Saturday, June 23, 2018
Politics

Florida House Democrats choose Mark Pafford as new leader

TALLAHASSEE — After months of inner turmoil over who would lead them during the 2014 elections, Florida House Democrats on Wednesday chose Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach as their next minority leader.

By a 29-12 vote, with one person abstaining, Pafford, 47, beat Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee for a job that earlier in the week had belonged to Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg.

"The first thing is getting everybody comfortable, understanding that we've hit the reset button and we are one," Pafford said to reporters after the vote, acknowledging the disarray that awaits him. "I have some work to do immediately."

Pafford heads a 44-member House Democratic caucus heavily outnumbered by 75 Republicans. Along with the removal of Rouson by a 24-17 vote Monday night, the staff director overseeing fundraising for 2014 House races was fired earlier in the month, leaving oversight of a critical special election in a New Port Richey district in question.

Rouson lost the confidence of a majority of the caucus after he opened a campaign account that only he could control without informing party leaders.

Much of the frustration with Rouson spilled out into the open via emails from members leaked to reporters and during Monday's closed-door meeting during which he was removed.

While not a proven fundraiser like Williams, who has raised twice as much money since both joined the Legislature in 2008, and more to the left of most Democrats, Pafford was viewed as someone who could bring the caucus together.

"Mark Pafford is a unifier," said Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa. "He can make us the strong, dedicated Democrats that we are."

A graduate of Florida International University with a bachelor's degree in public administration, Pafford is a bit of a policy wonk.

But he's also steeped in party politics. He was Bill Nelson's driver during his campaign for governor in 1989, and in 1996 and 1997 served as the legislative aide for U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel when she served in the Florida House.

The media attention and ribbing from Republicans about their feuding left Democratic members eager to put on a happy face for the cameras during Wednesday's heavily scripted meeting.

Williams was the first to stand and applaud when the vote was announced, and the two men hugged each other. After thanking his wife and children, Pafford thanked Rouson, who nodded in support.

"We've had a rough week," said Rep. Katie Edwards of Plantation, a Rouson supporter. "It's unfortunate that we had to be here. But like The Godfather says, whatever this war is, it ends now."

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