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On SYG, Democrats no match for Republican unity

Friday came and went without Democrats filing the necessary 32 letters, a first step state law requires from lawmakers for a special session on Florida’s stand your ground law.

They have until October to get the letters in, but the House Democratic Leader, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, predicted last week that at least 32 letters would be filed at the Secretary of State’s office by now, enough to trigger a poll of the lawmakers to order a special session. (It's a longshot, with 96 lawmakers needed to agree to it).

Instead, according to Secretary of State spokesman Mark Ard, the department had received 28 letters, all Democrats.

They are:


Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee; Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens; Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana; Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando; Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale; Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach; Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach; Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando; Rep. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes; Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie; Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville; Rep. Sharon Pritchett, D-Miami Gardens; Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach; Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa; Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park; Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami; Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek; Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation; Sen.  Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens; Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua; Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville; Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach; Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton; Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami; Sen. Dwight Bullard, R-Miami.

But wait, aren’t there 58 Democrats in the Legislature? Where are the other 30?

Well, to be fair, again, they have until October. And also, this is vacation time, so many lawmakers have been traveling this past week. At least one lawmaker, Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, had turned in a letter to the House minority office, but it hadn’t been received yet by the Secretary of State’s office. So there are probably more than a few still on their way.

Still, it’s hard to interpret the number of remaining undelivered letters as anything but further confirmation that, at least on the issue of stand your ground, Democrats are far less unified than Republicans. Notice how many Republicans filed a letter? That’s right, zero. And remember how many Democrats voted for stand your ground in 2005? That’s right, 34. Democrats are a long way from being a solid bloc on this issue like the Republicans are.

One name missing from the roll call of Democrats sending in letters was Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami. The 35-year-old attorney was elected for the first time in 2012, but his profile should increase considerably because of the role he’ll play in the stand your ground hearing that will be conducted this fall by the House’s subcommittee on criminal justice. Its chair, Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he plans on giving McGhee major duties because of the research he has done on the law this past year.

McGhee said he waited to do some further research on the law before sending in his letter, which he confirmed Friday had been sent.

“I like to know what I know before I step out there, and that required me to do some research,” McGhee said. At this point, McGhee said he’s calling for a special session only to review the law. He said he doesn’t support changing it or repealing it -- yet.

“You have a law that was supposed to protect people in their homes and vehicles,” McGhee said. “But when you look at the numbers, the majority of the claims are coming from people in common areas. That raises a flag.”

He’s playing nice with Republicans and wouldn’t comment on a vow Gaetz made last week that he wouldn’t change “one damn comma” in the law.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to review his comment,” McGhee said. “To me, it’s not something I pay attention to in terms of reviewing this law in depth. I’m going to try to get to the bottom of it. To me, this issue is not a Democrat or Republican issue.”

Well, that’s true … for Democrats.