Florida Democrats rally around senator who is convicted felon
By Jason Garcia, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
December 22, 2006
TALLAHASSEE Â· Democrats in the Florida Senate are raising money to help re-elect fellow Democratic Sen. Gary Siplin, the Orlando legislator convicted earlier this year of felony grand theft.
Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller of Hallandale Beach and seven other Democratic senators are named as hosts on invitations that have been sent out to lobbyists and others for an evening fundraiser on Siplin’s behalf. The event will be at a bar a block from the Capitol when legislators return to Tallahassee next month for committee meetings.
The invitations ask contributors to give Siplin $500 each, the maximum allowed by law.
Siplin, who is not up for re-election until 2008, would not comment.
Last month, Siplin, 52, was sentenced to three years probation, 300 hours of community service and $1,890 in court costs and fines after an Orange County jury found him guilty of a felony and a misdemeanor for making state-paid staffers work on his 2004 re-election campaign.
He is thought to be the first convicted felon ever to serve in the Florida Senate.
Siplin is appealing the conviction. And Senate leaders — including Geller and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie — are standing behind him, saying Senate rules allow Siplin to remain in office while he awaits the outcome of his appeal.
Geller, who has repeatedly said he thinks Siplin has a strong case for appeal, said it’s his job as leader of the 14-member Senate Democratic caucus to help all incumbent members raise money.
But the South Florida legislator also predicted that Siplin’s legal status would be resolved one way or another long before the 2008 election.
“Sen. Siplin will not stand for re-election as a convicted felon. I mean, the chances of that occurring are absolutely infinitesimal,” Geller said. “Either the conviction will be overturned or he will be out of the Senate.”
Another senator named on the invitations, Sen. Frederica Wilson of Miami, was among those demanding that former Republican Rep. Ralph Arza of Hialeah resign after Arza used a racial slur against a fellow legislator. Arza stepped down under pressure Nov. 1.
Wilson said Thursday that she didn’t know her name was being used to raise money for Siplin. But she said she had no problem with it.
She said Siplin’s crime appeared to her to be relatively minor.
“It’s different with egregious crimes where people are maimed or killed or hurt or suffer as a result of your actions,” she said.
So, using a racial slur is sufficient to get a legislator pressured out of the state House, but being convicted of a felony, well, that’s perfectly acceptable. I don’t suppose that the different reactions have anything to do with the political parties to whom the gentlemen in question belong, does it?