Dissident Democrats can do better than Rouson
September 18, 2013 14 Comments
Incoming House Democratic Leader Darryl Rouson (D-St Petersburg) has made a mess of his few months on the job as the leader designee of the minority party. Elected by a razor-thin two vote margin at a caucus meeting in February, Rouson has proceeded to flush any goodwill he may have inherited down the drain in a relatively short period of time. Most of those originally aligned Rouson fit two categories- they have largely been frozen out of the process through the years by an arrogant party leadership or are simply malcontents. (more on both sets of Rouson supporters later in this article)
With the track record of Florida Democrats in state elections worse than that of any other Democratic Party east of the Mississippi since 2000, those who backed Rouson could make a strong point about the need for new leadership, with new ideas, new alliances and new energy. But what ended up happening is that this group got on board with a flawed messenger. The message about reform in the party and the need to take out the trash in the way of entrenched consultants and ideas that have cost the Democrats seat in election after election may have been sound, but Rouson himself was always far from perfect as a vehicle for this change.
By June, Rouson was already in the process of losing the support of multiple members who had supported him in the February election.The St Petersburg Democrat survived the Jefferson-Jackson weekend where rumors were beginning to circulate about an effort to oust him but the theory I circulated at the time that he would grow stronger due to beating back some of the concerns were in retrospect ill founded. As the summer dragged on, Rouson found himself in more hot water when he formed a slush fund permissible under the campaign finance law changes of 2011 the Democrats across the state universally opposed. Rouson could argue that it is unwise for Democrats to “unilaterally disarm,” but the concept of leadership slush funds is such an abomination to most progressive like myself, it is really quite shocking Rouson would create one. The fact that he failed to inform large elements of his caucus about the creation of his “slush fund” further creates the perception that he was trying to hide something that would be offensive to most progressives.
The personal agendas of many who opposed Rouson is based around political influence and maintaining consulting business. The chosen instrument in the Feberuary election for that group was Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville. Jones is a strong progressive but proved ineffectual and ineffective as a campaigner and her inability to help other Democrats running for election in 2012 the way Rouson did eventually led to her defeat. I like the idea of Jones as a leader based on policy where she’d be better than Rouson whose views do not reflect the majority opinion in his caucus or his party, but not based on her associations and alliances within the party itself. The reality is that many who backed Jones did so strictly for political reasons, to continue a pattern of losing combined with self-interest.
A significant number of people backing Rouson did so because they saw him as a well-connected outside who could break through the stranglehold entrenched yet ineffective political consultants and party leaders had on the FDP. Another set of Rouson backers were simply malcontents who have caused problems in the party before and surely will again after this leadership situation is decided.
No House member wanted to go on the record with me on this matter but from my private conversations I can confirm multiple members who supported Rouson are now disappointed in his leadership and lack of honesty on several matters. While I made the point of Rouson changing consultants and keeping Jeff Ryan on board (until he was fired by FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant) being positives I was refuted as the name Barry Edwards was brought to my attention. For those who do not know, Edwards is a former Tampa Bay area Republican (much like Rouson and Charlie Crist) whose own past is badly checkered. I don’t want to get into specifics about Edwards as this isn’t the place for that type of material but many Democrats are concerned about his alleged involvement in the House campaigns under Rouson.
From my vantage point, Darryl Rouson is badly damaged and his supporters many of which are dissidents within the party would be wise to let go of him next week. However, it is critically important the Democrats do not simply replace Rouson with a status quo type individual as leader. As I have discussed above Rouson’s rhetoric and some of his actions were positive steps forward for a party caucus that has specialized in losing elections through the years. It would be wise if Rouson’s closest backers came up with an acceptable replacement before next week’s caucus meeting. I must state though I find it somewhat admirable that Rouson hasn’t battled his opponents in the press but from what I can gather, some of the private reassurances he’s given members are not working.