Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St Petersburg) two weeks ago claimed to have the commitments of a majority of members of the House Democratic caucus and was ready to call a vote to become Democratic Leader Designee. Last week in Tallahassee, sources indicate members were lobbied intensely by consultants associated with the party as well as some senior members to support Rep. Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville), who is a strong progressive. A third candidate, Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) appears to have minimal support.
No vote was held last week, and current Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) has pushed rules changes to prevent the election of a leader designee until late in an odd year legislative session. The logic of this move is that a leader designee undermines the authority of the current leader during the session, a concern that is valid from a legislative perspective. However, from a political perspective this helps to give the GOP who already have major advantages in fundraising, candidate recruitment and campaign planning an even greater advantage.
I have learned through multiple sources requesting to remain unnamed that Leader Thurston has informed some members of the caucus that he is tilting towards Jones and would like commitments to Rouson reconsidered.
It should be noted that Rouson was until 2007 a registered Republican and supported Charlie Crist against Jim Davis in the 2006 Gubernatorial election. Rouson was also appointed to Taxation & Budget Reform Commission by Governor Crist, then also a Republican. When Rep. Frank Peterman resigned, Rouson switched parties and was elected as a Democrat. Rouson despite his party switch has still supported several pieces school “choice” legislation but has also been a forceful and strong progressive advocate on other issues.
Whether you support Rouson or Jones, the lack of a Democratic leader working to recruit candidates or plan for the 2014 elections is good news for the Republicans, who don’t need any further assistance to maintain a gaudy House majority. Republicans are already very active in candidate recruitment while Democrats shoot one another in both the FDP Chairs Race and the race for the next House Minority Leader.