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Cory Booker keynotes Florida Democratic Party summer gala

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Although party unity was the theme of the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue Gala, bashing Donald Trump played second fiddle to remembering the tragic murders of 49 Americans in Orlando last weekend, and what might be done about it.

Saturday night’s event at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood began with a video scroll of the names of the 49 people killed in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando a week ago, the worst mass shooting in American history.

“I am so tired, and I know you are tired, we are all tired,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was speaking in her own home 23rd Congressional District. “We are tired of trying to put into words how this happened again. Tired of politicians who will observe a minute of silence, and stop there … tired of the hurt which aches in a place deeper than flesh and blood and bone. We are tired in our souls, because one mass slaughter is already too much to bear, yet we have suffered this again and again and again and again.”

Senator Bill Nelson gave praise to his fellow Democratic Senators who participated in the nearly 15-hour filibuster that won them the chance to get a vote on gun control legislation this coming week in Washington.

“Don’t we want to know if a person with a criminal record is purchasing a weapon?” he asked, referring to the fact that suspected or known terrorists can still buy guns, a loophole that Democrats want to change in Congress. “Isn’t that common sense? This isn’t asking for much. If you are on a terrorist watch list, you cannot buy a gun.”

Nelson has proposed legislation that would ensure that any individual who is, or has been, investigated for possible ties to terrorism is entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which gun shop owners use to run background checks on prospective gun buyers.

And, if a background check is conducted for a potential gun buyer who is, or has been, investigated for potential ties to terrorism, Nelson’s bill would require that the NICS system automatically notifies the appropriate division of the FBI.

There was some Donald Trump bashing.

“The Republican Party has nominated a reckless, racist, rambling bigot, “said FDP Chair Allison Tant. “It’s going to be up to every single one of us to stop him. It’s our job, and unlike Jeb or Marco, we in Florida are ready and willing to take him down.”

Tampa Representative Janet Cruz will be the House Minority Leader next year. With only 39 members in the 120-member body, she admitted it wasn’t always easy to be a House Democrat in the Florida Legislature.

“Do you have any idea the battle scars that are on these 39 members? We are fierce, and we are warriors!” she proclaimed. Her first priority as incoming leader, she said, was to stop the “seesaw nature of our campaign cycles,” though whether their candidates are better this year won’t be determined until this November’s election.

Cruz also gave out some love to Wasserman Schultz, who has been under fire from progressives — especially Bernie Sanders supporters — over the last year. “I want to apologize for how you’ve been treated,” she said, as the crowd gave a mighty cheer.

All of that was the warm-up to the main event, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who gave an impassioned, at times hilarious and intensely personal 52-minute speech.

Booker brought the crowd to its feet when he talked about empathy.

“How you see a Muslim American says more about you than it does them. How you see a gay American says more about you than about them. How you see an immigrant says more about you than it does about them! You can see them with love! You can see them as your brother and your sister!”

Booker also called this fall’s election between Trump and Clinton as “an inflection point” for the country.

More caucus meetings will be held on Sunday before the Florida Democrats call it a weekend, with many meeting up next month at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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