A couple weeks ago, the Florida Senate rejected a measure that would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 corrections officers. Nine Republicans voted against the measure, giving the bill's opponents a narrow 21-19 win.
It was an impressive victory at the time, but now we're discovering just how hard-fought it was. A senator who's suffered five heart attacks became the focal point of the debate, where advocates hoped to pressure her into changing positions on the bill. Things got so bad, she actually had to have protection.
The Tampa Bay Times reports:
The debate over privatizing much of Florida's prison system last week probably marks one of the few times a couple of senators provided an escort for one of their colleagues — from the opposing political party, no less. It attracted little attention last week when Sens. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, and Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, walked onto the Senate floor before the debate on privatizing prisons with Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, between them. Bullard, who has been seriously ill with a recurring heart condition, had been in tears after days of pressure from Senate leaders and lobbyists who wanted her to be the deciding vote in favor of a bill that would have privatized 27 South Florida prisons.
Turns out, members on both sides of the aisle took turns sitting with Bullard to protect her from strong-arming tactics. Some colleagues worried Bullard could wind up in the hospital, unable to vote on the measure. One senator described it as "straight out of a gangster movie."
Ultimately Bullard hung on and voted against the bill. The Times mentions that the defeat was an embarrassment for Senate leaders, who don't normally call up a bill unless they can pass it.
I'd say that's hardly the only thing they should be embarrassed about.