State Politics

Political lines easy to see as call for special legislative session on gun restrictions fails

Florida Democratic legislators called for a special session to consider restrictions on guns but fell far short of the required number of votes needed to reconvene.
Florida Democratic legislators called for a special session to consider restrictions on guns but fell far short of the required number of votes needed to reconvene. AP

A Democratic push for a special legislative session on guns didn’t come close to passing — falling 46 votes short of what was needed.

But it did force candidates to declare where they stood on a gun control debate that has increasingly become one-sided, at least among members of the general public.

In most cases, even the most vulnerable Republicans in the Legislature rejected the request for a special session on passing legislation that would ban people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns. Overall, the effort was defeated 89-50, according to a final Tuesday tally.

But three Republican incumbents crossed party lines and voted to return to Tallahassee and debate the issue.

State Reps. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, and Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, as well as Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, all broke ranks from GOP leaders.

The three have one thing in common: They all face incredibly tough re-election fights in a presidential election year when Democratic turnout is usually high. In Flores’ and Harrison’s districts, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.

None of them could be reached to comment about their vote in support of the session.

Laws banning people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns — the so-called “no fly, no buy” measures — have grown more popular in Florida following the mass shooting that killed 49 people in Orlando last month. A Public Policy Polling survey released last week found that 83 percent of Floridians support such a ban.

It doesn’t help Miller that Pulse, the gay nightclub where the shooting took place, is in his district.

Yet the threat of Republicans breaking ranks en masse was always remote.

It takes a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate to call a special session without support from legislative leaders or the governor, so Republicans could afford to lose a few votes.

Those who cross the party line do so at their own risk, especially in the top-down, leadership-driven Florida House. House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, last week called the Democrats’ effort “irrational, irresponsible and unstatesmanlike.”

That kind of talk is a warning shot to Republicans, said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford.

“The last thing you want is your party to turn against you,” Pafford said.

Democrats hope to capitalize on this tension between the Republican party line and middle-of-the-road voters in the closer races.

On Tuesday, the Florida Democratic Party blasted Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah for his vote against a session. In a statement, FDP spokesman Max Steele called Diaz a “special interest puppet” who “sided with the NRA [National Rifle Association].”

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, represents a Hillsborough County district that has more Democrats than Republicans. While he couldn’t be reached for comment, one of his Democratic opponents, Rena Frazier, criticized his vote against the session.

“This is a really serious issue facing our country,” Frazier said. “And as a representative, it’s our job to show up.”

Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, represents a district where Republicans hold a slim edge over Democrats, but she voted against the session.

“There’s so much to come out of this tragedy,” Peters said, referring to the Orlando shooting. “It’s beyond the scope of just gun control.”

It wasn’t just Republicans who broke ranks with their parties, however. Reps. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, and Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, voted against a special session, too. They often side with Republicans on gun issues.

Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, didn’t vote, according to Department of State records, though she said she sent in her vote Tuesday. She said she intended to vote against a special session.

“Right now, I just don’t see that we’re going to be able to change the temperature in Tallahassee in a special session,” she said. “I just don’t see anyone changing gun laws before an election.”

Democrats have a slight edge in her district, but it has elected Republicans in the past, including Mike Fasano, now the Pasco County tax collector.

Murphy wasn’t alone. Twenty other lawmakers skipped the vote.

Among them was Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, who has blocked legislation pushed by pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association in the past.

He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.

How they voted

Democrats forced a vote on whether lawmakers should return to Tallahassee for a special session focused on gun control laws. It failed without support from three-fifths of the House and Senate.

Here’s how South Florida lawmakers voted:

Yes: Sens. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens; Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay; Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove; Jeremy Ring, D-Margate; Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach; Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

Reps. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach; Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale; Joe Geller, D-Aventura; Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek; Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach; Shevrin Jones, D-West Park; Kionne McGhee, D-Miami; Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs; Sharon Pritchett, D-Miami Gardens; David Richardson, D-Miami Beach; Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami; Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes; Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami; Richard Stark, D-Weston, and Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens.

No: Reps. Frank Artiles, R-Miami; Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah; Michael Bileca, R-Miami; Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah; Katie Edwards, D-Plantation; Erik Fresen, R-Miami; George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale; Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami; Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes; Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, and Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

Did not vote: Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; and Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

Reps. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami; and Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami.

Source: Florida Department of State