Florida House Elections: The Democrats’ Insanity


Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

As we discussed earlier this week, Florida’s House Democrats left countless opportunities to pick up new seats on the table in 2012.  But the party did make progress towards becoming more relevant in a legislative process which has been able to more or less ignore House Democrats since 1998, when the GOP crossed the 70-seat threshold in the 120-member body.

As we’ve discussed time and again, the Florida Democratic Party has been the least effective major political party east of the Mississippi since 2000, having lost 13 of the last 14 elections for state office and having allowed then GOP to dominate the legislature in a state which is 50-50 on the Presidential level.

In early 2013, the House Democratic Caucus was deeply divided and selected Rep. Darryl Rouson of St Petersburg as its leader-designee (whose primary role is to raise money and organize House campaigns) by a razor thin margin. Rouson was unable to navigate the choppy waters of the caucus and eventually was removed and replaced by Rep. Mark Pafford of Palm Beach County.

Pafford is a committed progressive and his elevation is good news for a party caucus adrift on issues and policy. I was personally pleased with the change as a progressive who wants to see the Democrats more aggressively delineate our values from that of the Republicans.  However in four months time, Rouson’s removal has proven to be disastrous for Democrats seeking reform in the party’s campaign structure and harboring ambitions of increasing the caucus’ numbers in the 2015 and 2016 sessions.

Rouson was a former Republican who set up a structure in his brief time as leader designee that resembled that of the majority party. Multiple vendors, many with regional ties, flexibility in campaign practices and staffing, as well a more native approach for local races. In the past the Republicans at the legislative level have been a party of results whereas the Democrats opposing them have been largely a party of excuses. The minority party has used up every excuse in the book for bad performance justifying the continuation of a campaign model that clearly does not work and the retention of  operatives, outside consultants and vendors who have failed miserably time and again.

This is not to diminish the importance of the Florida Democratic Party as a vehicle for progressives throughout the state. Reforming the party and improving its track record in state elections should be goal of all activists who care about the issues associated with the Democratic Party. Everybody who reads our website regularly understands we have great reverence for the historical legacy of this party and the contributions of the likes of Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, Buddy MacKay and Bill Nelson.

The personal agendas of many who opposed Rouson from the outside were based around personal influence and maintaining consulting business. Don’t get me wrong, Rouson put himself in a position where he was an easy target after multiple transgressions, but many who opposed him did so for strictly personal reasons which often were based around money and influence. In any other industry, performance is a prerequisite for employment, except so often among Florida Democrats. The retention of consultants and staff that lose elections at an alarming rate has been the height of idiocy.

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.  But as the last few months have proven, perhaps a compromise, if it could have been worked out, would have been to leave Rouson in charge of House Victory while designating Pafford the leader for the future sessions on policy. Because what has happened since Rouson’s ouster on the campaign side is discouraging and represents a return to business as usual.

Over the past few weeks I have conversed with dozens of people in both parties including multiple House members with first-hand knowledge of the situation. A common theme has dominated the discussions: Democrats are in trouble for November 2014 despite the analysis we gave the other day that 15 to 18 House seats could swing our way in the right circumstances.

While lack of fundraising is an issue for the House caucus, a bigger issue seems to be the influence of certain consultants and vendors. The Republicans, who have held over 70 House seats for 15 years now, do not mandate the selection of a specific general or mail consultant for campaigns the way the Democrats did for years and once again have since Rouson’s ouster. In fact, one Republican operative told me that when they ran into trouble with a recommended party vendor, they were encouraged to hire local help because winning the seat was more important to the GOP then whether a vendor got business.

The structure Rep. Rouson was attempting to put in place would have allowed regional vendors, regional campaign consultants, and a certain degree of flexibility in hiring staff for candidates. It was not a completely open process like the GOP has, but it was certainly a step towards the more democratic setup the majority party employs.

One incumbent Democratic member told me that they may forgo the entire party structure in this fall’s reelection effort, instead opting to work with local people. How this will impact the overall strategy for House Victory it is difficult to say, as is whether or not the member actually follows through on this threat (it is after all only February). Either way, this member’s remarks were emblematic of some serious, lingering problems in the state party.

A theme that also came up from frustrated campaign operatives in metropolitan areas of the state was the over influence of Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.-based operatives and thinking in the 2010 and 2012 cycles. This led, in multiple cases we are told, to a failure to identify local issues of importance, or sometimes to recognize the vulnerability of incumbent Republicans.  The process in 2013 had been opened up to knowledgeable local operatives, but following Rouson’s ouster this was quickly reversed.

Entering the 2014 election season it appears the House Democrats are rerunning the same script with the same operatives captaining the ship. After years of failure, in any business where accountability mattered something new would be tried. But unfortunately, Florida’s Tallahassee Democrats continue to value personal relationships and cronyism over competence and success.


  1. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Yes, money, message, and moxie candidates (HAD to finish the alliteration!) are each important. BUT, even more critical are votes, because the R’s have gerrymandered the districts. And THE cheapest, easiest, and bestest way to get additional votes is by voter registration. It is possible to add significant numbers of D voters, enough to tip the scales in close districts. BUT, the numbers needed are enough that it cannot be done in the last 6 months. The FDP, if it wants to win more seats, MUST set up a state wide, 52-week system of voter registration drives. At the very least, it should be done in the districts targeted for reclamation.

    However, if you look at the state reports on voter registration, you will notice that the FDP is doing almost NO VR.

    The result of this is that no amount of advertising, or candidates will be able to overcome the vote differences built into the districts. This will be especially true for 2014 when D’s traditional don’t vote, but it will continue in effect even thru 2016.


    1. Bruce Borkosky · ·

      I should add that where the D’s HAVE made some headway is in regards to vote by mail – and the should be given huge kudos for that. However, technology for this and other voter contact methods is rarely used, throughout the state. One such technology is predictive dialing which, IMO, is the ONLY way to call voters.

      NGP VAN just announced “that we will be cutting the cost for our Predictive Dialer to 14 cents per minute which will make this important tool even more affordable. The Predictive Dialer allows volunteers to make more calls with more than three times the efficiency of manual dialing. And due to the Predictive Dialer’s integration into the VAN, field organizers will save time by removing the need to upload data at the end of the night.”


  2. Yellow Dog Democrat · ·


    Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

    My only disappointment is that your article is not the lead story in every paper in the state AND stuck into the brains of the idiots that voted for Allison Tant and voted to oust Rep Rousoun,,,despite his transgressions…to see through the main goal in politics and for the Democrats…which is winning!

    Because, even though I am a Progressive like yourself, to me the Progressive label to the Republicans, who hang that over our heads, is akin to being a Communist.

    So Progressive=No Money=Loosing=No Power To Do Anything!

    And the bottom line is unless we can get even Democratic moderates in the seats in Tallahassee we will forever be doomed to the back of the Chamber with no leadership, no committees and no power to do anything except bitch about the Tea Party and the Republicans.

    Which some of my Democratic friends seem happy to do.

    But this madness and horrible leadership has got to stop. Every Democratic House member I’ve talked to is privately fuming at the piss poor leadership and horrendous fundraising of the Allison Tant 3 ring circus that includes Christian Ulvert and Scott Arceneaux and sorely regretting the poor votes to get rid of Roussoun and Jeff Ryan who was the main fundraiser for the party.

    And the Alison Tant “purge” of every FDP staff member not loyal to the “three stooges” left the party far worse off today.

    The graft that has accumulated from decades of back scratching between the millions that the Democratic Party in Tallahassee has been paid out to Christian & Scott’s out of town consultant buddies that do nothing but loose election after election has got to stop.

    Your 100% correct in pointing out that there are lots of great local consultants that never get a shot (that the Republicans figured out) in every area of the state that know the ground game better than any of the DC, Chicago and Tallahassee consultants that make Al Capone look like a two bit petty gambler.

    All they do is the “cookie cutter” campaign that they do in Nebraska and Idaho and just change out the names and faces for the Florida candidate suckers…and then send a bill to the party.

    Like I said, Al Capone, would envy this scam.

    Sadly, I don’t think even “The Untouchables” could break this ring as long as the little Democratic Party sheep keep getting buffaloed that everything is fine and dandy.

    Thanks Again, Kartik!

    Keep It Up!


  3. Both Jeff Ryan and Darryl Rouson were reckless individuals who had to go. Both violated the trust placed in them.

    This having been said I cannot disagree with the conclusions in this article. Things are bad and Christian Ulvert is concerned more about making $$$ and holding power than elected Dems. He’s a manipulative operator.


    1. From what You, Les, just said, Chris Ulvert is worst. History has proven that most of the democratic seats gained did come from state candidates doing their thing locally. I know two in Miami Dade who did not even know who Ulvert was, but won anyway.


  4. […] week we discussed the failings of House Democrats in winning elections the past several cycles especially after the favorable 2012 redistricting under […]


  5. […] leadership and vendors by the caucus. This situation will be explored further in future posts. As we reported last month, The Democrats House campaigns were not going well at that moment in […]


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