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  1. Florida Politics

Tallahassee's tentative teamwork on voting

Published Feb. 19, 2013

Bipartisanship is back in vogue in Tallahassee. That's a good sign.

With the start of the 2013 legislative session two weeks away, how long it lasts is anyone's guess. But so far, Democrats and Republicans seem more interested in results than petty partisanship, and on the issue that so deeply divided the parties in 2012: access to voting.

Bipartisan teamwork is harder than it looks, because the political system is designed for the two parties to be fighting. But that accomplishes nothing, and voters are tired of it.

Republicans realize they lost ground in the last election and know they have to quickly address voting problems that they created.

Democrats, still greatly outnumbered, are resisting the temptation to say "we told you so" at every turn in hopes of having a say in the final legislation.

That is not easy, as Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, the House Democratic leader, is discovering.

At a meeting of House Democrats a few days ago, Thurston faced a mild rebellion from some lawmakers who demanded to know why the minority party seemed to be settling for so little.

"It's really preposterous. Ridiculous. Asinine," said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, of a bill (HB 569) that would raise the cap on individual campaign contributions from $500 to $10,000 while requiring more transparency in reporting donations and outlawing the growing back-door practice of legislator-controlled soft-money funds.

"Disgusting. Deplorable," said Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor.

Two Democrats voted for the $10,000-cap in a committee; two others voted no. The bill passed 10-2.

Another freshman, Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, was discouraged that, so far, the elections bill doesn't make it easier to register voters and Democrats seem to be going along with that.

"There's so much more we can do. The leadership on the other side is boxing us in," Saunders said.

The House Democrats' lead negotiator on voting issues, Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa, voted for the elections package but called for changes to address the high number of absentee ballots thrown out because of minor mistakes.

"Too many absentee ballots were rejected in the recent election," Cruz said. "This bill in its current form does nothing to prevent disenfranchisement of those (voters)."

Thurston and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, are worlds apart in their political views but they get along well and they meet regularly as they did Monday, to touch base.

Thurston says Democrats have for too long drawn lines in the sand.

"The more you draw a line in the sand, the harder it is to move the line," Thurston said. "This is an opportunity to do more."

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

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