Election-year politics play out on House floor
House Speaker Marco Rubio made a highly unusual move moments ago -- one that cut to the heart of South Florida politics -- when he held up a procedural vote on a resolution supporting a free trade agreement with Colombia.
The reason: Democratic Rep. Luis Garcia of Miami Beach was not in the chamber. Rubio, R-Miami, asked for a sergeant to go find Garcia.
Members often miss votes, but Rubio wanted Garcia around. Perhaps he thought Garcia was ducking the sensitive issue. Perhaps he wanted to put Garcia, who snatched a Republican seat in 2006 and is up for re-election in November, on record opposing the measure.
After all that, Garcia voted with Republicans and later said, "I think that definitely was something done to embarrass me."
The Democrats only blocked a vote today; the resolution will come up tomorrow.
Outside the chamber, Colombian officials surrounded Democratic Rep. Mike Scionti of Tampa and House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber, pressing them to explain what happened. Gelber said his party did not want to rush a decision on a foreign policy issue. "I want to give them a chance to talk to whoever informs their decisions so they don't make a vote without that information."
Gelber refused to assign any motive to Rubio's action but said he had never seen that happen before. "I did not think it was appropriate. We have had plenty of moments in the Legislature where people were not on the floor."
But bill sponsor Juan Zapata, who was born in Colombia, said he has talked with Gelber about the issue since last October. "They are playing politics with an issue that is important to Floridians," Zapata said. "The only part of our economy that is growing is international trade. And here we have the opportunity to increase that and they are voting against it."
Meanwhile, Garcia denied he took a walk. He said he was in his office, looking for his legislative pin. He said he heard his name on TV and rushed to the chamber.
He said he thinks it was another politically-motivated move against him this session. He claimed several bills have been taken from him, including one to compensate Alan Crotzer, the man who spent 24 years in prison on a bum rape charge. Garcia won a seat formerly held by Republican Gus Barreiro. House Republicans had recruited Barreiro to seek another term. But he recently got a job with the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Garcia said he votes his district, which includes many Colombians. After pushing his button he went over to Rubio and. "I said, 'Hey man, I was upstairs.' He said, 'Well I wanted to give you a chance to vote.' I said ... 'Thank you very much.' "
You wouldn't sense any tension from this picture, as Garcia, Rubio and others look up at reporters watching the gathering.