Unwillingness of House dissidents to let go at the heart of leadership struggles

Editor’s Note: Kartik Krishnaiyer is traveling abroad for the next 12 days. His phones and email however still are active while he travels and he is in touch with many people across the state. Thus he will continue to cover the Florida political happenings throughout his trip which ends November 25th, though many blog posts may be published at odd hours. 

Election 2014 did not go well for Florida’s House Democrats. That cannot be disputed, despite strong victories for endangered incumbents Dwight Dudley and Jose Javier Rodriguez. To a large extent Florida’s Democrats got caught in a national wave, though many in the party have used the election results as a pretense to renew long simmering disputes and touch off yet another civil war within the ranks.

No place is this more evident than the House Democratic Caucus which is facing its seventh (yes I said 7th) leadership “crisis” in less than two years. Following Allison Tant’s close victory over Alan Clendenin to become party chair in January 2013, some of the most prominent pro-Clendenin consultants and operatives shifted focus quickly to make Darryl Rouson the House Leader against the establishment choice Mia Jones of Jacksonville. Rouson won the February 2013 vote 23-21 but quickly ran afoul of some of the members who supported him and was questioned and almost removed as early as June of 2013. By September of 2013, the situation with Rouson had become untenable within the caucus, and he was removed and replaced by the more amiable and progressive Mark Pafford.

Rouson’s tenure was one of great potential but instead it ended up sowing the seeds of anger and bitterness that have persisted to this day.  The St Petersburg based Democrat talked openly about cutting out traditional party vendors and targeting races in a new way – all changes that the House Caucus needs. But what ended up transpiring despite those noble intentions was a group bent on challenging the party establishment and not working in harmony with state party leadership. One can argue about the merits of this attitude – I for one have had numerous problems with the state party’s leadership through the years and the perplexing decisions they have long made on a number of fronts. However, I cannot see the logic of any statewide operation or candidate that is running as a Democrat eschewing the party completely.

Those that have stayed in Rouson faction have continued to make effort after effort to undermine the current leadership. This having been said, some of the strategic decisions and candidate recruitment efforts of the Pafford-led Democratic Caucus were poor. In particular the inability to attract top-tier candidates in a number of potential races where the map could be expanded hurt the overall effort to relieve some pressure off Democratic incumbents has to be considered a major strategic failure. But Pafford’s staffing decisions for House Victory were almost universal upgrades over the situation he inherited, and the new staff which takes a longer-term view of House elections (something that has been sorely needed for years at the FDP) are more prepared to deal with the fallout from November 4th then those who were in the Rouson faction would have been, especially since Democratic losses in this cycle were inevitable.

Pafford came into power with a largely united caucus behind him save about eight to twelve dissidents. However, that group which would eventually dwindle in numbers to perhaps just five. continued plotting. The group led by Rep. Rouson and his close ally Rep. Kevin Rader tried to oust Pafford at the end of the 2014 Legislative Session but were sloppy in the execution and ended up losing support. This coup attempt was badly botched and ended up further solidifying more support for Pafford.

Over the summer the dissidents continued to cause trouble including backing a primary challenge to Rep. Ricardo Rangel. This primary was won by a challenger loosely tied to the Rouson faction, leading to open crowing by both Rep. Rouson and Rep. Rader.

Democratic losses were a foregone conclusion for weeks during this cycle. I had personally felt the Democrats would minimize losses to four seats, thinking Rep. Joe Saunders and Rep. Carl Zimmerman would be reelected. But in the end the Democrats ended up losing six seats, five of which were by close margins. The non-participation of some of the dissident faction in the fall campaign could be seen as one of the causes of so many close defeats. The continued drama caused by the flow of emails initiated by dissident faction members and sent to other members of the caucus questioning the leadership also could be seen as a contributing factor to defeat. But the overriding reality is that a national trend that we had hoped would stop at the Florida border engulfed our state, even though if you compare our performance in this state versus our neighbors, we look relatively good.

Still a clamoring for change has come both among some House members and rank-in-file party activists. We can discuss the opposition to Chairwoman Allison Tant in another post (Some of this opposition I would argue is residual from early 2013 and much of it is simply based on long-term frustration with the ineffectiveness of the FDP which predates Tant’s being Chairwoman by about a decade) but the opposition to Pafford has taken on the look of a Tallahassee-insider/GOP backed coup attempt.  Instead of rallying Democrats across the state to their cause, the the dissident faction in the House Caucus has reached out to Tallahassee lobbyists and Republican legislators to make their case for them. They have openly talked about the Republican leadership’s comfort with Rep. Dwayne Taylor’s the stalking horse for the opposition as opposed to the progressive Mark Pafford.

Somehow, these Democratic legislators have misinterpreted the election results AND forgotten the role of the minority party in a legislative body. Democracy depends on an exchange of ideas not on the side that holds fewer seats in the legislature compromising its principles to placate the majority. No doubt the Democrats in some cases must work for the good of the state to govern responsibly – but in other cases the democratic process depends on a strong opposition party with vocal and principled leadership. The dissident faction in the House at this point in time seems unconcerned about providing such leadership and have openly enlisted Republicans and lobbyists in their cause.

In the end it must be said that the dissident faction is so bitter and angry about being ousted from power and has such a resentment towards the party establishment that they are willing to say anything and befriend anyone to regain control of the caucus. This is unfortunate.

An earlier version of this piece stated that Representative-elect Ed Narain was supported by the faction discussed above. Rep. Rouson in fact endorsed Sean Shaw. House leadership remained neutral in the HD-61 primary.


  1. Excellent post.


  2. concerned voter · ·

    It’s really Rader’s insurance company buddies driving this.


    1. True Blue · ·

      You know, TFS, Pafford is a great guy and the Caucus is not stupid and they will do the right thing. Please stop being Tant’s & Ulvert’s latest tool in the game that is the FDP. I myself have tried to give Tant the benefit of the doubt. But the task force she named today to lead the Party into the future and make the needed changes going forward is a total joke. It’s more of the same with with two political consultants — Ana Cruz and Ashley Walker — who both CURRENTLY work for for lobbying firms representing Big Business (Florida Chamber) and a Business Coalition that include such anti-worker forces as Disney & CSX. There are a few of Ulvert’s private clients on the list. And the treasurer of a private corporation that Ulvert chairs. And hey, when they make their recommendations in 8 months, maybe those of us with money will already have recruited someone for some of the open Florida Senate seats that are actually competitive. Because if we wait until July 2015 to decide how we are going to approach 2016 candidate recruitment, we will find ourselves right where we were in 2012 & 2011 recruitment-wise.

      TFS, please give us the REAL important Democrat news in addition to the Tant/Ulvert Agenda. Do what you do best, please.

      November 13, 2014

      Joshua Karp or Max Steele
      (850) 222-3411

      FDP Announces Creation of LEAD Task Force
      Task Force Will Lead Efforts to Strengthen Party’s Brand, Recruit Candidates

      Tallahassee, FL — Today, the Florida Democratic Party announced the creation of the LEAD (Leadership Expansion to Advance Democrats) Task Force, which will work to retool and strengthen the Party’s brand, bolster candidate recruitment efforts, and improve field and outreach performance heading into the pivotal 2016 presidential election.

      U.S. Senator Bill Nelson
      Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings

      Amanda Murphy — State Representative, Pasco County
      Ana Cruz — Tampa Bay and Hispanic community leader
      Ashley Walker — Former Florida OFA State Director, 2012
      Dwight Bullard — State Senator & Miami-Dade DEC Chair
      Jeff Wright — FEA Policy Director
      Joe Falk — LGBT community leader
      Jose Javier Rodriguez — State Representative, Miami
      Monica Russo — SEIU State Council President
      Nick Maddox — Commissioner, Leon County
      Patricia Byrd — FDP Congressional District 2 Representative
      Rod Smith — Former State Senator and former FDP Chair
      Terrie Rizzo — Palm Beach DEC Chair

      The LEAD Task Force will analyze the 2014 election results and deliver recommendations on steps Florida Democrats must take to compete in the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 gubernatorial race. The LEAD Task Force will have 3 strategic goals when completing its review and offering recommendations.
      1. Review best practices for candidate recruitment for local, state and federal offices.
      2. Examine data and digital footprint to ensure new technologies are being utilized.
      3. Assess field and turnout operations and recommend steps to improve performance.
      The Task Force will host a series of in person and conference call meetings to discuss the 2014 election results and go over each strategic objective, and will deliver its recommendations at the 2015 Leadership Blue weekend.

      # # #


  3. Excusing away our losses in the State House as being a part of a national wave just doesn’t cut it. South Florida, the region with the largest number of Democrats in the State, underperformed ridiculously low. Miami Dade scored one point below the 2010 debacle.

    Lets face it, Crist didn’t inspire our base. His long history as a Republican and of implementing rightwing ideas (I still hate the A+ Plan for the long term damage it did) was responsible for many Democrats holding their nose to vote, or simply stay home. This was predictable. It was repeatedly predicted. Too many spineless Democrats abandoned their principles hoping that Crist could beat Scott while forgetting that baby faced Marco Rubio chased Crist out of the Republican Party while he was still the incumbent Governor of our state.

    And four years from now Hillary with her DLC credentials, Blue Dog mentality and hiding as a “New Democrat” is going to lead us to the very same kind of losses. Democrats need to drink a lot of milk to grow their spines. We need to firmly stand up for our principles proudly, not continue to pretend to be Republican lite jelly willing to bend our principles.

    Is anyone holding responsible Hillary for the Support she gave President Bush in our fake wars? Just like Cheney, she still hasn’t apologized.


  4. Pinellas Democrat · ·

    I am sorry Kartk. Much of this divisiveness would not exist if it wasn’t for Tant and Ulvert interfering in the House. Both added outside instability. Organizations tend to right themselves if left alone.

    The problem with Ulvert and Tant’s interference was and is self serving politics. If either felt their own personal position or pocketbook would be lined by selling Pafford out, they would turn to the next shiny toy in a minute. THIS time Pafford is instrument that lines Ulvert’s pocket and provides Tant a safe place to feel safe, warm and cozy.

    I don’t believe for one minute Pafford will be unseated. He is one of the good guys but he is now alined with the dysfunctional FDP Chair and staff. That alliance is not good for Florida.


  5. democrats on the ground · ·

    Rouson is a scoundrel but Tant must do better. I support Pafford but Tant and Ulvert must go.


  6. […] to Pafford which has been justified by Democrats six-seat loss on November 4th is actually much longer in the making as we discussed earlier […]


  7. Concerned Democrat · ·

    This Tant committee is the biggest goddamn joke in the history of Florida Politics!!!

    Two prime examples are Ana Cruz, who ran four campaigns in Hillsborough County this year…and lost all four!!!

    And her new business partner, Ashley Walker, is coming off her latest campaign…Alex Sink for Congress!!!

    How’s that working out for you?

    This is the biggest bunch of ass kissing Tant, Ulvert and Arceneaux suckers on the planet!!!

    Big Joke!

    Translation…Nothing is going to be accomplished!!

    These clowns, from top to bottom are all part of the problem.

    We Democrats need to clean house and start over!!!

    Everyone must go!

    Times Up!

    You’ve had your chance..,and you blew it!!

    It’s time to try something else!

    It can’t get any worse…


    1. Ashley ran the School Bonds issue in Broward and won under tough circumstances. This having been said, I have problems with the committee also that I will be articulating shortly.


      1. Concerned Democrat · ·

        Will you please stop kissing ass and sucking up to these recycled looser consultants like Ana Cruz and Ashley Walker who keep getting all the millions from the Tallahassee FDP stooges.

        So what’s your excuse for Ashley’s first chance in forty years for the Democrats to win Bill Young’s Congressional seat with a two to one spending advantage to a total unknown Alex Sink debacle and Ana Cruz’s 0 for 4 loosing ratio in this years election cycle?

        Really, I’ve always liked and admired your past commentaries and I respect your freedom to say what you want….but you have totally lost your marbles…and my respect…on this article and keeping this FDP loosing consultant operation intact!!

        It’s wrong!!


      2. I agree actually…not on Ashley but on the rest. I am writing something to this extent shortly.

        Ashley’s wheelhouse a little different than the typical Dem consultant FWIW. Don’t want to get into a fight about that here but their are things she brings to the table that none of these other people do. But on the rest you are correct.


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