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Gay marriage not mentioned during Bondi's private inaugural celebration

Attorney General Pam Bondi talks a good game when it comes to open government.

On the state’s AG website, Bondi is quoted as saying: “In Florida, transparency is not up to the whim or grace of public officials. Instead, it is an enforceable right.”

But when Bondi celebrated her inauguration to a second term Monday night at the exclusive Governor’s Club, she was hardly a paragon of public openness. Attendees were limited to those family, friends and supporters on the invite list, said her campaign spokesman, Trey Stapleton.

When the Times/Herald asked Monday afternoon if it could attend, Stapleton provided this as an excuse as to why this was not possible: There were too many RSVPs and not enough space in the Governor’s Club to allow even one more person inside, even if that person, a reporter, wasn’t going to dine or drink with the other guests.

If the reporter couldn’t attend, the Times/Herald asked, what about a copy of the guest lists of those who are attending? Stapleton late Monday afternoon said he would check, but couldn’t make any promises. Doesn’t the public have a right to know who’s attending the Attorney General’s inaugural celebration, even if it is held at a private club? Again, Stapleton said he’d check and find out.

By the time the party started at 8 p.m., Stapleton hadn’t gotten back to the Times/Herald, so the reporter went to the Governor’s Club.

It wasn’t like Monday wasn’t a big news day. That morning, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted the legal stay she had placed on her July decision declaring the ban on gay marriage discriminatory, meaning gay couples could marry. Starting Tuesday, many other counties, including Bondi’s hometown county of Hillsborough, started to allow gay couples to get married.

So Bondi’s office and Stapleton were sent questions hours before Monday night’s celebration at the Governor’s Club asking if Bondi could answer them. With these latest developments, what does Bondi plan to do next? She’s defended the state’s 2008 ban on gay marriage. Currently, she has an appeal at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to uphold the ban. Does she plan on dropping the appeal?

But Bondi has been far from transparent about what she plans on this matter. Monday was no different, as her office issued only this statement when asked what was happening next: “The judge has ruled, and we wish these couple the best.”

Perhaps one reason for the avoidance was that the Republican Party of Florida, which was sponsoring Bondi’s Governor’s Club celebration, had moved on. Many of the state’s Republican leaders, including Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, didn’t respond to questions seeking their reaction to Monday’s news. Gov. Rick Scott said it was up to Bondi to decide what to do next.

This ambivalence was new for a party that had contributed at least $300,000 in 2006 in getting the gay marriage ban on the 2008 ballot. Those attending Bondi’s celebration Monday night offered opinions that suggest the Republicans are now resigned that gay marriage is unavoidable.

Before walking in to celebrate with Bondi, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Tampa, provided some insight into the GOP’s current position on the issue. He was Senate president when the RPOF was contributing to the effort to get the ban on the 2008 ballot. Although he said he still supports it, he added that he thought there was very little that could be done about it anymore and that he was no longer interested in pursuing other options.

“Democracy seems to be working this out,” Lee said. “Should Florida keep fighting? I don’t know. It’s kind of deep stuff that is very technical from a legal perspective. And I’m no lawyer.”

He certainly wasn’t going to question Bondi’s handling of the issue. Neither was another attendee, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. Having served as Senate president during the 2013 and 2014 sessions, Gaetz said he was a supporter of the ban.

“I’m not comfortable with the gay lifestyle,” Gaetz said.

But he added that he thinks the fight on gay marriage, which he doesn’t support, is over.

“It’s been decided by the courts,” he said. “They played a proper constitutional role.”

Gaetz said he wasn’t going to pressure Bondi to drop the appeal, however.

“I’m not going to tell her,” Gaetz said.

Even the few Democrats who attended Bondi’s fete, said Monday night was not the night.

“Not tonight,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “Tonight is a celebration of getting sworn in. Later in the week, that’s when we will delve into the issues.”

As doormen waved in guests who were on the list, they turned away those, including the Times/Herald, that weren’t on the list. A jazz band played most of the night, but later a second band, playing Motown hits, started up. Shut out from listening what Bondi was telling her supporters, the reporter was able to hear Bondi give a brief speech at about 9 p.m. Bondi, speaking with a microphone, could be heard from the street below.

“We are going to fight bullying,” she declared. “That’s what we’re going to fight for the next four years.”

Bondi mentioned her battle against drugs, her support for consumer protection and supporting “our good businesses.”

It was a quick speech, and after thanking her political staff, she declared: “We’re still just getting started.”

But she made no mention about the big legal news of the day: Gay couples can now marry in Florida.

As guests left, they were asked if Bondi had mentioned anything about gay marriage.

No, she had not, they reported back. Not tonight.

Bondi left the party at about 9:30 p.m., Stapleton said.

But the band played on.

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