DNC rules trigger Florida suit threat

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Democratic lawmakers from Florida have threatened to sue the Democratic National Committee if it goes through with a plan to penalize the state party for participating in a Jan. 29 presidential primary.

“If the DNC strips Florida of all or some of its delegates to the national convention — we would ask the appropriate legal officials to determine whether this could violate any state or federal laws governing and protecting individual voting rights,” the lawmakers said in a letter to DNC Chairman Howard Dean.

The letter, signed by Sen. Bill Nelson and four of his House colleagues, came in response to threats from the DNC to reduce the party’s delegation to the Democratic convention if the primary is held early. The sanctions could cut the state’s delegation by 50 percent or more.

The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet today, and is expected to hear from Florida Democratic officials who say they have no intention of agreeing to the DNC’s demands, which they say would turn the primary into “a nonbinding straw poll — or, in effect, a meaningless beauty contest.”

If the DNC does not retreat from its threat, “we would recommend to the chairman and leadership of the Florida Democratic Party that they send the party’s entire delegation to the national convention in Denver next year anyway,” the lawmakers said in their letter.

Apparently, that is what state Democratic Chairwoman Karen Thurman is planning to do, telling state rank-and-file Democrats on Thursday that she will “fight to preserve Florida’s full and diverse representation in the presidential primary process.”

The internal party battle was triggered when the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature pushed the state’s primary up to Jan. 29. That violated rules in both parties that set Feb. 5 as the window when states, other than those approved for January, could hold their presidential nominating contests.

DNC officials and rules committee members have said they are sticking with the party’s rules, but other Democrats have said that whatever happens in the ensuing rules fight, it is unlikely that Florida or any other state delegations would be punished for moving ahead of the Feb. 5 window.

Don Fowler, former DNC chairman and rules committee member, said this week that the rules committee’s decision “probably won’t matter in the long run.”

The “winning nominee — not the rules committee — will have the power to decide whether to seat all of Florida’s delegates,” Mr. Fowler told the Tampa Tribune’s Tampa Bay Online Web site.

“Once the nominee is known, that nominee and his campaign essentially take over the party,” Mr. Fowler said, suggesting that the nominee would not want to punish a major electoral state that could decide the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.

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