obama's health care act and reducing the burden of high property insurance premiums on homeowners. His reference to Obamacare brought loud cheers from the audience.

"The election is over," Smith said, referring to Obamacare. "The issue has been deliberated, debated, litigated and procrastinated. Now it is time to be implemented."

Smith leads a 14-member Senate Democratic Caucus, following the party's pickup of two seats in the recent election. The bow-tied senator joked proudly about the presence of his hometown cheering section which he called the "Sistrunk Mafia," a reference to the historic boulevard that runs through the heart of the Fort Lauderdale African-American community.

-- Steve Bousquet