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Democrats pounce on issues, say party's confusion is over

With the motto, "We're On Your Side,'' leaders declare a focus on education, gun safety, healthcare and economic benefits.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 10, 1999


TALLAHASSEE -- Democrats in the Legislature say they are emerging from a period of confusion and have decided to fight for people who don't have a voice in Tallahassee.

Wearing "We're On Your Side" stickers, House and Senate Democrats vowed to fight for school reforms, improved health care, gun safety and economic benefits.

"A year ago when the Republicans took over the executive and legislative branches of government, we went through some confused times," said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach. "Some wanted to go along to get along. But we have seen a for-sale sign put up -- and we are no longer confused. We are on your side."

Accusing the Legislature's Republicans of turning the political process over to wealthy special interests, the Democrats say they will fight to raise teacher pay, lower the number of students in some classrooms, improve patient rights in dealing with HMOs and fight for laws to help keep children safe from guns.

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"Floridians should ask themselves how much of the billion-dollar tax break we passed last year did you get," said Sen. Tom Rossin, D-West Palm Beach. "How much better off would you be if we put the needs of patients first?"

Democrats are fighting a losing battle in both houses of the Legislature, but say they plan to raise the millions of dollars needed to take back seats in the 2000 elections. Currently, Republicans outnumber Democrats 75-45 in the House and 24-15 in the Senate (with a vacancy to be filled), but term limits will force out more than 50 House members and 11 senators next fall.

Democrats hope to take advantage of the unusually high number of open seats with an advertising campaign that focuses on education, gun safety and patient rights.

Republican legislators have benefited from the presence of a popular Republican governor, said Sen. Buddy Dyer, D-Orlando. The Democrats hope to change that by fall, he added.

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