When Palm Beach County’s Democratic state legislators are surrounded by the deep-blue comforts of a hometown Democratic gathering, they tend to describe Republican-controlled Tallahassee as a fever swamp of partisan horrors and indignities.
But there was noticeably less gnashing of teeth last week when several Democratic lawmakers spoke to a county Democratic Executive Committee meeting to preview the legislative session that begins Tuesday.
“Under Will Weatherford, we’re becoming a little more bipartisan than under Dean Cannon. … It’s a little more fair,” state Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, told his fellow Dems when comparing new House Speaker Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, to 2010-12 speaker Cannon. Slosberg said House Democrats have been given more say at the committee level in shaping legislation.
State Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, said Democrats are also getting better treatment in the Senate under new President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. She suggested that’s because Democrats gained legislative seats and President Barack Obama carried the state in November.
“We won this election. We have the momentum. We’re running the train in this state,” Sachs declared. Republicans, she said, “are all trying to be nice. Now is the time for us to do the ask. Now is the time for us to push our policies.”
Republicans hold a 76-to-44 seat advantage in the House after Democrats gained five seats in November. In the Senate, the GOP edge is 26-to-14 after Dems picked up two seats.
State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said the Republican majority was “almost abusive” to Democrats in past legislatures. The tone is different now, Pafford said, but he’s not getting his hopes up too high.
“We’re still a legislature, obviously, that’s dominated by Republicans,” Pafford said. “They may continue to do what they’ve always done, which we expect, but there’ll probably be a lot more smiling on their on their side while they do it to us.”
— At a ceremonial swearing-in for Sachs last week in Delray Beach, attendees included community organizer and Democratic activist Clarence “Shahid” Freeman and Freeman’s defense attorney, Richard Tendler.
Freeman recently took a leave of absence from the presidency of the Democratic Club of the City of Boynton Beach while he faces charges that he tried to extort Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent. Freeman maintains his innocence and has called the charges “just a bunch of monkey business.”
Sachs, an attorney, represented Freeman when he was charged with misdemeanor battery for a 2009 incident in which a woman accused him of grabbing her breast and buttocks. Freeman pled not guilty. Charges were dropped in 2011 after Freeman completed the terms of an agreement, according to court records. Details of that agreement are not included in court files.
Sachs said she had no qualms about Freeman showing up at the public event and appearing in pictures with her.
“For 30 years I’ve been in criminal justice and I believe in our criminal justice system. I believe in the Constitution and everybody’s presumed innocence. I’ve lived that as well as believed it,” Sachs said.
— Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson will be in Tallahassee this week as a freshly registered lobbyist.
Aaronson is attending Palm Beach County Days as a representative of The Aaronson Group LLC, which filed incorporation papers in November, a few weeks after term limits forced 20-year commission veteran Aaronson to leave the board. The business is headquartered in son Daniel Aaronson’s Fort Lauderdale law office.
Aaronson’s lobbyist registration form arrived in Tallahassee on Friday afternoon via Federal Express. His first client is Delray Medical Center. While Aaronson can lobby the Florida legislature and executive branch, he and other commissioners are barred from lobbying the county for two years after leaving office.
— Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — potential 2016 GOP presidential rivals — will be in Palm Beach this week for separate fundraisers before heading to Coral Gables for a weekend with top Republican National Committee donors.
Attentive readers of the Politics column will recall that Christie, who’s up for re-election this year in the Garden State, is slated to attend a $3,800-a-head cocktail reception Thursday at the home of Jana and John Scarpa. On Friday, Rubio will be on the island for events that include a $10,000-a-plate dinner at the home of Pepe Fanjul.
Next weekend, Rubio and Christie will be at The Biltmore in Coral Gables for an RNC quarterly finance powwow that also features former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas tea party Sen. Ted Cruz.