Holding 27 pledges, Rouson seeks leadership vote
Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, has been working for months to win support from his House colleagues to be Democratic leader for the 2014-2016 term. He's clamoring for a vote of the 44 House caucus members, now that he holds enough signed pledge cards to claim victory over his two rivals, Reps. Mia Jones of Jacksonville and Alan Williams of Tallahassee.
Inside a white binder, Rouson has 27 signed pledges (26 plus himself) from veterans and first-term members from across the state. The pledges signifiy each signer's "... commitment to vote solely for Rep. Darryl E. Rouson on each and every ballot cast for Democratic caucus leader ..." Rouson declined to identify supporters by name because some have requested confidentiality.
A vote to pick the next leader can be called only by Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, the current leader, who says he'll do so shortly and "sooner than any leader since I've been here." The vote, by secret ballot, will likely occur shortly before the March 5 start of the legislative session, he said.
Jones did not respond to a request for comment, but Thurston minimized the significance of Rouson's pledges. "She (Jones) has the votes as well," Thurston said. "There's a legitmiate race ongoing ... Democratic caucus members give more than one member a signed pledge card. You've got people making commitments to more than one person. That's why it's an anonymous vote."
Rouson seemed taken aback by Thurston's comments. "Others may be suggesting that representatives dishonor pledges. I choose to believe in the honor of men and women," Rouson said.
Three Democrats -- Reps. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee, Dwight Dudley of St. Petersburg and Kevin Rader of Delray Beach -- are seeking to round up votes for Rouson. "When I sign someone's pledge card, it means I'm with them," Rader said. "I think the caucus will really come together under his (Rouson's) leadership. We need to put this to rest and move on."
Rouson is a lawyer and political ally of former Gov. Charlie Crist, and like Crist is a former Republican, as well as a former president of the St. Petersburg NAACP chapter. First elected in a 2008 special election, the 58-year-old Rouson traveled the state extensively during the 2012 election cycle, aiding fellow Democrats in their House races and in some cases earning their pledges for the leadership post.
He gave caucus members copies of UF historian David Colburn's book, From Yellow Dog Democrats to Red State Republicans, in an effort to provide them with a historical perspective on how Democrats lost their grip on power in Florida in the 1990s.