TALLAHASSEE — A little thing happened in the Florida House two weeks ago. A Democrat from Orlando said "uterus" during a floor debate.
No one much noticed, or cared, until word leaked that Republicans told Democrats they couldn't say the word.
Now people can't stop saying it.
Angry with cuts to education? Democrats say uterus.
Don't like giving Gov. Rick Scott more power? Uterus.
Upset with the way the Legislature is treating unions? Uterus!
The story caught the attention of national media and the legislator, Scott Randolph, made it on Rachel Maddow's cable show.
"Uterus" has a Facebook page, Twitter hashtags and — because it's politics — pink buttons.
But most important, Democrats looking for a unifying theme amid dour legislative prospects have found it in a single, unlikely word.
Why he said it
Randolph, 37, got the idea from his wife.
If she would incorporate her uterus, she said one night over dinner, maybe Republicans would drop 18 antiabortion measures they are considering during the legislative session.
Republicans, after all, are against business regulations.
So March 25, during a debate about union dues collections, Randolph used his time on the floor to make her point.
"It's easy to practice an ideology of convenience," he said. "If my wife incorporated her uterus, you all would say hands off. If my friends incorporated their bedroom, you'd say hands off. But now we're standing here and we're saying we're going to increase regulation on a specific type of membership organization. And that's unions."
Watching, Susannah Randolph said: "Oh my God, I can't believe he used that." Republicans, apparently, couldn't believe it either.
Reaction to the word
Soon after, Randolph was told by the Republican House leadership — through Minority Leader Ron Saunders — that he was not to discuss body parts on the floor.
The reason? Because of the 12-to 14-year-old pages watching.
"The speaker believes it is important for all members to be mindful of and respectful to visitors and guests, particularly the young pages and messengers," said Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon.
In the past, Betta said, if debate was going to contain language that would be considered inappropriate for children, House members would advise people in attendance ahead of time.
Some wondered if Cannon knew uterus to be the word for a woman's womb. He does.
Who declared uterus off-limits in this case, and how strong the scolding was, is up for debate. Saunders said the message came from Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Lopez-Cantera says it wasn't him.
Cannon, for the record, said Wednesday that the word isn't banned and that Randolph and Democrats are playing up the issue. "This is silly," Cannon said. "No. 1, I haven't spoken to Scott Randolph in many weeks. And I think one of the reasons he is probably one of the least effective members of the Democratic caucus is he substitutes things that have provocative value or shock value rather than making policy arguments."
Randolph responded by declaring Cannon the most effective legislator — "when it comes to waging war on middle-class Floridians."
In between the he-said, he-said, uterus talk continues.
'Uterati' strikes back
The Uterus Facebook page has more than 2,500 members, and people have tried to flood the official House of Representatives page with comments — many of which are simply "Uterus!"
"Time to chastise Mr. Speaker Cannon. Apparently he voted for a bill back in 2009 with the word 'utero' in it," someone posted on the Facebook page.
Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, commented: "That is crazy! In front of pages? little children...? OMG!"
Susannah Randolph joked that she's forming a U-PAC to support like-minded candidates, calling the group The Uterati. She's behind an anti-Rick Scott website www.pinksliprick.com and previously ran the campaign of former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.
And the Florida chapter of the ACLU has launched www.incorporatemyuterus.com, where people can — for fun — do just that.
"If Republicans would have let it go, that would have been the end of it," said Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. "For some reason, they didn't."
House Democrats have started wearing pink buttons that say uterus in capital letters.
Saunders, the minority leader, warned members at a Wednesday caucus meeting not to wear the buttons on the House floor.
"You have to leave your uteruses in your offices," joked Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg.
Rep. Steve Perman, D-Boca Raton, hid his button inside his jacket; Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, pinned hers on the reverse of her lapel. Then the Democrats walked to their seats in the last two rows of the House chamber.
Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report.