Turner accepts Leriche apology, but fallout continues

Twelve hours after a late-night rhetorical slip, House Majority Leader Lucy Leriche took her apology tour to the Mark Johnson Show this morning, where she expressed her regrets, again, at calling House Minority Leader Don Turner a “terrorist.”

The gasp-inducing moment came during a Democratic caucus convened after Turner, a Milton Republican, ensnared Leriche and House Speaker Shap Smith in a well-hidden procedural trap.

Turner had vowed to suspend rules earlier this session so long as his caucus had 24 hours to review bills before they went to the floor. On Thursday, he took it back, saying his willingness to cooperate now hinged on capitulation to a new list of legislative demands.

He’s issued some pretty lofty requests, including: a merger amendment that would prevent GMP from recouping in rates a $21 million payout to CVPS customers; an indefinite moratorium on a new software tax (know around here as the “cloud” tax); scrapping the standard offer increases in the energy bill; making biomass facilities eligible for renewable-energy subsidies; and a host of labor-related provisions.

Turner has hostages. His unwillingness to suspend rules could make it impossible to get a number of second-tier bills across the finish line in time for a Saturday adjournment. By refusing to suspend parliamentary rules, Turner could stretch out for days things that could otherwise happen in minutes.

“We went in said we’re all done suspending rules unless we get something,” Turner said. “On some of these issues we’ve been talking about, we haven’t gotten anywhere. Rules are the only thing we have as a minority to make our voice heard.”

Leriche said Democrat leaders wouldn’t allow Turner’s maneuver to push back the May 5 adjournment.

“In true hostage form – it was really kind of funny – he presented us with a list of demands,” Leriche told her Democratic caucus at about8:45 p.m.Thursday. “He whipped out this list … I was not impressed with his little list of demands and from my perspective it’s not consistent with good leadership. As far as I’m concerned we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

Democratic members seemed to realize immediately their leader’s misstep, casting a collective, nervous gaze at the reporter taking notes.

They encouraged her maybe to clarify that last remark, to explain perhaps that she doesn’t think Turner is an actual terrorist.

She obliged, first in caucus:

“After I said it I realized that was a little harsh. I do not mean that literally of course. This is a democracy and they have every right to that.”

And later when they returned to the House floor:

“I think I got carried away just now in Democratic caucus and was exaggerating beyond reason in my description of my perception of what was happening with the minority party. I have no excuse, unfortunately, and I really am truly sorry.”

Turner said it’s unfortunate to see Democrats resort to nasty name-calling.

“I’m concerned that when leadership has to finally negotiate, that that’s their response,” Turner said. “The only negotiating tool they left us is the rules, so that’s what I’ll use. It’s a shame to see them react the way they did.”

Turner, however, said he accepts Leriche’s apology, as well as ones he received from other members of the Democratic caucus.

“Many of the Democrats I respect came over and apologized and gave me a hug and said we understand you’re trying to represent your constituents and your caucus and we’re sorry that happened,” Turner said. “So me I can move on. (Leriche) doesn’t like me. I don’t think we’ll be getting a beer tomorrow. But it’ll be okay.”

All the must-have bills of 2012 – things like the budget, miscellaneous tax bill, capital bill, reapportionment – are on track for passage by tomorrow without rules suspensions.

But a number of nice-to-haves could become legislative casualties of the partisan standoff. They include legislation that would force private insurance companies to disclose claims-denial data, as well as a bill that would allow the families of servicemen and women killed in non-combat operations to qualify for Gold Star license plates.

Politically, Leriche’s mistake has at least temporarily cost Democrats the upper ground in the late-session messaging battle. Instead of castigating the GOP for undoing months of hard work by committed legislators, Democrats are stuck saying ‘sorry.’

For political observers wondering where House Republicans have been this year, their emergence from hibernation Thursday came as something of a surprise. Turner said the timing wasn’t an accident. By waiting until the House and Senate closed a deal on the budget to spring the trap, he made sure Democrats couldn’t pile onto the appropriations bill all the leftover legislation they hoped to have out before Saturday.

Negotiations between Turner and Democrats will continue today.

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