Analysis: Fla. Republican unity cracks


MIAMI, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Florida's Republican politics is going to need some healing in the next year going into President Bush's bid for re-election in 2004.

Florida was the most important state in his election in 2000 and that could well happen again. A united party could be essential next year, and right now, that's not the case.


As the state's GOP meets in special session this week over the medical malpractice issue that has already deeply divided the party, a group of Cuban Republicans sent what can only be interpreted as a threatening letter to the president.

The Republicans want a change in the policy that dictates that all Cuban migrants intercepted at sea be returned to Cuba. They also want an indictment of President Fidel Castro for the deaths of three Cuban-American pilots in an incident over the Florida Straits in 1996.

The third demand was for an effort to make sure TV Marti is seen by the Cuban people despite the Cuban government's jamming operations, and the fourth was for more assistance for dissidents in Cuba.

"We feel it is our responsibility as Republican elected officials to inform you that unless substantial progress on the above-mentioned issued occurs rapidly, we fear the historic and intense support from Cuban-American voters for Republican federal candidates, including yourself, will be jeopardized," the letter, which was sent to the president Monday.


Cuban-Americans in Miami have for years made up one of the most dependent blocs of voters for the Republicans, but that may be in doubt now.

Meanwhile, Republican doctors and lawyers in the state Legislature have been fighting like cats and dogs over medical malpractice and its implications.

Florida this week will become the 20th state with a cap on non-economic malpractice awards for pain and suffering. Seven other state laws have been declared unconstitutional and lawyers in Florida seem likely to try that route.

Gov. Jeb Bush looks like a winner after calling three special sessions and promising to keep on calling them until he got his way.

Or at least he says he's a winner.

The malpractice fight has resulted in some threats of its own. Jeb Bush questioned the GOP credentials of senators who disagreed with his insistence on the cap.

The St. Petersburg Times reported he subtly threatened to look for opponents for the recalcitrant centers and to dry up their campaign funds.

The third special session will convene Tuesday after the Republican Bush and the Republic leadership in the House and Senate said they came up with a compromise.

The House claims victory although it did not get the $250,000 no-holds-barred cap on pain and suffering.


The Senate claims it got what it wanted, a $500,000 cap per malpractice defendant up to $1 million, although many senators didn't want a cap at all.

The lobbyists are more outspoken.

"It's an abomination. They've done nothing," said Neal Roth of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers.

John Thrasher of the Florida Hospital Association said they would have to wait and see, but said, "It's better than what we have now. I think it will bring stability to the insurance market."

The deal includes a freeze on the cost of premiums until January, and new rules under which doctors can be more easily disciplined and insurance companies can be sued for failing to make a good faith effort to settle a case.

The intent of it all is to lower malpractice insurance rates for doctors. Some of them have left the state because they said they couldn't afford the premiums and others are threatening to do so.

There is still disagreement over whether ceilings on pain and suffering awards will lower premiums for doctors.

Nobody is really sure. Information from other states is inconclusive as is evidence from the two sides in Florida.

Bush, however, is confident the compromise will work.


"The reforms outlined in this latest proposal will protect access to care for the people of this state, which is our primary goal," the governor said. "This a legislation will create stability in the insurance market and provide insurance rely for doctors."

Senate President Jim King said he believed the rights of patients would be protected under the legislation.

"There is no doubt that we reached this agreement by reading different road maps, but the end destination for the Senate has always been to protect the rights of Florida's patients when medical malpractice occurs," King said.

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, who wanted a $250,000 cap, said he was satisfied.

He said the agreement "will allow Florida patients to continue seeing their family doctors, bring stability to the insurance maker and protect our loved ones from medical errors."

The peacemaking may or may not be real but the president and his brother will have to try to make some of the combatants more interested in party unity.

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