Florida House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJanuary 30, 2013 

Rep. Perry Thurston, the House Democratic leader, said voters in Florida are not impressed with Republican-led governance, and said even GOP leaders are beginning to feel the same way.

In a 30-minute talk that covered issues ranging from Florida’s elections debacle to implementing federal healthcare to investing in education, Thurston blamed his Republican counterparts for problems facing the state. He said reform efforts currently being pushed by Republican officials—election reform, ethics reform, education financing, healthcare implementation—all seek to deal with problems caused by the GOP-led Legislature.

Thurston said the ruling party had been “foot dragging” when it comes to implementing the federal healthcare reform. He pointed to a letter from former House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 that effectively kept state agencies from planning for reform. The state is now trying to figure out how to conform to the law and facing several deadlines. The decision about whether or not to expand Medicaid is a critical one for the state, and Thurston supports the expansion.

“We’re going to save lives. We’re not talking about turning down money fro a rail system; we’re talking about saving lives,” said Thurston. “Not to do this would be morally reprehensible.”

He also said Republicans were to blame for the elections problems that faced the state in November, when thousands of voters faced hourslong lines, and officials were still counting votes days after the polls closed. A bill passed in 2011 cut the number of days available for early voting and many officials blame the measure for causing voting failures in November.

On education, Thurston said he supported Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to give higher salaries for teachers, but said it was not enough after the cuts to education put into place by the governor in the past.

Even with the criticism, Thurston said he expected to be able to compromise with his Republican counterparts to pass bills this session. He said the Democrats would be a "loyal opposition."

Thurston also blasted one of the Republican’s top officials in Florida, attorney general Pam Bondi.

He said Bondi’s performance as attorney general has led him to consider running to replace her in 2014. He said Bondi has been too partisan, spending her time fighting the Affordable Care Act and working to overturn the automatic restoration of civil rights for ex-felons.

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