House Leadership Election in Final Stages: Some Closing Thoughts

Steve Bousquet reported in the Tampa Bay Times that we will finally have a House Leadership election on February 20th, more than a month after Darryl Rouson (D-St Petersburg) tried to call for a vote. While both Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) and Rouson claim to have the commitments of be elected leader designee, our sources indicate that Rouson has signed pledges from at least  half the caucus and with verbal commitments (which by definition are soft) he has the support of over 2/3 of the 44 member caucus. Jones has the tacit support of current leader Perry Thurston (D-Plantation) and of several party staffers and consultants. It is worth noting once again that for a party that prides itself on being diverse, the Democrats have not had a female House leader in well over a decade.

Rouson is a former Republican whose views on some social issues have “evolved” with time and who has received lots of money from school “choice” advocates. Jones is clearly more liberal, but unlike Rouson who raised money for numerous Democrats running for State House in 2012, even those not targeted by House Victory, Jones own record in helping other Democrats is spotty at best.  During the 2012 cycle Rosuon even personally contributed to the recruitment of  many Democratic candidates, while Jones may have played a role in the underwhelming Democratic performance. This was a cycle where on a newly drawn map, the party captured only 35% of House seats while President Obama carried the state with 50% of the vote and Senator Nelson was reelected with 55% of the vote.

Over a week ago we reported on an odd donation made from the FDP to Mia Jones campaign in the dying days of what proved to be an election of missed opportunities for House Democrats. Subsequent to this donation it has become known that many party affiliated staffers and consultants prefer Jones to Rouson. Democrats lost 13 House races by less than 5,000 votes and five House races by less than 2,000 votes, throughout the state. Most of these candidates were underfunded and while raising money is difficult in an environment where the RPOF and its leadership has created a culture of cronyism, entitlement and borderline corruption, what little money the FDP has should never be wasted in races that are not competitive on safe incumbents. Part of the arrogance and reckless cronyism promoted by the Florida GOP has to do with the fact that the Democratic Party has been so incompetent in how it has run its legislative campaigns through the years, the Republicans feel they can get away with almost anything.

From a policy perspective, Jones is a better fit for the Caucus.  I also as a personal matter feel it is important not only to stress clear ideological differences from the Republicans, but to promote a female back into the top leadership position. But the bottom line is that the party continues to badly under-perform in legislative elections. While Democrats continue to self-congratulate themselves on a “historic” (Rod Smith’s words, not mine) cycle in legislative elections, the Republicans can basically do anything they want in the Legislature. The House is also now led by Will Weatherford who cuts a very different and less offensive figure than his immediate predecessors in the House Speakership and is more like his father-in-law, the very cautious and likeable former Speaker Alan Bense. This means the Republicans with a 76-44 majority will pass dangerous legislation AND look less irrational in doing so. This reality in addition to new comfort GOP House members will have with the redrawn districts they now represent, makes holding seats, let alone picking up new seats in 2014 potentially much more difficult than it was in 2012.

Perry Thurston, the current House Leader fits the caucus like a glove on policy matters but due to his day job couldn’t put in the work necessary to effectively run House Victory in 2012. That left party operatives and consultants in control and they as has become typical made a number of strategic blunders. This is in addition to the fact that many winnable seats were left uncontested or with weak, underfunded, below-the-radar type challengers.  Rouson’s ideological bent worries me as a progressive, but we need to work doubly hard to be more competitive in legislative elections and Rouson appears poised to deliver a stronger, more consistent and disciplined campaign operation than Jones would provide.

Ultimately, Democrats must decide whether strong ideological priorities or aggressively contesting seats is most important. Fears are abound that Jones will not put the work in to effectively organize the caucus while others point to Rouson’s history and voting record as drawbacks. Either way, House Democrats MUST get this choice right or run the risk of another 2002 or 2010 like cycle where marginal seats were lost and pick up opportunities were out the window.

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16 thoughts on “House Leadership Election in Final Stages: Some Closing Thoughts

  1. It’s irrational to say that a women needs to be the next Dem leader in the House because a woman hasn’t done it in a decade…that’s trying to fit a square peg in a round hole…the Dem leader should be the individual that the Dem members of the House caucus wants not what any outsiders like you and I want…Rep. Rouson has the confidence of his fellow members and more importantly has more than enough votes to win the election…it’s a moot issue about Rep. Rouson’s past GOP affiliation if the caucus has no problem with it…

    As for the “historic” wins I believe that the Dem’s may be actually be at their zenith in winning legislative races…the Repub’s may likely win some marginal seats that they just lost…

    But Dem’s won’t win more without biz support!

  2. Barney,

    Let me ask you as a business leader and a former ED of the FDP, which of these candidates would be better at raising money?

    Also your point about Dems being at their zenith is well taken. Given the generous map Weatherford and company drew the Ds have an opportunity to win about 55-57 seats if the playing field were equal but we know it isn’t. It’s not just fundraising but also structure, discipline and strategy. The GOP is better at all these things. I fear your prediction about 44 being the zenith may be accurate despite the fact that it should be the low water mark for Democrats on this current 2012-22 map. Unless the FDP reforms itself 44 seats may well be the zenith.

  3. If Rouson gets it the people are screwed. This is a great piece. Rouson can continue to help the party raise money etc when he understand the party. Him and Mr. Crist can join the party but they have to be right on the policy in order to lead it. The Democratic Party is now the Republican party. So true that Weatherford and Gaetz are going to look normally because the Ds don’t stand for anything different.

    Great piece.

  4. As a former staffer on President Obama’s campaign, I can tell you why the Democratic Party in Florida only won 35% of House seats and the President won 50% of the state. Our campaign put a strong focus on field (grassroots organizing) early on in the cycle (April 2011). Fundraising and Field were hand in hand with communications as being extremely important elements to a win in Florida. Digital organizing and training were also highly invested in as areas fundamental for success. From what I have noticed of state politics is a focus on fundraising without creating strong and EARLY plans for grassroots organizing. If we hope to win the governors race and state legislative seats, DECs and caucuses need to be organizing NOW for success. The Obama campaign started nearly 20 months out organizing for a statewide win. If the FDP is going to replicate, it needs to start expanding the vote (via voter registration) now (not waiting until the summer), identifying and talking to progressive leaning independents about the party now, and getting our base engaged now. Until organizing becomes as big of a priority with the FDP and legislative leadership as it was with OFA, we will continue to eek out wins nationally and loose our state and local races. We need a Democratic leader in the house that understands that balance and educates caucus membership and candidates on how to use the Obama model in legislative races and win. Fundraising + STRONG and EARLY Field + Communications= House Victory. That understanding should be a big consideration.

  5. If Democrats seeks strong AIF support, Democratic turnout will drastically reduce. Therefore, who cares if the money comes in if the voters aren’t motivated to vote.

  6. Dave do you really think voters know how their members are voting on every particular issue? But even if they did, supporting business is not anti-democratic party and would not suppress democrats from voting on a ticket. If the campaigns are run properly there is no logic behind what you are saying.

  7. BUT with that being said, it’s very rare that AIF with support any democrat in a competitive r vs d seat. If AIF expects any sort of dem support they should stop trying to annihilate Dems during the election. They are a ultra partisan group, essentially a wing of the Republican Party just like the awful FL Chamber.

  8. I just got back in town and saw your email…Rep. Rouson will be the better candidate because Rep. Rouson has already asked me to contribute to some of his fellow Dem’s campaigns..to be a good fundraiser, you first have to be willing to ask for money…at least Rep. Rouson does that effectively…

    I have never heard from Rep. Jones…nevertheless, I will help some Dem’s that are centrists and who don’t see “profit” as a dirty word to loathe…Dem’s such as Rep. Ricardo Rangel, Janet Cruz, Clovis Watson and there are a handful of others warrant suppport from the business community…most of the rest of the Dem’s don’t care at all about jobs and business because they are too oriented to labor and trial lawyers…but the business community is the one that produces jobs – neither unions (they are by losing membership – nationally they are their lowest level since 1936!) nor trial lawyers do so…

    Any Dem leader can ask the unions and trial lawyers to support Dem’s financially and they will…the only question is will NEW donors come forth and support Dem legislative candidates?…and that won’t happen unless the new candidates espouse a philosophy that is conducive to growing the economy – the private sector… unfortunately most Dem’s only want to grow the public sector and it’s bed-mate: government…this, in my opinion is where Rep. Rouson is by far superior candidate…although he is a lawyer, he has supported the private sector in the past some times and that will give him a better chance to bring new donors to the Dem’s…but as a later email writer noted, the business community isn’t going to support a good Dem when there is a better GOP’er…so in contested races the biz money is going to go to the Repub candidate…but AIF when I was there supported Dem’s like: then-Rep. and now Senator Joe Abruzzo, Reps. Ron Saunders, Debbie Boyd, and others who were willing to support biz on some issues…and that’s the key – it doesn’t have to be on ALL issues, just enough to make us realize that they understand that a strong and vibrant private sector is the key to America’s success…

  9. I like the blog but Dave you don’t even live in Florida and when you did you’d flame out of every campaign. You seem so wrong yet self assured about things more and more. I’m tired of it.

  10. That is interesting. I just think that people saying that what we have done over the past 20 years is the best way to do politics in Florida is, well, moronic. If you would like to provide an alternative answer, “Trey”, then I am all open to it.

    But you are right about Florida politics. I have done more research into European elections and politics in general over the last month than Florida politics. I have come to the conclusion that Florida politics, especially Florida Democratic politics, is gutter politics that require little, if not no, intellectual capacity whatsoever. I guess the track record of the FDP speaks for itself.

  11. Dave, based on the blog comments, we don’t always agree on everything but I def agree with you on this point – FL politics is gutter politics. Over the last few years I have seen the FDP really become obstructionist and almost criminal in its actions. I have pretty much resigned to throwing my hands up in defeat…it will be interesting to watch them flame out of existence AGAIN from afar. Get me out of here!

  12. Brad, not sure what that means but money spends like money. Horrible reality. Rick Scott is an example. So again, your point isn’t well made.

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