Republican lawmakers walked out of an Orange County Legislative Delegation meeting over a rule on who can run for chair.
Rules for the delegation only allow lawmakers to serve as chair or vice chair if a majority of precincts in their district lie in Orange County. That effectively means only lawmakers in Democratic-leaning districts.
Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Lake Mary Republican, called for that issue to be reviewed, but a Rules Committee did not recommend a change. Disallowing some members of the delegation from seeking the chairmanship effectively compromises the political participation of elected officials, he said.
“Why do we have this artificial threshold limiting minority access to leadership?” he said. “There’s nothing that says I’m obligated to participate in this.”
Brodeur compared the discussion to a “kangaroo court.” He also compared the limitation on Orange County lawmakers who primarily represent neighboring counties to the three-fifths compromise initially limiting the counting of slaves in population counts after the nation’s founding.
Lawmakers living in Orange County scoffed at the comparison, with Democrats noting they haven’t walked out of the legislative process in Tallahassee, where GOP majorities control the House and Senate.
Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat, noted the rule was put in place in 2017, after Democrats won a majority of seats representing the county. He served before then, when Republicans won election to chair and vice chair routinely.
“I’ve been in the minority up in Tallahassee for 12 years. Twelve years,” he said. “What are the chances of getting us heard? How many of our bills are being heard? Or our appropriations not being vetoed, helping the community? So when I hear minority representation or fairness, well guess what. Now you know how I feel. Now you know how we feel.”
Sen. Geraldine Thompson, a Windermere Democrat, also noted the rule has been in place for several years, and so it is not a new development.
Delegations for Orange and Palm Beach counties are the only ones in Florida with such a restriction in place.
Democrats also noted there’s little power in a delegation chairmanship, compared to committee chairs in the Legislature who determine what bills get heard.
Brodeur walked out of the meeting and was quickly followed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Lake County Republican, and Rep. Doug Bankson, an Apopka Republican.
Several other Republicans had excused absences and did not attend the meeting. The remaining lawmakers approved a rules package that preserved the restrictions on chair and vice chair in a unanimous vote.