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Senate Democrats talk lawsuit and tweets

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In a Friday afternoon press conference on the last regularly scheduled day of the 2015 legislative session lawmakers weren’t voting on the budget or scurrying to get their bills passed in the waning hours.

Instead, Senate Democrats held a press conference addressing a suit they had filed in the Florida Supreme Court over the abrupt sine die of the House on Tuesday and answering questions about an offensive Tweet posted by state Rep. Matt Gaetz.

An odd press conference in an even odder legislative session.

The Democrats focused the first part of the press conference on the lawsuit and its importance. State Sen. Darren Soto, an attorney, said the goal of the suit was to have the court rule so that the chamber could not unilaterally sine die without the other. When asked what could be accomplished if the House of Representatives was called back, Soto remarked “You never know. They could come back and decide to do their jobs and take up five or six bills related to water policy, prison reform and mental health. I, for one, am an optimist and hope that if they did come back they’d make it worthwhile for the taxpayers of Florida.”

But questions inevitably rolled around to state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, one of the two senators singled out in Rep. Gaetz’s Thursday night tweet: “This lawsuit reads like it was researched and drafted by Sen Joyner … and spell checked by Sen Bullard”

The tweet was retweeted and went viral for Tallahassee political circles and led to an apology of sorts from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Joyner said she has not received an apology from Gaetz. She said the remarks were offensive and went too far.

“This is the work of someone who is immature and does not respect race in my opinion,” Joyner told a group of reporters. “He is a young man who has a long way to go in life and I’m sure that when he reflects on his actions of last evening, somewhere along the maturation process, be it today or tomorrow or 10 years from now he’ll understand that respect and collegiality and developing real relationships with people whom you want to respect you occur by design,” Joyner said.

Joyner said that she has heard from people all over the state, city and her town who have told her that the remarks are “shameful.”

“To single out me, and my brother, Sen. Bullard, when we have a diverse caucus, to single us out and imply I can’t research and he can’t spell was offensive. Why not Senator Soto, why not Senator Sachs. Why just Joyner and Bullard?”

When asked if it was the first encounter with something racist at the Capitol, black members of the Democratic caucus laughed and an awkward silence fell over the room.

“No,” answered Joyner. “But this is perhaps the one that was most directed at me personally.”

For his part, Bullard criticized Gaetz for not having researched before tweeting. He then talked about Joyner’s accomplishments as a Civil Rights leader and noted that she was the leader of a Bar Association as well as the first African-American female to lead Florida Senate Democrats.

“The criticism of me, so be it, but I will say this, #heknowswhathemeant #heknowswhathemeant.”

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