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Rouson covers ground in quest for leadership post

The job stinks, relatively speaking.

If it isn't faceless, then it's thankless. If it isn't powerless, then it's rudderless.

For Democrats, the role of minority leader in the Florida House has carried all the prestige of the valedictorian for remedial math.

Once upon a time, Democrats held a lopsided 84-36 advantage on Republicans in the state House. That was before losing ground in a remarkable 11 consecutive election cycles, handing majority control to Republicans along the way in 1996.

Since then, being the Democratic leader in the House hasn't looked like an obvious stepping stone to greatness. You rarely count victories as the minority leader; you just hope not to lose too badly.

So why is Darryl Rouson fighting so hard for this job?

The three-term representative from St. Petersburg has worked tirelessly — and ruffled some feathers in the process — while getting in position to potentially claim the 2014 minority leader job in a vote of the Democratic caucus on Wednesday in Tallahassee.

What Rouson sees is a window of opportunity. Democrats picked up five seats in November to end the Republican super majority.

If they pick up a similar number in 2014, they will also be in play on votes that require a three-fifths majority, and will have their strongest voice in the House in nearly 20 years.

"What if we pick up those seats? What if we pick up eight to 10?" Rouson says, his voice getting more animated. "Not only can we stop procedural stuff, then they have to come to us on policy. So we become a relevant and powerful minority. And that's the vision.

"The vision is not to accept this defeatist attitude. Don't accept that we are relegated to the dregs of being just a minority party. I refuse to believe that."

This is why Rouson has put 7,000 miles on his car in recent months. He drove to Miami to walk neighborhoods with Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez. He stood on a street corner in Orlando with Rep. Karen Castor Dentel. He met with candidates at Turnpike rest stops, and raised close to $70,000 in a political committee to be used for House campaigns.

With two dozen freshmen Democrats coming to Tallahassee next month, Rouson saw a chance to make a strong first impression on a sizable number of colleagues.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville, who is deputy for current minority leader Perry Thurston and apparently planned on a smooth succession to the top seat, has been critical of Rouson's blatant campaigning for the job.

Rouson does not worry about the jabs. In fact, he embraces the idea that he has been hustling for votes.

He pulls out a white binder filled with enough pledge cards from House members that he says should guarantee him the minority leader position when it comes to a vote Wednesday night.

"I got this as a result of my work ethic," Rouson said. "What I wished to demonstrate … is if you think I worked like this just to get your pledge to become leader, guess how hard I'm going to work to put the Democratic Party in position to pick up more seats.

"I have emailed, I have called, I have written, I have texted, I have visited. I treated every representative as if they were a voter back home in my district and I wanted to win an election. I have done all I could."

Rouson covers ground in quest for leadership post 02/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 10:16pm]
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