State Politics

2010 FLORIDA LEGISLATURE 11 go against GOP party line

TALLAHASSEE — In a rare flash of party disunity, 11 House Republicans broke rank and voted early Friday against the so-called “teacher tenure” bill after nine hours of debate.

House leaders had made it clear that the bill was a priority, going so far as to warn members that any amendments would jeopardize the legislation and therefore not be allowed.

Party rifts are rare because majority leaders have the power to remove lawmakers from committees, revoke committee chairmanships and even take away coveted parking spots.

Majority Leader Adam Hasner refused to comment on the vote.

“Any time that Republicans buck their party it is a story,” said Minority Leader Franklin Sands, D-Weston, adding, “It is very significant. I think a lot of these people voted their conscience.”

Party counters began telephoning members last Saturday to ask where they stood. Those who were on the fence or who said they would vote against the legislation were invited to meetings with Hasner, Speaker Larry Cretul and other House leaders.

“They said it was good for the teachers, good for the state of Florida, good for the children,” said Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa, a former Hillsborough School Board member who opposed the bill because it does not reward highly educated or experienced teachers.

As debate stretched into Friday’s early hours, lawmakers grew punchy.

David Rivera, a Miami Republican who voted yes on the bill, choked up as he spoke about his sister, a teacher. Miami Democrat James Bush, a minister and teacher, gave a eulogy. The 64-55 vote took place at 2:26 a.m.

Many detractors said they told Republican leaders they would vote for the bill if it was improved in the amendatory process. But their concerns were brushed aside.

“Had there been something in the bill that said we are going to use our money to do this, I would have considered voting for it,” said Rep. Charles Van Sant, R-Palatka.

House leaders wanted a “clean” bill without amendments so it could go straight to the governor, rather than return to the Senate, where the bill passed 21-17 last month. Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and three other Republicans were in opposition and GOP leaders feared more would defect.

“That’s not my problem,” said Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, another House no.