Session overview here
Legislative session kicks off tomorrow in Tallahassee and the Democrats have six less members of the House than last session and continue with 14 Senators. The Republicans have basically maxed out on potential seats (TFS estimates 83 as the maximum number of House seats the Republicans can win under this current map – they currently have 81 seats, while TFS estimates the most seats in the Senate the Republicans can win under this map is 26, and that is the number they sit at in the upper chamber) and thus might have an unwieldy caucuses to deal with. Despite the reduced numbers a few Democrats can still make a meaningful impact. We profile them below.
Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner
Joyner an outspoken liberal who unlike many in the legislature has actually walked the walk on progressive issues will need to keep a disparate caucus full of ambitious pols together. Joyner’s priorities are clear and her relationship with former Minority Leader Nan Rich, who proved an adept coalition builder should help her in this role.
House Minority Leader Mark Pafford
Coming off a six seat loss in the November election, Pafford has worked hard to unite the remaining 39 members of the Democratic Caucus. An outspoken progressive, Pafford’s legislative skill will be tested this session. Pafford also has an expertise on environmental and water issues, which is a session priority. So both in his role as Minority Leader and environmentalist, Pafford will have a major say on what happens with the important water legislation.
Senator Darren Soto
One of the few genuine stars the Democrats have in the legislature, Soto begins his ninth session with a higher profile than ever. A moderate whose public stature makes him a powerful member of the Democratic caucus, Soto has the ability to make a big splash this session.
Representative Janet Cruz
The incoming Democratic leader is well respected by her colleagues and has a good relationship with the Florida Democratic Party leadership. Cruz can provide an important bridge if fractures occur in the caucus during the 2015 session.
Senator Jeremy Ring
Respected on both sides of the aisle, and with term limits kicking in will he will be a true free agent this session. Ring’s moderation has irked many activists in his local area, but freed from placating them now, he might have a major role this year in trying to build consensus. Ring’s business background has often been called upon by Republicans in the chamber and may be used again this session.
Representative Alan Williams
As a legislator, Williams doesn’t make a huge impact but he has developed a statewide profile and has a network of activists around the state who are responsive to him. Williams has formed an independent power base both locally in Tallahassee and statewide separate from the Democratic Party. If an issue of racial justice appears this session, Williams is sure to be in the middle of the discussion.
Senator Joe Abruzzo
The Palm Beach County based Senator is being talked about actively for higher office. Abruzzo also has been a proponent in the past of gambling legislation which could be a big issue this year in the Senate. With all of this in mind, he will be one to watch this session.
Representative Katie Edwards
One of the few potentially strong statewide candidates the Democrats could field, Edwards has immersed herself in pushing for serious and impactful legislation. A moderate, who nonetheless has some very aggressively progressive positions and a rare combination of rural and urban knowledge, Edwards is a sure bet to have an active session.
Senator Dwight Bullard
Bullard who inherited a South Dade political dynasty from his late mother and has quickly emerged as perhaps the strongest progressive voice in the entire legislature. Bullard’s outspoken defense of public schools has made him a hero to education advocates across the state, and his strong liberal voting record has elevated his name among activists to potential statewide candidacy levels.
Representative Evan Jenne
Returning to the House as a “freshman,” Jenne whose dad served in the State Senate for 19 years is one of the most intelligent and liberal elected officials in the state. A close ally of Leader Pafford’s Jenne will have an important role in safeguarding progressive principles this session. He will also have a major role in steering the freshman class away from the sort of dissent that characterized the 2012-2014 freshman class.
Representative Darryl Rouson
Listed here for no other reason than he might be a wild card this session. But in all likelihood he will have a minimal impact on proceedings.
Katy Burnett contributed to this article.