HOLLYWOOD — A meeting of state House Democrats on Saturday highlighted the concerns some members have with the leadership style of Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
Rouson, who won a contentious race to lead House Democrats after the 2014 elections, is trying to increase the party's size in the House. But his style of doing so came under withering criticism Saturday from two members who said they were unhappy with Rouson. It's not clear if the discontent goes beyond those two members, or how far it does go.
Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, questioned whether Rouson had managed to gain the full support of the Florida Education Association and the Florida Justice Association, two key constituencies in the party's organizing and fundraising efforts as well as some other party leaders.
"Everything that I have heard from reliable sources is that you've alienated all of those folks," Clelland said. "And I want a leader in this caucus who's going to be a unifier, not a divider."
Rouson countered that he had "done everything that I humanly could" to allay the FEA's concerns. Rouson also said he had spoken to some of the trial lawyers who form FJA.
Rep. Ricardo Rangel confronted Rouson over the role of consultant Barry Edwards, who has also worked with Republicans, in any efforts to win House seats. Rangel said that, before the House leadership election, Rouson had promised "that (Edwards) wouldn't be involved in anything."
Rouson countered that Edwards has long been a part of his fundraising committee and members who asked for Edwards' help in their campaigns would have to answer for themselves.
"You also asked me to put you on the House Victory payroll," Rouson shot back. Rangel later said through a spokesman that he had sought a nonpaying position from the Democratic House campaign effort.
Rouson and current House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, tried more than once to get members to avoid airing disagreements in the open caucus meeting, but that brought more protests.