Freshman House Democrats charting a unique course

Our inaugural TFS House scorecard  showed that the most conservative members of the Democratic Caucus in 2014 were in fact members of the new class elected in November 2012.  This session we have found the freshman class has found its feet and are stepping out in their own rights as effective legislators. It can be argued that this class could be the most formidable the party has had in the House in some time.

The largest freshman class the Democrats have elected in the term limits era is making its mark. Rep. Amanda Murphy the victor of an important special election this past fall, joined the class to grow it further this session.

The freshman class has created a positive impression on observers and in many ways has furthered the notion that you can be a serious legislator and/or a conscious objector to bad legislation while serving in the minority party.

Each and every freshman Democrat with one or two exceptions has made a mark thus far. In my years of watching the legislature, sometimes it takes two or three terms for minority party members to grow in comfort and stature within the House. My theory about this class is that they have strength in numbers and have grown into the process together in such a way that they have worked with one another to be successful. Furthermore, they have a lot of quality people and attentive legislators. It should be noted before we start naming individual members that the vast majority if not all of the members we will discuss here were not recruited by the Florida Democratic Party and many had to claw through difficult elections with little or no direct party support.

Reps. Mark Danish and Dwight Dudley both flipped formerly Republican seats in 2012, but both seats were carried by President Obama and both seats are in large urbanized areas. Danish’s district is an area that was traditionally Republican but is trending towards the Democrats as the demographics of northern Hillsborough County change.  Danish has stood out on education issues, and as a longtime school teach adds a unique voice to the debate. Dudley is a thoughtful, reasoned legislator whose views are taken very seriously by members of his caucus and many Republicans. Rep Carl Zimmerman represents a Republican oriented district in northern Pinellas County, but has still been able to stick out positively on many issues.

The Orlando area was flipped from red to blue on House maps on Election Day 2012. Rep. Mike Clelland’s victory over Speaker-Designee Chris Dorworth was quite possibly the most significant Democratic win in the House this millennium. Clelland has developed a unique voice in the House, thanks largely to his distinctive skill set of experience as an Attorney and a Fire Fighter. Rep. Randolph Bracy has impressed activists, other legislators and lobbyists with his sharp questioning in committee and his thoughtful analysis of legislation.

Reps. Joe Saunders and Karen Castor-Dentel also both from the Orlando area  have been progressive stalwarts. Saunders has emerged as a leader of the progressives in the House and is on track to be a potential future leader. Rep. Ricardo Rangel has emerged as a unique voice especially at the committee level where he is unafraid to stand alone in opposition to conservative legislation. Along with Rep. Victor Torres, Rangel has also help champion a more inclusive caucus reaching out to the growing Hispanic population in Central Florida.

Southeast Florida, the most Democratic area of the state had an unusually large freshman class. Reps. David Kerner and Bobby Powell have both proven to be formidable both in Tallahassee and back home in Palm Beach County. With incoming Democratic leader Mark Pafford hailing from the county, these two members could play an even bigger role in the near future. Just a little up the road in St Lucie County, Rep. Larry Lee has stood for both his knowledge of the state’s insurance industry but also the amount of time and study he puts into legislation.

The heart of Democratic southeast Florida is Broward County. Rep. Shevrin Jones who represents a southern Broward district that is among the most challenging in the state has made his mark both on local issues and on education issues. When concerns were expressed to Rep. Jones by progressive activists a few weeks ago about school “choice” legislation, he took the time to hear the apprehensions and then came out forcefully against legislation he previously was unsure about. Rep. Rick Stark has shown an understanding of nuts and bolts state issues that has been helpful to develop Democratic positions on issues of importance. The  Rep from the neighboring district, Katie Edwards has taken on one of the most important issues this or any session – minimum sentencing guidelines.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez who was elected in a mild Election Day upset had been praised for his progressive approach to issues while Rep. David Richardson has already become a figure of important politically within the caucus.

The freshman Democrats are charting a course for the future. This class is formidable and could make the upcoming sessions more and more interesting from our perspective as progressives.









  1. Is it too early to say, Democrats are FINALLY building a bench?


  2. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    I like Dwight Dudley and Katie Edwards. I also hear positive things about Ananda Murphy. One omission here is Rep. Jared Moskowitz who is working hard to establish himself as a moderate voice.

    Danish a bit odd but a good guy also.

    As for Clelland he’s not worth wasting time or money on.


  3. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    I mean he served his purpose beating Dorworth and that’s that.


  4. […] hard to push forward important policy changes in the state of Florida. We recently spoke about the Freshman House Democrats class, the largest such class since before the term limits era and the success they are having this […]


%d bloggers like this: