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Flier pokes Democrats in sore spot

A Democrat calls the Republicans' handout an intimidation tactic. "They have gone over the edge.''

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Republicans call it a joke, but Democrats aren't laughing.

Tempers flared Friday over a flier distributed the night before by Republicans outside a reception for Democratic candidates less than a block from the Capitol.

"Welcome to the incredible shrinking minority!" reads the headline, referring to the Democrats' diminished clout in state government. "If you want a state income tax, you're invited! You want to repeal welfare to work, you're invited! You want criminals walking the streets, you're invited! You're a liberal female Democrat from Broward, you're invited!"

At least one Republican legislator, Rep. David Bitner of Port Charlotte, was seen handing out the fliers outside the Democratic event Thursday night.

Rep. Lois Frankel, a liberal Democrat from West Palm Beach -- not Broward -- is leading the recruitment of Democratic candidates and was angered by the tactics. She and other Democrats said it was designed to intimidate lobbyists and discourage them from meeting with Democratic candidates challenging Republican incumbents.

"They have gone over the edge," Frankel said. "They have 75 votes. They have millions of dollars. When they can't allow free speech, using their power to stop it is wrong."

Rep. Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa, the new vice chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, agreed.

"If there are folks who are complicit in this, they have betrayed the public trust and don't deserve to sit in this House," he said.

Bitner acknowledged involvement up to a point.

He said he distributed some of the material in the street, but he said he did not know who wrote the fliers. He also said he could not recall the names of other Republicans who were involved.

Besides, Bitner said, Frankel had called him a "goon" earlier. "It's good-natured fun," he said. "I don't even know if they were accurate."

Other members of the Republican leadership in the House who were not directly involved tried to distance themselves. "Somebody's pretty gutsy," said Rep. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, chairman of the General Appropriations Committee. The Democrats had been forced to move the reception. The Florida Association of Realtors declined to host the event Thursday night after Republican legislators complained. It was moved to the FTP-NEA teachers union headquarters.

Earlier this week, the Florida Democratic Party paid for an advertisement in the Tallahassee Democrat that included a picture of the former GOP headquarters with a "for sale" sign in front. The message was that Republicans, who control the Legislature and the Governor's Mansion, are selling out to special interests.

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