Politics & Government

'Brothel' mailer divides Florida Democrats by exploiting Mike Horner scandal after he dropped out

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Democratic Party's decision to produce hard-hitting mailers highlighting Republican Rep. Mike Horner's alleged link to a brothel, after he resigned, is generating partisan tensions among House members.

The Democratic Party says it stands by the mailers, even though incoming House Democratic caucus leader Rep. Perry Thurston told House Democrats to avoid discussing the matter publicly.

Horner, a Republican from Kissimmee, immediately announced on Sept. 24 he would not seek re-election after his name was found on a client list at an Orlando brothel. He has not been charged with a crime.

The Republican Party named Michael LaRosa as the replacement candidate in House District 42 in Osceola and Polk counties. But Horner's resignation came too late to remove his name from the ballot, so voters who support LaRosa will have to vote for Horner on their ballots.

State Democrats then flooded the district with two mail pieces telling voters to "put an end to the embarrassment," that "enough is enough" and that "Rep. Mike Horner is linked to a brothel" and an "alleged prostitution operation."

"I'm disappointed in what I would consider an intellectually dishonest mail piece, considering the fact that Mike Horner is no longer a candidate," said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the incoming House speaker. "I would never, and will never, defend the actions that he took, but to continue to pile on is wrong."

The mailers state that they are paid for by the Florida Democratic Party and are so-called three-pack ads benefiting three House Democrats, one of whom is Thurston, of Fort Lauderdale.

Three-pack ads allow political parties to exceed the $50,000 expenditure cap by a party to a single candidate.

Within hours of Horner's resignation last month, a House Democratic staff member sent an email to House Democrats that said, "Rep. Thurston requests that if contacted in regard to the (Horner) situation, none of our members make comment. There is nothing we need to add at this time."

Thurston said no one in the Democratic Party showed him the mailers before they went to voters. Under state election law, candidates mentioned in party "three-pack" ads are not required to approve the content — under a change made last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature. "I either would not have approved it or would not have approved my name being associated with it," he said. "I'm not trying to pass the buck, but I was not aware of this particular ad."

In a statement, Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux said: "The facts are the facts. Mike Horner was involved in a prostitution scandal that disgraced himself, his family and his party. Republicans have yet to come clean about what they knew and when they knew it."

Thurston said that when he learned of the mailings, he phoned Horner to say he had nothing to do with them. He said he's optimistic that Democratic candidate Eileen Game will win the seat next month.