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House Dems choose 2012 leader

Rep. Kathy Castor poses with a soldier who has relatives in Riverview during her three-day visit to Afghanistan.

Photo courtesy of Rep. Kathy Castor’s office

Rep. Kathy Castor poses with a soldier who has relatives in Riverview during her three-day visit to Afghanistan.

The 39-member House Democratic caucus assembled over the lunch hour Tuesday and members cast secret ballots for the race to succeed Democratic leader Ron Saunders of Key West.

Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation defeated Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach on a 28-11 vote, winning the post for the 2012-2014 term.

Thurston now faces the daunting task of raising money and recruiting candidates heading into a reapportionment cycle when all 120 House districts will be redrawn.

"I'm humbled by the confidence that you, my colleagues have shown in me," Thurston said, "but I'm equally excited at the challenge your confidence has bestowed."

Thurston nearly won the post two years ago, losing to Saunders by two votes.

Do they have someone in mind?

Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, have filed bills that would allow Floridians to recall elections of the governor, lieutenant governor, Cabinet members and legislators.

"It's important because the voters, the people of the state of Florida, deserve an opportunity to weigh in on their elected officials and whether they're performing or not performing," Kriseman said.

Isn't that what elections every two or four years are for? Sure, Kriseman said. But sometimes lawmakers behave in such an egregious manner that perhaps voters will want them out before election time, he said.

Medical marijuana amendment

Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, has filed a joint resolution that if passed would let voters in 2012 weigh in on a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

The law would allow the use of medical marijuana if it's recommended by physicians for patients with "debilitating medical conditions." The proposal also allows the Legislature to set a maximum quantity of marijuana that can be owned for medical use, but that amount could be exceeded if a patient or doctor says greater amounts are necessary. Patients under 18 could use marijuana for medical purposes if two physicians diagnose the patient with a medical condition and the patient's parents agree to it.

Among other things the measure would not allow for is the use of medical marijuana "in plain view of the general public." It also says health insurers wouldn't be required to reimburse patients for medical marijuana costs.

Castor tours the war zone

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor toured Afghanistan over the weekend and returned impressed with U.S. troops but also hopeful that a planned withdrawal can begin in July.

The Tampa Democrat and war critic, making her first trip to the country, said she wants a "significant" number of troops to come home, not just a token showing, and thinks the United States is on track for a more permanent end in 2014.

She dismissed Republican criticism that a specific time line sends the wrong signal to the enemy. "The American people have to understand that this is not an open-ended war effort," Castor told reporters Tuesday.

Castor said her three-day tour brought her in contact with many U.S. soldiers, including some from Florida. "I've been very impressed and inspired by the young men and women in the American Armed Services."

She left Washington on Thursday with other lawmakers (such trips are called codels, for congressional delegation) and met with top officials and got a look at the Afghan army. Castor, elected in 2006, serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

Times/Herald staff writers Janet Zink and Alex Leary contributed to this report.

House Dems choose 2012 leader 03/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 7:40pm]
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